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very big dumb
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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
interesting topic, I hadn't given it much thought (though I've been riding with earplugs to make life quieter, i haven't thought of permanent damage)

http://www.ridermagazine.com/motorcycle-gear-buyers-guides/hearing-protection-for-motorcyclists.htm
Hearing Protection for Motorcyclists


Joe Michaud
May 13, 2011
Filed under Motorcycle Gear Buyers Guides, Motorcycle Parts + Accessories + Luggage: Reviews



by Joe Michaud

Two men are talking. One is bragging about his new hearing aid and says, “I have a new hearing aid…it’s wonderful. I can hear everything quite clearly.” Second man asks, “Really? What kind is it?” First man checks his watch and says, “Quarter to three.” If that sounds like you, you have the beginning of hearing loss.

Motorcyclists encounter auditory issues much like those of other hearing-loss candidates. And, like those others, our issues are often of our own making. Mary Wade, Au.D (Doctor of Audiology), with dry humor, maintains that motorcyclists exist squarely in the center of an auditory neighborhood that she calls “boy noise.”

Heck, noisy things are fun. One doesn’t have to be male to understand that.

The “boy noise” spectrum for motorcyclists includes wind noise, mechanical sounds from engine/exhaust/ tires and a host of peripheral ambient sounds. Out from amidst this cacophony, we must be able to separate hints of danger. Warning sounds like sirens, horns and encroaching cars must be safely discernible from the auditory clutter in our helmets.

As riders, our ears are affected by three variables; sound pressure levels, duration and, to a lesser degree, frequency. Let’s define some terms.

Our ears perceive sound pressure levels as “loudness.” Sound pressure levels are measured in decibels and are compared on a logarithmic scale. Each increment of 10 dB is a power of 10 in sound pressure level. Think Richter scale. The “loudness” piles up fast.


1. Moldex Pura-Fit 6900, 2. Max, 3. Multi-Max, 4. Max-Lite, 5. E-A-R Classic, 6. E-A-R Soft Blasts, 7. Laser Lite, 8. E-A-R Soft FX, 9. AO-Safety Musician Plugs, 10. Etymotic 20, 11. Peltor No-Touch, 12. E-A-R Express Push-Ins, 13.E-A-R Push-In Grip Rings

In the 1940s, sound studies done by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration culminated in accepted guidelines for the work place. If we review this data, we can see that sound pressure levels and duration are intimately related. We see that OSHA standards dictate that for every 5 dB increase, at levels greater than 90 dB on the A-weighted scale used by OSHA, the duration of allowable exposure is half.

There is some controversy among a burgeoning group of hearing care professionals regarding these OSHA guidelines. Some newer studies urge the indexing to be set at a more conservative 3 dB.

Independent of sound pressure levels and duration of exposure is frequency. Frequency is the “pitch” of a particular sound. High-pitched sound will often seem “louder” or more painful at the same intensity as lower-pitched sound.

Doctor Wade advises, “What is safe for one set of ears may not be safe for every person or every ear. If, after noise exposure, you notice that hearing seems diminished, your ears feel full and/or you have ringing (tinitus), your ears are sending you a 911 call. If the symptoms are temporary, you know you dodged a bullet. If the changes are permanent, well…then you live with hearing loss and ringing in the ears.”

As riders, we need to differentiate between “good noise” and “bad noise.” The constant rush of wind noise is a bad noise and is responsible for masking other sounds. Sounds like sirens, horns, radar detectors, GPS audio prompts and our own engine sound (as a speed check) are all good noises. We’d like to attenuate them as little as possible.

Up to 40 mph, wind noise is usually not a problem; our ears are still operating within their design envelope. As speed increases past 40 mph, wind noise rises at a much faster rate. Our ears quickly become overwhelmed.

Let’s look at some studies that relate to motorcyclists.

Careful testing has determined accurate in-helmet measurements of wind noise intensity at varying speeds. One British study at the University of Southampton was done to measure real-world sound risks involving “working motorcyclists,” like policemen or messengers.

After inserting calibrated microphones into the outer ears of riders, controlled tests were run both on the street and in wind tunnels. The study found that wind noise increased dramatically over 40 mph and quickly obscured any engine, exhaust or tire noise.

This study, done on BMW K-bikes, tested 27 helmet samples of 13 different types at speeds up to 70 mph. Surprisingly, at 70 mph, in-the-ear wind intensity averaged 100 dB despite any differences in helmet technology.

This research was done with both full-face and open-face models, vents open, vents closed and with/without chinbar wind controls. Helmets were ultimately modified with tape-sealed shields and different visor lengths, and some shell shapes were altered with plastic or cardboard “spoilers.” One manufacturer supplied prototype helmets with altered interior shells at the ears, chinbar and forehead.

