Hearing protection for motorcyclists
It's so difficult to describe to non-motorcycle lovers, but one of the most wonderful sounds in the world is that of a finely-tuned motorcycle engine.
Whether it's the heavyweight Bonneville rumble of a Bobber, or the explosive 765cc roar of a Street Triple, the exquisite warmth and richness of a bike's soundtrack reveals its personality, performance and power; turning heads and fluttering hearts as it goes.
Admiring a bike's engine for a few seconds as it glides past is all-too brief pleasure when you're merely an admiring observer. But when you're riding you're anything but a passer-by, you're continuously sitting in amongst the noise that other people are momentarily appreciative of.
And there's a fair chance that if you ride regularly, for any length of time, then by immersing yourself in that sound, you could be risking damage to your hearing. And that’s precisely what motorcycle ear protection is for.
How does hearing protection work?
The fact is; you risk damage to your hearing by subjecting your unprotected ears to any significant level of noise for a significant amount of time.
Our bodies are certainly miraculous things and they successfully carry us through a lifetime of victories, trials, and tribulations; however millions of years of evolution hasn't quite yet prepared us for the engine noise of daily motorcycling commutes or regular weekend biking. The level of noise produced by motorcycle engines differs by model, and how they're ridden, of course – but suffice to say that prolonged exposure to any significant noise could cause permanent damage, and that's a serious consideration.
In simple terms, all sounds travel through the air as waves of pressure, and loud sounds carry more pressure. The basic principle behind ear protection is to place some kind of barrier over the ear to act as a baffle to reduce the amount of pressure that's inflicted onto the delicate ear-drum mechanism.
Prolonged pressure can eventually cause hearing problems. Hearing protection simply reduces that pressure, thereby reducing the risk of damage.
How to choose hearing protection
Lots of riders wear motorcycle earplugs in one form or another; the simplest being the cheap disposable foam type. You just roll these between forefinger and thumb to soften them up and squash them, then place one into the opening of each ear canal, where they should expand enough to fit snugly in there without falling out.
If you want to splash out a bit more money, then there are slightly more expensive versions of the basic foam ear plug; rubberised washable or silicon reusable variations of the same theme are all out there.
Pinlock earplugs for example, are washable plugs with a filter designed specifically to reduce the wind noise when you’re riding a motorcycle. And other earplugs use isolate technology to all but block the ear canal altogether, which leaves you to hear much reduced volume through sound vibrations conducted through the bones of your skull around the ears.
Should I really bother?
Some experienced riders will tell you that you don't need ear plugs when you're riding if you wear a full helmet because your helmet muffles the sound enough to a safe level. But anyone who's been riding for any length of time knows that even with a full helmet the noise of a lengthy stint in the saddle can be irritating enough that it can begin to affect your concentration.
Other people might opt against using motorcycle ear protection on the basis that it can block the kind of sounds that you need to be hearing; like other traffic, for example. But remember that the act of wearing standard ear plugs doesn't block out sound to anything near zero levels. If you've ever worn ear plugs, you'll know that you can still hear things, you just have a reduction in the level of noise (i.e. pressure) your ears have to cope with (if you do isolate your ear canal then you’ll still hear at a reduced level of volume due to bone conduction - see next section).
What other hearing technology is there?
If you’re riding with a group of riders who need to talk to one another occasionally then you might consider a Bluetooth-connected communications system that uses bone conduction technology. This is, as it might suggest, a way of hearing through headphones in a way that the sound waves pass through the bones of the skull as vibrations directly to your inner ear instead of those sounds passing through your ear drum. This leaves your ears clear to concentrate on the ever-present sounds of the world around you as you ride.
What are the best motorcycle earplugs?
That's entirely a matter of personal taste, because different people have different requirements, comfort levels and budgets.
But, however much you decide to spend on ear protection, common sense suggests that it's better to use 'anything' than 'nothing'.
And that sounds good to us.