Shhhh… hearing protection while riding

It was a lesson that I learned too late in my motorcycle riding history.  Riding bikes for hours with no hearing protection damages your hearing and so with ringing in my ears I warn younger riders to wear hearing protection.

And headphone buds under your helmet is not considered hearing protection.  This was highlighted to me a number of years ago sitting around a camp fire – my daughter and I had spent the afternoon riding (back in the days when she was on the back) and we arrived at our campsite for the night.  Later as we kicked back I pulled out my book and Em pulled out her iPod to listen to music.  I heard a squeal from Emma when she turned it on as the sound was turned up so loud to overcome the roar of the bike and wind noises that it hurt her in that instant of turning the music on.  That really speaks for itself – here endth the lesson.

How much do I care? I always carry a number of spare sets of disposables with me so I can hand them out to other riders in the group if they don’t have any.  After all there’s no real cure for tinnitus – just prevention.

But what works?  And what are the options?

There are actually a number of options, however what works for one person may not work for another. And to complicate matters further there are many external factors that you will have a bearing on what type / level of protection you need.

External factors include the style of bike – do you have a fairing with large or small screen, how dirty is the air around the helmet; how quiet is your helmet and even whether it fits okay as that also has a bearing on noise; how fast you are travelling as it’s often the wind noise that causes the damage; and whether your bike has a resonate frequency that drones at highway speed.

Here is what I have tried:

Earmolds – custom made earplugs made from medical grade silicone.  They are not cheap but are great at reducing the level of sound, and reusable.  I have a number of friends with earmolds and love them.  Personally I found that after many hours (all day) on the bike my ears got sore as I think they are a bit sensitive so I found that I was swapping between these and disposable ones to give my ears a break.  In the end I stopped wearing the earmolds.

Earmold_pouch__plugs

For more information please see the following link

Pinlock earplugs – I was wandering through the bike store a couple of months ago and came across the Pinlock earplugs that sounded good so I thought it was worth giving them a test.

pinlock earplugs.jpg

First impressions was that they were really comfortable, but I was concerned that they didn’t feel like they fitted securely.  Their claim is that they reduce the harmful noises while allowing wanted sound (speech, music,etc) in through the use of filters.  It is hard to assess this claim accurately as I was never happy with their fit. All I can say is that they weren’t effective for me.

However, Deb loves them and finds that they do a great job and are more comfortable than the disposable earplugs that she has been using.

For more information please see the following link

Disposables earplugs – these are my go to.  However not all disposables are equal.  Far from it.  Some are really comfortable, some block out lots of sound, some you can use many times overs, some are colourful, and some are just plain useless.

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I have tried many different brands and styles with varying degrees of success.  The above picture is just three different brands that are in my tank bag currently.  I was really impressed with the comfort and attenuation of the Protech (orange) but they were really only good for a couple of uses and beyond that weren’t usable, and that was the case for most of these much softer earplugs and if they got wet you couldn’t use them.  Largely for me this is the biggest problem if you are on the bike all day for multiple days I don’t want to carry a hand full of earplugs so I have a new set every time I pull them out.  For me, my go-to disposable earplugs are the Hush-a Foam as they have excellent attenuation are fairly comfortable (not as comfortable as the soft ear plugs), I can use them for a number of days and they still seal fine, and they come individually wrapped so they store well or hand them out.

Alpine MotoSafe – In my hunt to find an alternative solution I came across the guys at Earjobs who specialise in ear plugs.  I fired off a few emails to outline my concerns and what I have found over the years and they recommended the Alpine MotoSafe range (tour – medium attenuation SNR17, or race – heavy attenuation SNR20).  In hindsight I probably should have gone for the kit that supplies both these options for $12 more but instead I purchased the race version with the heavier attenuation as I spend many many hours in my helmet on a sports touring bike with my helmet sitting in dirty (noisey) air.

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First impressions – I wasn’t sure about the applicator but after using it a couple of times it makes it really easy to insert the earplugs, so my initial reservations on this front are gone. The ear plugs fit very well and after using them on a city run to work they seem to be excellent.

