Research by ADAC, the Germany motoring organisation, shines a light on Noise Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) and reminds us why we should always wear ear plugs on every ride in order to avoid becoming one of the 11 million people in the UK with some form of hearing loss.
Did you know that just 15 minutes of riding a motorcycle at 62 mph without ear plugs can cause permanent hearing damage? And the faster you go, the easier it is to do permanent damage such that at 74 mph permanent damage occurs after just 7 minutes and 3 minutes at 87 mph. Slightly more recent research by experts at Southampton University concluded that riding without ear plugs at motorway speeds had the potential to cause hearing damage within a matter of four minutes. The experiment concluded that noise levels exceeded 100 decibels at 70 mph. Interestingly use of a touring screen reduced the impact of the noise markedly, but only to the point where damage took 27 minutes to occur.
These are indeed sobering statistics - once the very small hairs on the inside of your ear are damaged, they can never grow back, hence the irreversible damage. The ADAC research showed that bikers not wearing earplugs are exposing themselves to 95 decibels at 62 mph (the equivalent of a loud food processor) and at 74 mph to 98 decibels (the equivalent of using loud power tools).
Repeated exposure to this level of noise can also result in tinnitus, a permanent ringing in the ears. In fact, permanent hearing damage starts to occur at speeds as low as 35 mph, with EU law stating that employees exposed to noise levels about 80 decibels must be given hearing protection.
Use of the necessary hearing protection is surprisingly low amongst the biking population. Research by Auritech, an ear plug manufacturer, in October 2018 found that nearly half of British bikers were not taking adequate precautions to protect their hearing. Just 40% of riders were found to be wearing the necessary protection all of the time, whilst a frightening 30% took no precautions at all. A further 17% of the sample who did not wear any protection claimed they did not know they needed to wear hearing protection, whilst 66% said they did not wear protection so their hearing of sirens or comms system was not impeded. This last point is particularly noteworthy given that the right ear plugs correctly fitted, won’t impact your ability to hear surrounding traffic, sirens or other important sounds - ear plugs do not turn sound off, they simply filter out the damaging frequencies causing hearing loss.
However, the problem is both simple and easy to rectify. The cheapest solution comes in the form of foam or latex ear plugs, which can be bought for as little as 50 pence per pair. These are certainly a good solution, and very cost effective, but by far the best option are the more expensive (but much more conformable and effective), custom made variety, fitted by a qualified Audiologist. These last much longer than the foam or latex variety, but you will ideally need to have a new pair fitted every two to three years to account for the fact that your ears will change shape over time. The more sophisticated variety come Bluetooth enabled, allowing you to pair them with your sat nav, comms system or phone (at sensible volume of course in order to avoid eliminating the very benefit of having them).
The second line of defence against NIHL comes from your crash helmet. Some lids are better than others at noise reduction, so pay particular attention to this aspect of the lid when reading reviews and selecting your purchase. When putting your lid on when wearing ear plugs, be careful not to dislodge the ear plug, particularly the foam variety that can often protrude out of the ear (unlike the custom fit variety than are moulded to your ear shape and do not protrude).
A number of companies offer customer fit ear plugs. The process is relatively simple with the Audiologist taking a wax impression of your ear (which is painless), and then making the ear plugs from the impression (in a lead time of between two and three weeks - some providers offer an express service at an additional fee).
Some providers of custom ear plugs include, but are not limited to, the following -