A deep rumble of a big engine is music to many ears, but what if it gets too loud? Or what about wind noise? We talked to the experts at Auritech to find out how and when you should protect your hearing.
MSL: What’s worse, engine or wind noise?
Auritech: It depends entirely on the amplitude (loudness) of the wind or the engine. Obviously high wind noise is worse than low engine noise. But generally the high frequency sounds are worse, so 100dB for 30 minutes at 8000Hz will be more damaging than at 2000Hz. For most road motorcyclists, we recommend a filtered product (such as Auritech Biker) that focuses on taking down the higher frequency wind noise.
However for motorcycle racing (and some very loud bikes on the road), engine noise often becomes a major problem too – and in this case we usually recommend people use something like the Auritech Work product because it takes out rather more of the frequencies associated with engines and machinery.
MSL: At what speed does wind noise start to affect your hearing?
Auritech: It depends on a number of factors including any natural wind, helmet, bike and fairing design. Also, the sensitivity of each person’s hearing can vary. In general though, 50mph+ is where damage begins after sustained exposure. It is linked to time of exposure so where you may have 60 minutes at 50mph before permanent hearing damage, it may be only three minutes at 85mph.
MSL: Do in-ear headphones help at all?
Auritech: Not much. In fact usually it makes the problem worse because if you play music as well as the wind/engine noise, you are adding even more amplitude/exposure, thus compounding the damage. Use in-ear headphones that are switched off and they may reduce the dB exposure by 3-5dB but they are not designed for protection and are not fit for purpose at all.
MSL: What about different bikes and helmets? How much of a difference do they make?
Auritech: Every bike design and helmet design is different when it comes to wind noise. Helmets are designed for head/brain safety in an accident and not for protecting hearing.
MSL: What kind of earplugs are available?
Auritech: Various. The cheapest are foam (roll-up) plugs, which do a good job of protecting from damage but are uncomfortable on a bike as they often wriggle out and after a long ride can really hurt the sensitive ear canal. They also block all frequencies indiscriminately so you lose a lot of situation awareness on the bike.
Non-filtered ‘christmas tree’ shaped plugs are a little more expensive but no improvement on foam, although they can be more comfortable depending on the design. They filter less noise often than foam.
Custom made plugs are produced from a mould of theear canal and can come in non-filtered (cheaper) forms which if well made can block a lot of sound but like foam, are indiscriminate in their attenuation so you lose situation awareness. Then there are filtered custom plus (like Auritech Custom Fit) which offer high levels of comfort combined with good performance.
MSL: Are earplugs the only solution?
Auritech: Yes – or keep your speed sub 50mph, always.
MSL: What if your hearing has already been damaged?
Auritech: Unless you are totally deaf then it is never too late. Hearing damage is incremental so the more exposure you have to loud noises the worse the effect on your hearing as you grow older. Many people suffering from hearing loss or tinnitus use hearing protection precisely to stop the condition getting worse.