This post was kindly contributed by Michnus and was originally published here.
If you want to walk around when you are old with impaired hearing and keep responding with a “Whaaat did you say?” to your kids cheating at board games, then keep riding without proper earplugs. I am sure in this day of our lord 2018 there is enough information available on the WWW, for the majority of people not living in caves, to know that wind noise and noise levels while riding motorcycles can cause permanent hearing damage.
In case some people are not aware of it let me give some reasons and arguments as to why wearing earplugs is a very good idea. Remember it is not only for ear-protection, it makes riding motorcycles safer.
The majority of noise while riding a motorcycle is wind noise. The wind noise on motorcycles at 100km/h is roughly 100db. Our ears are not designed to handle this kind of noise for prolonged periods of time. Unfortunately, we did not evolve knowing we would ride motorcycles and work in factories and with high noise levels. Even just 7 mins of exposure at these levels can cause hearing damage. It is untrue that only people with a loud exhaust must use earplugs. At speed the exhaust sound is less than the wind noise. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), says this: “Recommended Exposure Limit (REL) for occupational noise exposure is 85 decibels, A-weighted, as an 8-hour time-weighted average (85 dBA as an 8-hr TWA) using a 3-dB exchange rate. Exposures at or above this level are considered hazardous.”
Hearing loss is cumulative and increasing in effect every time you reach the harmful levels. What that means is every time you go for a ride you are imperceptibly increasing the chance of experiencing more hearing loss. Hearing damage is irreversible. In plain English, you will not get your hearing back. Listening to your favourite music, the voice of your kid or wife will never be the same again.
As for the argument that helmets are silent. I researched a bit and found this statement: “Still one of the quietest helmets available, the C3 Pro transfers just 84 dB to the rider at 65 mph. Which is still pretty high numbers for noise“ There is not really such a thing as a quiet helmet, period. There are many factors that can attribute and cause helmet noise. Helmet design, windscreens, motorcycle design, crosswinds and turbulence. Point being, no full-face helmet is quiet enough to limit or stop hearing damage.
ISVR Consulting University of Southampton wrote a very informative article on the topic of motorcycle helmet noise.
Why are earplugs making riding motorcycle safer? By limiting the wind noise to a level that is more normal to the human ear, reducing fatigue as well as the constant hammering of noise into your head. I have been using earplugs for the last 15 years and I’m a big advocate for using hearing protection. When I first used earplugs it was an amazing feeling. I immediately noticed that I felt much less fatigue on long trips. Everything was calmer and more relaxed. I could focus and concentrate on riding and the sounds that were more important like car sirens. We are more likely to make mistakes when we are tired. The same goes for when we fly internationally, you also suffer from noise fatigue. I feel much less fatigue after a 16-hour flight having used my earplugs than without.
As you ride and the wind noise bombards your ears, it eventually creates a condition called, Temporary Threshold Shift (also referred to as TTS), which is a temporary hearing loss that results from continuous over-exposure to sound. Basically you go partially deaf for a while after an extended period of riding. Very similar to what you get in rock concerts and inside clubs. It is especially dangerous for motorcycle riders as you lose all frequency of hearing. Proper hearing protection like Alpine hearings earplugs prevents that and removes the high-frequency wind noise while still allowing the rider to hear the important low-frequency sounds.
Foam earplugs leave you with a complete sense of isolation and in effect causing another problem and damage to your hearing. Noise does not only enter through the ear but even more so through the bone of the skull surrounding the ear. For example fit foam-plugs and tap your skull you will experience a loud banging sound in your hearing. It is still noise and that banging sound will also cause fatigue over time. Here is an article about that.
I have used every type of earplug, from the cheap foam ones to custom earplugs made by an audiologist. Then in 2013 I got hold of a pair of Alpine Hearing protection ear plugs. These earplugs have uniquely designed filters. Every set comes with 2 different filters, one for high-level riding (high speeds) and one set for more technical/low-speed riding. We have since been on long term trips for the last 3 years and used our earplugs every time we get on the bikes. We were so impressed we contacted Alpine and started to distribute the earplugs in South Africa. We have since sold the business but the new owners are still selling Alpine successfully.
Earplugs with filters attenuate harmful noises and do not leave you with that complete deathless feeling of isolation like the foam filters. Basically the harmful wind noise, the constant noise that damage your hearing is cut but not the sounds you need to hear. And it is a game-changer.
