There is really nothing like the joy of the open road on a motorbike. The countryside racing by with nothing to think about but the curve of the road ahead. It feels like freedom. What a drag to have to think about your ears! One of the unfortunate drawbacks of avid motorcycling is wind noise combined with the cold that can leave your ears ringing like a pair of church bells before Sunday service. Hearing loss due to damage from exposure to wind noise is a real possibility associated with the riding experience. Even a short ride on your motorbike can result in exposure to potentially dangerous noise levels.
Why Wind Noise Shouldn't Be Taken for Granted
It's easy to dismiss wind noise as part of the riding experience, but it's not something that should be ignored. Once speeds reach 40 mph or greater for a sustained period of time, the greater the odds of hearing loss from wind noise. Long-term exposure to wind noise may result in some form of hearing loss or conditions such as "surfer's ear," a fungal infection in the ear from exposure to high winds and cold air. If you think your helmet is going to protect you from wind noise forget it! Under a helmet a riders ear isn't fully sheltered from the pressure and noise from winds at high speeds.
Motorcyclists are faced with three basic sound variables: duration of the sound, sound pressure levels, and frequency. Sound pressures is what is perceived as loudness. It doesn't take long for this loudness level to go up. Occupational Safety and Health Administration guidelines suggest that the longer exposure to a certain noise level is sustained, the more damage it can do to hearing if those levels stay the same. In other words, exposure to wind noise or engine noise for a brief period of time is better than continuous exposure.
When it comes to wind noise, it cam be difficult to find a so-called "safe level" of noise. Any sustained exposure to wind noise can be potentially dangerous. Riders prone to ear infections are more susceptible to hearing conditions related to wind noise, but all motorcyclists should take precautions to avoid long-term exposure to any type of noise. Finding a safe level of noise involves telling the difference between so-called "good" and "bad" noise.
• Good noise - Sounds like horns or sirens since they alert a rider to imminent dangers such as an approaching car or ambulance
• Bad noise - Any sustained noise during the ride such as rushing wind or the hum of the engine
When properly inserted, earplugs can offer significant protection for riders. Vented earplugs, for instance, prevent that uncomfortable "plugged up" feeling while still offering protection from loud noises and wind exposure. Foam earplugs offer greater wind protection and can be effective, but failing to properly insert foam earplugs reduces their effectiveness by approximately 20 decibels or more. Moldable wax earplugs provide a high level of protection but don't allow for venting. Ultimately riders have to try the earplugs available and find their perfect fit. Like Cinderellas slipper not all earplugs will suit everyone and it pays to take a few types out for a test drive and fit your perfect pair.
Two popular options are Alpine Moto Safe and Heartech QuietEar. Both provide a comfortable fit and are vented to reduce pressure build up.