Hearing protection is a must if you’re riding a motorcycle. The consequences of no or poor protection can be serious and long, or life lasting.
Hearing protection should never be ignored. if you work in noisy environments, you probably know this very well. Take no risks. Sustained sound/sonic pressure can cause life-long damages. Or reduced hearing, especially later in life. Worst case It can can lead to Tinnitus.
I’ll return to all of this and my own experience shortly.
Why I wrote this
Saw a post on a Facebook group the other day in one of the gazillion groups I’m a member of. Someone posted something about hearing protection destroying the fun of riding. Because it would prevent you from hearing the sweet sound of your engine or exhaust, or both.
There were some jokes posted, so I decided to write a response. it turned into a very long reply that killed the thread completely. Maybe I gave some people food for thought. At least I got no trolling responses.
Some symptoms may appear very fast. It happened to me but I was lucky, sort of. I’ve had some serious experience with turbulence, sound pressure above the tolerable, followed by subsequent >80% hearing loss on one ear. I noticed something went wrong with the visor on my helmet. The impact of the turbulence didn’t last for long. The effect of it lasted for 3 days. I don’t think I had any earplugs at the time.
Fortunately hearing recovered itself pretty well. Dial tones and noise waned, not 100% but close. Don’t think I am in the worst category. Over 4 years after the incident I still have a weak, high pitched background noise. The sort I am sure many experience, maybe live with. it doesn’t bother me, and it has not affected hearing of higher frequencies.
Why & what hearing protection
We’re all built differently, but ear mechanics and biology is identical. Sustained sonic exposure, particularly from turbulence or buffeting, can impact your hearing severely. it might develop into chronic Tinnitus, especially later in life. No one wants this.
The months and years that followed I tried a variety of off-shelf solutions. From the cheap’ish to the expensive. Some worked half decently, but not in a stable way. The plugs could change position, especially when taking helmet on and off. That was annoying.
Those off-shelf plugs I bought and tested (quite a few different ones) weren’t worth the money. Not because of bad material necessarily, but because ear channels are as different as people.
Hearing protection – custom ear plugs
The only approach that does, I believe sufficiently, protect your hearing, is custom molded plugs. Made for your ears. They are or may be expensive, but cheap compared to non-treatable damage. Cheap for the peace of mind and hearing.
Mine came with two filter strengths. After trying I settled for a -26db variant. The filter dampens lower frequencies phenomenally. The sort that is produced by buffeting or turbulence. The plugs are extremely effective yet allows both engine to be enjoyed as well as critical sounds, e.g. sirens to slip through. Wind noise is almost completely gone.
As we all know the number of variables and sources are staggering. It can be the helmet, helmet opening, helmet shape, damping factor, wind screen, sitting position, bike construction, material in your suit etc etc.
Humans are asymmetrical beings. This means that ear canals can have different shapes on the left and right side. Custom molded plugs are made to fit your left and right ear specifically. Mine do not move at all. Once in they don’t change position, regardless of how many times I take the helmet on or off.
A good helmet helps of course. But it is not a complete solution. I use a Schuberth C3Pro. At the time I bought it among the quietest of all helmets. But it’s not good enough, not by a long shot.
Wherever I go on two wheels, long or short adventures, long or short rides, the plugs are always with me. As an extra bonus they are effective against loud snoring. And screaming cats trying to get into the bedroom in the middle of the night or early morning. Plus optimal protection when attending concerts.
The next thing, noise cancelling?
Well I’ve considered noise cancelling solutions. But that means an even bigger investment. The supplier used now offers noise cancelling with custom molded plugs. For an outrageous price. So I don’t think that will happen unless they come down in price.
Besides, I don’t listen to music when I ride. I don’t take phone calls. Like it quiet, don’t like disturbance of any kind that can take focus away from riding. Plus it’s vitally important to be able to hear external sounds, like sirens, horns etc. Some of noise cancelling solutions have, supposedly, a tendency to pump, or create oscillation. For instance, if you open up or close the visor.
But I don’t know if oscillation or pumping still is a problem with noise cancelling. Maybe one day I’ll check it out but for now I have the best solution money can buy. I recommend that anyone, who like do not take phone calls or listen to music, go and get a similar set. You will never regret it.
My 2 & then some… cents . Oh yes this article is also worth reading.