I’ve now been using these for a few weeks and have been on a number of rides for a few hours out of town so I’ve had a good chance to test them.  Looking back I’m glad I went for the higher attenuation version as I don’t think these ear plugs reduce the wind noise as much as the diposals.  However, saying that they are still very effective and still allow you to hear what’s going on around – always the compromise you need to balance out.

For more information please see the following link


 

What about listening to music / audiobooks.

For the last 10 years I have had both cabled and bluetooth intercoms mounted to my helmets with speakers mounted in the helmet.  I find that I can use earplugs which cut out the harmful noises and I can still hear the music via the speakers although I do need to turn the volume up.

However, I recognise that this doesn’t work for everyone due to a range of factors including noisy helmets, bikes etc so the music can’t be heard over the additional noise level.  The best option here is special earplugs with speaker drivers built into them or music piped into the earplug.  The advantage of this method is that you get the advantage of an ear plug and attenuating all the harmful noises and introducing wanted sound in at a much lower level.  Speaking to a friend who runs a Sena 10R system with a set of custom earmold earplugs with speakers is that he can run his sound from his music source close to minimum for comfortable listening.

For information on these I would advise contacting earmold or earjobs for the various options available.

12 thoughts on “Shhhh… hearing protection while riding

  1. Great article!! I find that after really long rides, whether street or dirt, I have that familiar roaring tinnitus afterwards. That sound like after you listen to loud music with earphones (which I don’t, but I did!) I guess it is the swan song of my hearing ability. But I absolutely hate wearing ear protection, not because it bugs me physically but because I don’t like not being able to hear my motor and my transmission, or perhaps the radiator bubbling, etc. I just like hearing my bike–not to mention what is around me (I don’t listen to music while I ride). I wish I could get used to it. When I raced a lot of guys wore protection, especially on R6’es because they are so high rpm. The RC51 is loud, in my opinion. Thank you for all of the review son the various items. They say you get used to it,not hearing everything and you start to feel more than hear it, but somethings I know I could not feel. An old dog can’t be taught new tricks : (

    • It’s not that you don’t hear suff it’s just that it’s attenuated, and different ear plugs have different effects of different frequencies. Most of the damage to our ears comes from the wind noise that roars around the helmet. It may be worth trying some of the soft disposables with a lower rating …

      thanks for the comment

  2. I use silicon ear plugs that I buy from Katmandu sales for for $5 per pair. god a set in every jacket pocket. Interested on your comment on earmolds. I was thinking of getting some with that type with the built in speakers for the GPS

    • I have many friends with earmolds and love them – both with and without speakers. They certainly worked great I just think my ears were a bit sensitive. My recommendation if you’ve not tried them before is to get the standard ones first and see how they go before making the bigger investment.

  3. I’m a confirmed custom plug wearer…

    You earmold plugs look a lot like the Plugs 4 Lugs we get here – right down to the little baggie for them. I found my set to be uncomfortable after a while too.

    I eventually found another source for custom plugs (although now I believe that he is no longer doing them) where the silicon is a lot softer. I can easily wear them for extended periods and have no problem sleeping with them in.

    I also think it’s easier to hear my music, directions, phone calls etc with them in – but the Sena is at max volume…

  4. I’ve been looking for a proper earplug solution for yonks. All I can find here in Sunny South Africa are the rubbish yellow air plugs they give you on long-haul flights. Worse than useless.

    Last year I did a long weekend trip (8-19 hours a day in the saddle) on an Africa Twin. On the way home I was being buffeted by a strong crosswind and the noise of the wind hitting my helmet was indescribable. Pretty much ruined the day, in fact.

    I don’t listen to music or podcasts when I ride though – I find it too disorientating.

    • What not even good quality disposable ones? Maybe email the guys at earjobs here in Australia about sending you some.

      thanks for the comment

      • Thanks for the steer, Zed, I will get in touch with them. Getting a Ducati Desert Sled on test next month and there’s another long road trip on the cards, so I need ‘plugs.
        Happy riding, wherever you go.

  5. Thanks, Zed, I will. Getting a big Duke on test next month. Long road trip on the cards, so need decent ‘plugs.
    Happy riding wherever you go.
    cheers
    Paul

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