Norm Matzen (www.theearplug guy.com) says, “An extensive amount of testing in wind tunnels at various universities as well as police authorities have characterized 500 Hz noise (the frequency of helmet-attenuated wind noise) very well…. It was found that essentially all helmets are equally susceptible to this noise. The statistical difference in a very large sample of different brands and models of helmets showed only a 1 dB variation in noise at the ear.”

The U.S. Department of Transportation study titled “The Effects of Motorcycle Helmets on Seeing and Hearing” agrees when it states, “…in the hearing tests, no significant difference was found in a rider’s ability to hear traffic, either between helmet types or between helmet and no helmet. Hearing ability was significantly affected by vehicle speed due to increased wind noise…. For any given speed, helmets did not di*minish nor en*hance hearing.”

Matzen explains that the sound pressure level at the ear for helmetless riders is 20 dB more than with a full or partial coverage (ears covered) helmet. So much for hearing “better” without a helmet. Once past approximately 40 mph, it just isn’t so despite intuitive beliefs. Every helmet tested in these studies—full-face or open-face, expensive or cheap—allowed over 100 dB inside at 70 mph.

Since decibel levels for wind noise at various road speeds are well known and testable, they can be cross-checked on the OSHA chart for acceptable time exposures for that level of sound. How fast do you ride? How long do you ride? Let’s do some math.


1. Audiologist-created solid custom plugs, 2. Audiologist-created Etymotic Musician Plugs with 15 dB filter installed, 3. Etymotic carry case, 4. Etymotic Attenuator 25 dB

We can see by the OSHA chart that exposure to 85 dB over eight hours is considered “acceptable” for most people in the workplace. However, a speed of 55 mph produces 90dB. How many hours do we ride at 55? Tell the truth.

If we up the ante to a more reasonable pace, say, 75-80 mph, we subject ourselves to approximately 105 dB wind noise. OSHA recommends exposure at that level be limited to one hour. Does that sound like fun on a long trip? Nope. So, what can we do?

Well, that’s easy. Attenuation, my friends.

The ubiquitous “foamie” earplug is popular due to cost and availability. Foamies work well and are capable of 20-30 dB attenuation. However, failure to properly insert them can reduce their effectiveness by 20 dB or more.

It is imperative that any compressible earplug be installed into the bony part of the skull rather than the fleshy cartilage of the outer ear. Foamies should be tightly compressed, inserted deeply into the ear canal, and then held in place for 10 seconds allowing them to expand correctly. If they feel loose when installed, they are.
 

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very big dumb
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Discussion Starter · #2 ·
More technical plugs do exist. Audiologists can make deep-ear custom plugs that fit each ear precisely, removing the onus of improper installation.

The ideal plugs are the earplugs designed for musicians. They attenuate flatly across the frequency spectrum at a set decibel. Foamies typically attenuate high frequencies more than low, while a flat attenuating plug diminishes sound evenly, much like sunglasses do for glare. It’s essentially like turning the volume down. These are a true joy to use. Some custom earplugs, like those of Etymotic, give the wearer the option of setting the attenuation to any of three levels simply by replacing a removable baffle.

An improperly installed earplug of any sort, when worn inside a helmet, can get darn painful after a few miles. No one wants to remove a helmet to rearrange an earplug, so ill-fitting or painful plugs tend to not get used. Custom molded plugs obviate this problem but you pay a price up front.

There are many shapes, types and designs of noise-attenuating earplugs. They all have their good points. Three of us tested as many types/brands/ shapes as we could gather on a 1,000-mile ride to Laguna Seca for the MotoGP in July 2005. Our results may lack true scientific methodology, since we used three different heads fitting into three different helmets and we rode three different and disparate machines, but we’ll reveal what we found, and what we liked. None of us were earplug users before. The results surprised us.

The scores are averaged 0-10 from three riders. The plugs we deemed untestable all had small plastic handles that eased “no touch” insertion. Effective at trackside but they protruded too far from the ear for helmet use.

The Bottom Line?

The best bet are foamies; cheap but very effective. Some vendors can provide convenient sampler packs, like www.aerostich.com. Buy ’em all and try ’em all. Practice inserting them correctly. Find a pair that fit your particular ears well, and then buy ’em in bulk. For even greater protection, you may want to step up to the Etymotic Musician custom ear plugs. With their optional attenuation levels of 9, 15 and 25 dB and the comfort of the added custom ear mold, these are the true Gold Standard for attenuation. Comfy and effective. I wear my 25s religiously now, and wish I had for the last 20 years.
 

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When I first started riding, I was amazed by how loud the wind could get in my cheap helmet. I've since started wearing earplugs and now have a better helmet, but that was an important lesson I learned early on.

Whenever I have a friend that starts riding, the first thing I always give them is a small bag of earplugs for them to use. Hopefully that is enough to get them to start buying their own.
 

