Every biker should wear earplugs. There, we made that a statement from the beginning.
It is alarming that many motorcyclists ride without earplugs. Hearing damage causes discomfort that leads to irritability, negativism and anger, fatigue, tension, stress, depression. But worst of all, it could lead to loss of hearing. Unfortunately, hearing damage is progressive. The sufferer will not notice it until it is too late, leading to tinnitus, with a constant ringing in the ears. It is not usually reversible.
What are decibels?
Audio intensity levels are measured in decibels (dB). When expressing the unit as a power ratio, it is defined as ten times the logarithm in base 10. That is, a change in power by a factor of 10 corresponds to a 10 dB change in level. So, a noise at 20 dB is actually 10 times more intense than at 10 dB, not twice. So, say the noise level is 80 dB when you ride in traffic, which increases 100 dB, it is now 100 times more intense.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) outlines that hearing damage starts by exposure to sound levels from 85 dB for prolonged periods. According to them, workers should not be exposed to sound levels above 85 dB in an eight-hour work day. NIOSH also stated that exposure to 100 dB for just 15 minutes is enough to damage one’s hearing.
With that in mind, riding at city speeds between 40 to 80 km/h will produce sound levels as high as 80 to 89 dB (depending on your motorcycle’s level of wind protection and helmet that you wear).
In heavy traffic, one can expect sound levels from 80 to 89 dB. Yes, that is what we get from riding below 80 km/h. The noise level increases to 100 dB at 100 km/h. Research shows that riding a bike at 150 km/h increases the sound level to 110 dB.
10 dB may not seem a lot between 100 and 110 dB, but get this: While It takes 15 minutes at 100 dB to damage hearing, 110 dB damages hearing in less than 2 minutes.
Some helmet manufacturers may promote their helmets as being “silent.” But the hard truth is that there are no “quiet” helmets, simply because the regulations specifically state that no helmet must impede upon the rider’s ability to hear. Therefore, no helmet is silent.
Of course, wearing a full-face usually reduces wind noise by 10 to 15 dB, but you are still at the threshold of between 85 to 90 dB at 100 km/h.
What is the solution then?
The best solution, therefore, is every biker should wear earplugs.
However, many motorcyclists believe that earplugs will damp out important environmental sounds. That is true if you wear neoprene (foam) plugs, which we use for trackdays and racing.
There are earplugs specialised for motorcycle riders. These employ special filters that attenuate (block) high noise levels such as wind noise but allow speech, engine note, communication system audio, and surrounding sounds through. They are more expensive but bear in mind that hearing aids are a lot more expensive and your hearing is priceless.
Besides saving you from hearing damage and loss, earplugs cuts down on the fatigue from fighting the noise. Additionally, you are not overwhelmed by the wind noise into thinking you’re riding too fast, allowing to concentrate on other aspects of riding.
So, save your hearing and start wearing ear protection today.