Updated: Nov 23, 2020
Dr. Todd Decker
It’s summer…it’s Sturgis…it’s time for motorcycle riding! The freedom of going places, the inner peace of just you and your bike and the connection you have with nature while on it. All are wonderful benefits to owing a motorcycle but like all good things there can be a downside to this activity. Our sensitive ears do not tolerate loud noises very well. To get your attention… a 2018 study revealed that permanent hearing loss can be caused by just 15 minutes riding at 62 mph without ear protection on a highway due to wind noise! Riding on our intestate at 74 mph takes just 7 minutes for permanent damage. We would think that a helmet would provide some protection from the invasive noise with its inner padding. Studies have shown helmets, though great for protecting the head, only provide a protection of 3-5 dB of sound when ear plugs provide as much as 35 dB of noise protection. A study by OSHA confirmed riding a motorcycle at 37 miles per hour with no ear protection and open helmet has the same amount of noise volume as a leaf blower or lawn mower. So even those leisurely drives around the lake can produce permanent hearing loss after an hour.
With hearing loss now correlated with memory issues and dementia, now is the time to begin protecting your hearing around all noisy situations. There are two main hearing protection options for those that ride motorcycles. The first is the standard foam ear plugs which is the cheapest option and can be found at any drug store. They come in a variety of shapes from cylinders to cones but both are only effective if placed in the ear appropriately. For proper installation you roll them and then pull your ear back using your other hand to open the ear canal and place the ear plug into your ear while letting it expand. Some riders feel this type of ear plug is too occluding and can take away from the riding ambiance of sounds they want to hear. The second option is a custom ear plug like the Hocks Noise Breaker or Etymotic musician ear plugs. These ear plugs are custom made for comfort and best reduction in noise. An audiologist takes an impression of your ear(s) for the personal fitting. These ear plugs protect you but allow you to hear many of the sounds you enjoy and need for safety.
So enjoy your ride but keep your hearing!