For many, a good portion of the appeal of motorcycles is that they're brash, attention-grabbing, and loud. You can always count on turning heads when you open up the throttle. But what are you doing to your own head when you do that? More specifically, do motorcycles harm your hearing? If you don't wear protection, the answer very well could be "yes." If you want to protect your eardrums for years to come, hearing protection is critical for all your motorcycle riding.
Protecting Your Eardrums
Hearing is a finite resource, and the more you abuse your ears, the more likely you are to find yourself with none left later in life. Anyone who's even heard a motorcycle start its engine could probably guess that they operate at a dangerous volume. It's true that the engine and exhaust sound from a motorcycle can be seriously detrimental to your hearing. But what you might not know is that's not the only way a motorcycle can damage your hearing. In reality, the force of wind you experience on the highway can do much greater harm to your hearing than the sound of the engine. A motorcycle's engine noise is limited to a volume of 50 decibels at fifty yards distance. But at just 60 km/h, you'll hear about 90 decibels of volume, and by 160 km/h, you'll hear 110 km/h. Both of these are more than enough to lead to hearing loss. Unfortunately, even wearing a full face helmet won't prevent this damage from occurring. Some studies have indicated that full face helmets can have a reverberation effect at high speed that's potentially harmful to the ears.
Styles of Hearing Protection
There are many styles of hearing protection on the market, but they're not all equally suited to motorcycle riding. The best hearing protection you can get are over-the-ear headphone-style hearing protection. This type of hearing protection surrounds the ear with high-density foam to keep out as much sound as possible. Unfortunately, this style of headphone doesn't work particularly well with wearing a helmet. In-ear ear protection is your best bet for limiting hearing loss. There are dozens of styles of earplugs on the market, from flanged varieties, to twist-in rubber styles, to mold-able gel-style earplugs. However, in some situations, simpler is better. If you're going to be wearing a helmet, you'll probably prefer the simple soft foam type of earplug that can be found at rock concerts everywhere. Made from a lightweight foam, this type of earplug expands to fill your ear canal and block more sound. But since it's lighter than many other types of earplug, it also is less likely to make your ear sweaty and uncomfortable.
Proper Hearing Protection Use
This may sound strange, but there is definitely right way-multiple wrong ways-to put in earplugs. Simply jamming the little foam plug into your ear canal won't give you the performance you need. On the other hand, jamming the ear plug too far back in your ear canal can cause it's own damage to your ear drums. To avoid this, start by rolling the ear plug back and forth between your thumb, pointer finger, and middle finger. Next, reach over the top of your head with the opposite hand from the hand in which you're rolling the ear plug and pull on the top of your ear to open up your ear canal. Once the plug is thin enough to fit in your ear canal, gently insert it into year until you feel it come to a natural stop. Release the ear plug to allow it to expand, and repeat the process with your other ear. The ear plugs should expand and after a minute or so you'll get peak hearing protection.
Hopefully our guide has given a you a few new bits of information and tips for protecting your hearing while you ride.