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Is Your Motorcycle Making You Deaf?

Time to Read: 5 minutes

Senior funny man as a pilot with hat and glassesMotorcycles. Dreams of the open road with long weekend rides on country and mountain roads that recall carefree days and independence. Steve McQueen, Peter Fonda, Marlon Brando…

Or perhaps motorcycles have been your cheap, quick and versatile form of daily transport.

No matter how you use your motorbike, there is one thing you need to know about your ride - it is probably damaging your hearing.

You’re probably familiar with the slight deafness which occurs when you switch the bike off and take off the helmet. This is known as Temporary Threshold Shift - if you’ve been to a loud rock concert, you also know the feeling too.

Extended exposure will result in permanent hearing loss.

Alarmingly, research carried out by the University of Southampton in the UK found that just four minutes of riding can cause permanent hearing damage.

You might be surprised that it is not just the sound of the exhaust which is the problem (although Harley Davidson’s exhaust rumbles 80dB while an average car idles at 35-45dB), it is the wind

Riding a standard Yamaha Tracer 900 at Leicestershire’s Bruntingthorpe Proving Ground, and with the rider wearing a HJC RPHA 70 crash helmet, technicians from the university placed tiny microphones by the rider’s ears to record and analyse the wind noise generated while riding at a variety of controlled speeds.

The results showed that riding at a steady 50mph generated 92.7 decibels (dB) of wind noise, enough to cause permanent hearing damage after less than 26 minutes. At 60mph, the reading went up to 97.9dB (eight minutes), while at 70mph the noise levels went to over 100dB, risking damage in just four minutes. At 90mph, the university’s experts considered that irreversible hearing damage could occur in under 90 seconds.

Motorcycle going at high speed on a straight roadMoreover, different styles of helmets made only a marginal difference to the noise abatement. But researchers did find that the addition of a windshield provided substantial noise reduction as well as greater rider comfort.

They also recommended that riders wear ear plugs along with their helmets to help protect your hearing.

But not all earplugs are created equal.

The effectiveness of a hearing protection earplug is specified by a Noise Reduction Rating (NRR). The typical range for hearing protection is from 15 to 35 decibels of sound attenuation. The higher the NRR is, the more noise attenuation it provides, as long as it is also a good fit in the ear.

And just because you’re wearing earplugs, doesn’t mean you have to forgo the two way communication that many modern bikes offer you and you pillion passenger or listening to a bit of George Thorogood when you get out on the highway.

Specialist safety equipment manufacturers can supply custom made silicone ear plugs with a mini jack end which is used in motorsports.

If you already have hearing aids, we recommend that you don't wear them while riding. Wait until you are safely at your destination before putting them in.

If you’ve been riding a motorbike for a while, or are just getting back into it as a reward for years of hard work, come and see us here at Value Hearing for a comprehensive hearing assessment and ways to protect and manage your hearing.