Protect your hearing!

Protect your hearing!

Motorcyclists, save your hearing! – protection for your hearing by way of ear plugs (foam earplugs, custom ear protectors etc) is essential… may take a few years but eventually you’ll be sorry if you don’t!!

If biking was covered by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) [see below], all motorcycle riders would have to wear ear plugs by law. But it isn’t and we aren’t. So, it’s up to us to protect our ears 😉

In addition to the avoiding the potential damage to your hearing the use of ear plugs can also be a safety issue as well. Wearing earplugs will filter out unwanted noise (wind noise) – exposure to a constant barrage of noise, whilst you might not realise it, is stressful and can affect your ability to concentrate (just like being tired;-) and we all know what can happen if we’re not as attentive as we need to be!!

What’s that you said?……   I said…. SAVE YOUR HEARING!   Always use ear protection (earplugs) when riding motorcycles 😉

See below for Earplugs, Wear Them, Save Your Hearing!

See also: ultimate Hearing Protection Systems

Noise levels under motorcycle helmets can be very high. Above about 65 km/h or 40 mph the wind noise generated by the airflow over a motorcycle and rider exceeds the noise from the motorcycle itself. Daily noise exposures of working motorcyclists may regularly exceed 90 dB(A). For more information please click here. (article from The University of Southampton, ISVR Consulting)

The Dutch Government’s Occupational Health & Safety Service commissioned a study on the effects of wind noise and discovered some disturbing results. At 50mph the sound level under a helmet was 90decibels (dB). Speed has a significant effect on sound levels and for each 12mph increase in speed, the intensity of the sound is doubled. According to the report, at 60mph, a rider is experiencing the same level of noise as a circular saw operator, the only difference being that the circular saw jockey would have to wear, by law, ear defenders. Using Noise Regulations figures laid down for the workplace, the following figures would apply to safe exposure times while riding a motorcycle:

Speed (Mph) / Noise Level (dB) / Safe Riding Time
50 / 92 / 2 Hours
62 / 94 / 1 Hour
74 / 97 / 30 Minutes
86 / 100 / 15 Minutes
98 / 103 / 7.5 Minutes
110 / 106 / 3.75 Minutes

So, when riding a motorcycle you may well regularly and for prolonged periods at times, be exposed to noise levels of 90dB and more……you should be concerned about this considering the limits quoted by the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 (ok, you might not be at work but the noise level/risk of hearing damage is the same):
The level at which employers must provide hearing protection and hearing protection zones is now 85 decibels (daily or weekly average exposure) and the level at which employers must assess the risk to workers’ health and provide them with information and training is now 80 decibels. There is also an exposure limit value of 87 decibels, taking account of any reduction in exposure provided by hearing protection, above which workers must not be exposed.
More info here

Audio/visual demonstration of noise induced hearing loss

dB SPL (Sound Pressure Level) (20dB = 10x)
The term “SPL” stands for sound pressure level. SPL measures are taken with respect to the minimum threshold for human hearing. A 20 dB difference in SPL represents a ratio of ten-to-one in sound pressure.
• Thus, a 40dB SPL would be a sound pressure level that is 100 times greater than the sound pressure level of the quietest sound that normal human hearing can detect.
Perception of Loudness (20dB = 4x)
Interestingly, our perception of loudness is not the same as sound pressure level. Although the actual formulae is somewhat complex, as a rough rule of thumb, an increase of 10db SPL is perceived to be approximately twice as loud.
• Thus a 20 Db gain would seem to be about 4 times as loud.
• And a 40 Db gain would seem to be about 16 times as loud

Earplugs, Wear Them, Save Your Hearing!
(original article from

It’s a fact that riding motorcycles can damage your hearing.
If you ride for any period of time without hearing protection you are putting yourself at risk because as time goes by you will eventually suffer hearing damage.
This sort of damage can be anything from a ringing in the ears (known as Tinnitus) or total hearing loss. Hearing damage is irrepairable – it doesn’t heal, it won’t get better.

And the worst bit is, hearing damage is cumulative, it builds over time getting worse and worse. So it might just crop up in later life.

A normal ear and a damged ear. Note the loss of hair cells in the highlighted area.