Another benefit is that I can still listen to music through my intercom system, I can speak to a fuel-pump attendant normally without taking off my helmet or screaming. I can hear sirens and the sounds that is important to hear. The Alpine Hearing plugs enabled me to replace my lost custom ones without having the big expense and inconvenience of getting a new set measured and molded.
More information on other brands as options.
The Alpine MotoSafe filter earplugs attenuate harmful noises without giving a sense of isolation. Traffic, navigation, intercom, and the motorcycle itself remain sufficiently audible. Perfect for different uses and choosing the attenuation level yourself.
Alpine has a proper research team and constantly interacts with its testers and this Dutch brand goes back to 1995. Alpine quotes on their website and this is no BS: “The earplugs have a perfect fit. This is because they are made of durable and flexible AlpineThermoShape™ material. The warmth of the ear allows the soft material to mould to the ear canal. Alpine MotoSafe earplugs are also the only ones on the market with soft filters. As a result, they are also very comfortable under a helmet. AlpineThermoShape™ material contains no silicones. For this reason, the earplugs do not sweat, itch, or irritate. You can wear them all day without any problems.”
Alpine’s competition and I have used all of them, are mostly made of a harder silicone, and use a generic one style fits all filter. The shape and size of the plugs are sometimes too big for people causing ear-pain over time while riding. We had each a set of Alpine earplugs now for the last 2 years and they kept their shape and lasted all this time with daily use. The Alpine set even fit people with small ear opening.
From the makers of Pinlock visors. The advanced precision filter blocks wind noise harmful to the ear without causing muffled hearing, allowing the rider to pick up on important sounds such as conversations, emergency vehicle sirens, horns, and sounds from approaching vehicles.
Pinlock earplugs are made from medical grade silicone-free materials, making it more comfortable for riders to have it on. The advanced precision filter is removable, making it easier to clean the earplugs. All Pinlock earplugs come with 2 sizes in the box, to offer riders with different ear sizes a better fit.
The big ear is an American brand offering a big range of custom earplugs for motorcycle riders. They have a unique custom earplug with different attenuations and can even block it off completely.
BigEar mentions they offer the highest quality in-ear transducer stereo motorcycle earplugs.
There are quite a few very interesting videos on their website to watch – BIGEAR motorcycle
These plugs are a very discreet fit. They are made from soft Hypo-allergenic silicone. They offer different attenuation filters for different noise levels. One smart option is their mobile app noise level indicator which shows how long you can stay at that level and the decibels.
Cons: They say it is small and discreet. Which in our terms mean it is very small and you might find it difficult to remove, especially with gloves.
EarPeace M comes with three smoke color earplugs, three sets of high-fidelity acoustic filters (SNR 17, 20 and 26), and an ultra-premium aluminum carrying case with a carabiner clip.
EarPeace enables you to still hear clearly but at a comfortable level. Convenient ear plug-pull tab to get the plug out of the ear.
EarPeace uses premium silicone that is hypoallergenic and reusable. Situational Awareness – the proprietary attenuation filter technology delivers clear, crisp sound by allowing a precise amount of unobstructed sound into the ear. Hear your communications systems, music, and approaching traffic/sirens.
These plugs are a very good generic brand. They work well and do not cost an arm and a leg. The earplugs are made from a Silicone-free hypoallergenic thermoplastic. They utilize a Patented Venturi shaped sound channel for noise cancellation.
Con’s: No Noise only use one attenuation filter for all their uses. The shell is still a one size fits all.
These plugs have different attenuation filters for different levels. They also use different sizes for ear size. Made with hypo-allergic soft silicone.
Cons: They are on the more expensive side of pricing.
Ultimate actually offers quite a range of earplugs for motorcycle riders. From their Squidgy soft silicone blend custom in earplug to state of the art Bluetooth plug and play units. Their top range SoundEar range is constructed of two different compounds of silicone. The SoundEar also has an ultra-soft grade of Silicone for the ear canal where comfort and flexibility is the absolute key to genuine sustained use.
Cons: Obviously custom made earplugs cost more than generic off the shelve earplugs, much more care to make sure they do not get lost.
There is enough information available, earplugs do not cost an arm and a leg. It is plain stupid and just not worth sacrificing your hearing for a product that costs USD40 and would last the better part of 3-5 years.
Note: We are not sponsored or have any affiliation with Alpine Hearing and make no money from sales