We love taking the afternoon to spin around on our motorcycles. The ritual of getting ready, getting on our gloves and jackets, helmets and boots. We waited all week to get out on the road and its magic. It all feels great. What does not feel great, however, is wind noise - our hearing can take a serious beating while we are out riding. One OSHA study found that riding a motorcycle at less than 40 mph with an open helmet could produce steady noise levels up to 90dB - the same as a leaf blower. At 65 mph sound pressure levels skyrocketed up to 105dB, even 115dB. Driving without hearing protection at that level is safe for only a matter of minutes. Motorcycle safety courses andmanufacturers are now integrating this information and making the same recommendation - use hearing protection when you ride.
The biggest problem with understanding and monitoring our hearing health is we lose our ability to hear gradually and by the time we notice, it’s too late. When you lose your hearing it’s permanent. So how does our sense of hearing actually work and how do we lose it? Our ears come equipped with approximately 16,000 hair cells that act as ultra-sensitive sound detectors. As sound enters the ear these cells will actually bend under the sound pressure. Different sets of cells are dedicated to narrow frequency ranges and create electrical impulse responses to the stream of sounds in conversation, music, or the roar of the highway. This creates our sense of hearing. If you’ve been out riding for several hours you may notice that your hearing feels muffled or dull. You might not hear whispers or your ears may ring. Your hearing may rebound within a few hours. Similar to blades of grass under a heavy adult vs. a child, hair cells will bend more if the sound is louder. However, the hair cells have a limit to how far and often they can bend. Repeated exposures to loud noises may eventually destroy the infrastructure of hair cells that enable you to hear. It can become hard to communicate or hear critical signals around you if this loss continues by repeated exposure. Another possible bad outcome is tinnitus which can be debilitating and has no remedy.
How loud is too loud? Safe exposure time is a function of sound pressure over time (sound pressure is not the same as volume). Everything up to 85dB is safe, at which point your safe exposure time without hearing protection is then limited to 8 hours. Decibel measurement is also algorithmic instead linear - each 3dB increase is a doubling of sound pressure and the halving of safe exposure time.
If you are wearing a full face helmet you might think that it will do the job of decreasing wind and engine noise and protect your hearing. In reality, wind dynamics actuallyforce helmets to vibrate increasing sound pressure and putting your hearing health at risk. Over the last 20 years there have beenstudies that demonstrate that motorcyclists noise exposure is unique and greatly influenced by the transmission of sound pressure through the helmet.The raw numbers are sobering.
If you are out on a BMW K100 at 60mph you could be experiencing sound pressure of 100+ dB, which is safe for less than 15 minutes. Increase the speed to 80 mph and the amount of safe time at speed drops to less than 2 minutes. Luckily there is an easy fix for all of this. The best motorcycle ear plugs can help keep you safe and comfortable on the road while actually improving your riding experience.
The main type of hearing protection that everyone is familiar with are foam ear plugs. On the positive side they are inexpensive and effectively do the job of reducing sound pressure. The two biggest problems with foam are comfort and sound quality. Foam plugs put a large amount of pressure on the ear canal and can be terribly uncomfortable. Foam ear plugs also block all sound and can virtually eliminate the highest frequencies. If you are trying to listen to the radio or your communications systems, what you hear might wind up sounding like all vowels. Hi-Fi hearing protection delivers the right mix of comfort and sound quality for an optimal experience. EarPeace ear plugs are designed to be supremely comfortable and are manufactured from a premium grade, velvet finish silicone that is comfortable for hours. You’ll forget you are wearing them. They have an ultra-low profile and fit comfortably under your helmet. The Hi-Fi filter system allows a precise amount of unobstructed sound into the ear so you still have a high-quality audio experience but at a safe, comfortable level. Clearly hear your communications equipment and main situational awareness. The good news is that you don’t have to sacrifice your experience to stay safe and comfortable when you ride.
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This video helps us to understand what it would be like to experience different levels of hearing loss from slight to severe. It’s easy to see how debilitating it can be to sufferers of the illness. You can’t hear The...