As motorcyclists we are subject to many different noises. Not just traffic and engine noise but the rush of wind and the high pitch wail as it passes through tiny gaps in your visor or vents.
Ever seen a dog react to a dog whistle?
They can hear it, it’s too high pitched for us….. but some of the noise around and inside your helmet is similar in frequency to that.

So what can you do?
Well, if you’ve got any sense, you’re already doing it – wearing ear protection.
There are many types of ear protection…

Disposable Ear Plugs

Ever wonder why the bowl full of orange earplugs at £1 a pair in your local dealer is nearly always empty? The reason is because the majority of riders use disposable ear plugs. They offer excellent protection at a good price.

Ear canals are very much like fingerprints – no two are alike. So the best theing to do is experiment with several different brands to establish which are most comfortable. After all, if they aren’t comfortable you won’t wear them. You are basically going to have to give them a week or so just to get used to wearing them. Don’t give in after one day.

At first you will find them strange. Some people say they feel a little off balance. But after a few days  wearing them becomes second nature. Now, if I ride without them, the noise seems ridiculous.

Ear plugs are inserted by rolling the plug between two fingers to squash the foam into a thin tube, inserting up to the “bud”, then holding until the foam has fully expanded.
A properly sized and inserted plug will be comfortable for a full day of riding and almost completely eliminate the “jet engine” wind roar while at the same time allowing you to hear important things like horns, close traffic and people talking.
As the plug expands in the ear after insertion you will hear the background noise suddenly disappear. Clap your hands, if you can hear anything other than a dull, muffled clap your earplugs are either improperly inserted, incorrectly sized, or need to be replaced.

Earplugs must be regularly replaced. As you wear them they become saturated with moisture, ear wax, and bacteria. Not only are used plugs unhygienic, they lose their ability to protect your ears. Many riders wash plugs and re-use them, I’ve always found it easier to buy in bulk and use a new pair every week, if not less.

An earplug that is too big will be very uncomfortable and the protection will be handicapped because the foam has not had the room to expand and conform into the ear canal. A plug that is too small will be comfortable but may be loose in the ear and again the protection will be reduced.

There are many different makes with different sizes and noise ratings. The mazimum protection you can expect to get has ratings of NRR 33 dB and SNR 34 dB, but you’ll be looking at a large plug which may not fit smaller ears..

At the end of the day, go for a plug which you find comfortable, which is not loose. And remember, even a badly fitted plug is better than no protection at all.

You will notice that earplugs also differ in shape. The most common are shaped like a bell. You can also buy cylindrical plugs, similar to those used by people living with snorers, people who shoot, and general use like using powertools. While they are not worthless for motorcycle use, they are not much better. Do your ears a big favor and use these only on an emergency basis. Buy plugs that are manufactured specifically for motorcycle use.

Disposable plugs offer superior protection at an excellent price. The low cost of bulk buying from dealers or even better, places like M & P, ensures you will always have a clean, fresh pair with no excuse to not wear them.

I keep a few spare pairs in my jacket pocket and some under the seat. Oh, and don’t be tempted to stuff one you dropped into the gutter into your ear, for obvious reasons.

Custom Ear Plugs

Custom ear plugs are a great option, though they are expensive. Ranging from complex plastic or silicone moulded versions to ones that are actually designed to fit YOUR ears. I choose to use disposable ear plugs because they are easy and cheap, and you don’t have to worry about losing them. [AndyW – I use custome ear protectors as I have difficulty using foam plugs or buds – price wise, remember that they last several years.]
Not only that, I wear a new, clean pair every few days. However, the advantages of Custom Ear protection are excellent hearing protection, long term comfort and proven fit. The disadvantages include the possibility of loss or breakage leaving you with no protection, cost, and having to go through having them made.

Hearing loss is preventable. If you ride for any length of time without ear protection you will suffer irreversible hearing damage. Whether high quality disposable ear plugs or custom-made and fitted ear plugs, consistently wearing a high quality ear plug every time you ride will ensure you won’t have to go through life constantly asking people to repeat themselves, or wondering if that ringing in your ears will ever go away.

At the end of the day, go for a plug which you find comfortable and not loose. And remember, even a badly fitted plug is better than no protection at all.

For more detailed information see this useful Tinnitus FAQ page.