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I find a lot of people don't really take hearing protection seriously, but it is no joke. I played in a few bands when I was younger and never liked wearing ear protection. I stood in front of my bass cab and with the drummer to my right most of the time.

I am now 27 years old, and I can barely hear from my right ear. It really really sucks.

Seriously, protect it while you still have it!
 

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I always wear plugs. Mowing the lawn and any other loud environments.
Worked for an aerospace firm for over 30 years.
Being out on the lines gives you a very good idea of what loud really is.
Free plugs, fill yer boots. They encourage being pro-active about this.

Still have the stock SV muffler and don't intend to change that up.
I don't care much for attention whoring.
 

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I say this every time I see a discussion about hearing loss but I really need to get some decent earplugs and use them when I ride.
 

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I even double up on occaisions-plugs and muffs when shooting, or MP3 player at low level with noise cancelling headphones with muffs over top. I already have some high end loss from loud music and I want to keep what is left
 

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I always wear them and keep extra foamies in my jacket for passengers or if I lose my good ones.

Rode without plugs to local store and anything over 30 mph bothers my ears.

If you still have use of your ears, to any degree, I strongly recommend protecting it! Those hard of hearing who aren't bothered by moderate/loud noises can still further damage their hearing, so even they should be careful.


Sent from my iPhone using Motorcycle
 

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I always wear foamies as well. I dropped $125 or so on some custom jobs from the Earplugstore. While those are really good, they made my ears too rigid to slip my helmet over. :( There's just no way my ears would fold or bend enough to get a helmet on, so keep this in mind before laying out the dosh for custom plugs - they may, or may not work for you.
 

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I'm going to be that guy...it's not the Richter scale anymore...it's just magnitude...sorry I'm a geologist. Great article though! Thanks for posting.
 

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Still have the stock SV muffler and don't intend to change that up.
I don't care much for attention whoring.
Slightly OT, but I was just down in Sac (I live in extreme northwest rural CA) where there are actually lanes to split. I was in the MILs car when a couple of bikes with aftermarket mufflers zoomed by. Everyone jumped, including me. I announced that I was no longer interested in those mufflers which was a cave in to the SO's question of "why" when I expressed interest previously. Sigh. At 55, I'm still growing up...

and want to keep what hearing I have left.


Edy
 

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I started wearing foamies last season, never wore plugs on the bike before that. It changed the way I feel on the bike by a significant margin. I'm good for a solid hour or two longer in the saddle with them in. They've cut down on fatigue and stress by a significant margin.

I'll never ride without them again, they're an essential gear item for me now.


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My ear canals are two different sizes, so it's not easy for me to find foamies that work in both ears. I use these 3M ear plugs, and they seem to work best for me:


I'm looking at using custom plugs, instead. I met someone who can both mold the plugs and wire them for audiophile sound, and he also modifies Scala Riders and the like to accept an audio jack, so you can have crystal-clear music and communication on the bike. The problem is the cost -- around $300, plus the cost of the Scala.
 

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I started wearing foamies last season, never wore plugs on the bike before that. It changed the way I feel on the bike by a significant margin. I'm good for a solid hour or two longer in the saddle with them in. They've cut down on fatigue and stress by a significant margin.
Ditto on the ride quality. What used to be a raucous clawing at the road while in the twisties has become a serine ballet. Well not quite, but it's still more enjoyable.
 

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I'm looking at using custom plugs, instead. I met someone who can both mold the plugs and wire them for audiophile sound, and he also modifies Scala Riders and the like to accept an audio jack, so you can have crystal-clear music and communication on the bike. The problem is the cost -- around $300, plus the cost of the Scala.
The custom-molded plugs are really nice, IMO, but I paid much less than $300.
 

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+1 on Mad's suggestion of Etymotic. I use them all the time on the bike and gigging with my bands. I make a decent amount of income in various musical endeavors, both symphonic and in the bars. Protecting my fine-tuned ears is paramount. My bike had a carbon TB on it when I bought it, so it only took one ride to figure out that I would not be riding without my Etymotics again. They make a VERY good earplug for $13/pair if you don't feel like going all the way and having custom plugs made. Since I am a musician, I intend to get some of the higher end Ety's as soon as financially possible.
 

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Meh, an aftermarket pipe isn't only about attention whoring. I could care less who hears my exhaust. I only care that I hear its sweet growl.

I always wear earplugs, even if I'm riding 5 minutes. My room is littered with skin tone Hearos. I love those things. Wore them on the subway to work today. Wore them at home to drown out noise from the street (spring is here so sportbikes and a*holes with loud radios are out in force).

And yeah, a friend of mine that rides, and who is very smart and geeky, had no idea about the permanent nature of hearing loss, nor the loudness of a noise and its duration as they related to damage. So what hope is there for people using cheap Apple buds while riding the subway. There probably should be something in schools or on TV about it.
 
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