Motorcycle safety consists of several key components including training, quality gear and hazard management while riding. Through training, riders learn about the value of good gear and the spectrum of riding hazards plus the corresponding techniques to avoid them. Experienced riders know to constantly scan for hazards while they enjoy the freedom of the open road. One hazard often overlooked, however, is hearing loss, which can substantially affect your quality of life.
Understanding hearing loss
Hearing loss can occur due to many factors including illness, trauma, medication side effects and exposure to excess noise. When motorcycle riding damages hearing, noise is the culprit. To better defend our hearing we need to understand how noise causes hearing loss. There are two main components to consider when evaluating your noise exposure risk: sound level and exposure duration. Sound level is measure in decibels (db) and it is generally understood that sound levels above 85db cause damage to hearing. As sound levels increase, the duration of time required to cause damage decreases.
The Centers for Disease Control recommends the use of hearing protection when repeated noise exposure exceeds 85db for an eight-hour duration. When sounds exceed 90db, the exposure duration limit drops to two hours and at 100db the limit is just 15 minutes. So what is the noise hazard riding a motorcycle? Riding a motorcycle can expose you to sound levels of 100db or more and most rides last much longer than 15 minutes.
Sound and motorcycling
When riding a motorcycle at speeds below 35 mph, the rider is exposed to a wide range of sounds from environmental noises to the music of the motor. By the time you reach highway speed, the main source of damaging noise is wind turbulence. The front of the motorcycle and rider as they push through the air creates the turbulence. Different styles of motorcycles, helmets and riding positions result in varying levels of turbulence and wind noise – all are too loud.
Some motorcycles feature purposely-designed fairings that create a pocket of still air around the rider. If yours doesn’t have one, adding a well-designed and installed aftermarket fairing can direct air turbulence away from your head. Choosing to wear a full-faced helmet designed to create a smooth airflow that features sound-attenuating features may reduce wind noise. While these airflow management techniques help, it is reasonable to conclude that motorcycle riding requires hearing protection. This means earplugs, which come in many varieties from disposable to custom fitted to electronic. Ear plugs have a Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) in decibels; the higher the number, the more protection. Be aware that each state has laws regarding motorcycling with earplugs, which you can research at the American Motorcyclist Association.
Choose a good quality earplug and follow the instructions so that you can enjoy your hearing.
Till next time, ride safe!