Yes Emily

Yes Emily, girls can ride motorcycles!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Are you wearing EAR PLUGS?

There is a hint of white stuff on the ground this morning. Winter is here. Canadian weather - it's a real problem when you've decided to write a blog about touring on a motorcycle. It's getting harder to come up with new blog post ideas - one of the reasons I'm blogging less often. But, today, I've decided to write about my mother, more specifically about her hearing aids, and I promise it does have something to do with motorcycles.

I've talked about my mother before, she was one of my biggest blog fans over the summer when I was on my little tour. She is 93 and has never ridden a motorcycle but tends to tell everyone she knows that I do and then she pulls out the photos. Mother's and grandmothers - they never change, wanna see my pictures of my granddaughter ... whoops, did I say that? Back to my mother. Yesterday I picked her up (from her aqua fit class - don't we all wish we could be doing aqua fit at 93) to take her to the grocery store. It wasn't until we had nearly arrived at her apartment (yes, she still lives on her own) that I noticed I was having a 'normal' conversation with her. That is, I wasn't being asked to repeat myself - repeatedly. I wasn't feeling like I had to raise my voice or speak "unnaturally distinctly"and I wasn't giving up trying to communicate in frustration. That's when I asked, "Are you wearing your new hearing aids, by any chance?"

My mother has worn a hearing aid for several years now but has just recently been given a new, high tech set to "test drive." Like all technology the newest versions are so sophisticated they can be fine tuned like never before. I really don't know the how of this technology and for now it doesn't matter. What does matter is that my mother could finally, actually hear me. The down side of this conversation was that this technology comes with a hefty price and she was considering that perhaps they weren't really worth it. To me they were priceless ... but that leads me to the reason I'm blogging today.

Are you wearing EAR PLUGS? The evidence of hearing damage related to riding a motorcycle is overwhelming. Don't think that because you're not riding one of those (you know the kind) loud bikes that you're not at risk. It's not the sound of the bike it's the wind noise, the so called "silent killer" that's doing most of the damage. Wind noise or the amount of noise turbulence created around the head as the motorcycle rider is in motion, reaches well over 100 db (comparable to a chainsaw) at highway speeds. Two hours exposure to 110 db noise results in hearing damage. Damage that is irreversible and cumulative. It takes only 15 minutes to damage hearing with noise levels of 115 db. Stopped at a stop sign at a busy intersection you are still being exposed to 90db of noise inside your full face helmet. Windscreens, fairings, helmet fit and style can all affect the noise levels in a plus or minus way. Many folks believe that wearing a helmet reduces the risk of hearing damage but in fact some helmets can actually increase that risk. Some researchers believe there are only two types of helmets "loud and louder." Have a listen to some of the different helmet noise levels tested by You might think you're getting use to the noise, well, to quote the ohcow "Ears do not get used to noise - they get deaf!" Think about it!

Now there is one way to prevent hearing damage caused by riding a motorcycle - Wear EAR PLUGS. And no, wearing ear plugs is not going to impair your ability to hear traffic or the sound of your engine. In fact ear plugs lower the overall volume of noise, they don't block it out entirely - the frequency of wind noise is muted, but lower frequency sounds are still audible. "When the ear is hit by many loud sounds it overloads and changes the sounds making it harder to interpret individual sounds. Wearing hearing protection cuts down on the overall sound levels so that the ear can work better" (OHCOW) In other words, wearing proper fitting ear plugs can actually improve your ability to hear important sounds.

Hearing protection or ear plugs come in many varieties and types from the cheapest foam pair at about $2./pair to very pricey, blue tooth containing, custom mouldeds for $500 to $700. Research shows that any kind of hearing protection is better than no hearing protection, but only if it fits well. My problem was trying to get the foam ear plugs inserted into my "dainty" ears and get my helmet on before they popped out again. I opted for custom fitted silicone ear plugs by BigEarInc. They had a booth set up at the International SuperShow in Toronto. The process was simple. I sat on a stool (okay I did feel a bit ridiculous for the 5 minutes I had to sit in the midst of a crowd of thousands with what I felt looked like purple cauliflower growing out of both ears), they asked me what colour I wanted (purple of course), the technician put a little plug attached to a 'string" into my ear. Then he injected the polyvinylsiloxane into my ear and the world went silent. A couple minutes later the silicone had set and he popped them out and told me to come back in an hour. An hour later he was checking the fit, fine tuning it and teaching me how to insert them. Since they are custom fitted there is a left and right and with practice it was easy to get them in and out. They fit the twists and turns of my ear canals specifically so they are comfortable, fit flush to my ear and don't fall out. They are washable, reusable and come with a handy carrying case. They cost under $100. Well worth it to protect my hearing.

There are several companies that do custom fitted ear plugs. I just happened to pick BigEar inc because they were there and the price was reasonable. The hearing society or workman's safety supply store in your city may even be able to fit you with or tell you where to get fitted with custom ear plugs.

Being exposed to high levels of noise for long periods of time (eg. touring on a motorcycle) has also been proven to be stressful causing physical fatigue and reduced concentration. When you're on a motorcycle you can't afford to loose your concentration because of fatigue - you'd be surprised at the difference a simple set of ear plugs can make. Even if you have never worn hearing protection before - if you start now you will prevent further damage to your hearing. Enjoy the ride!


  1. After reading this post. I understood the value of earplugs. Thanks
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  2. Helmet and earplugs both are needed while riding motorbikes
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