In terms of rider education and injury prevention, a great deal of attention is paid to motorcycle safety by the government, motorcycle industry, and media. However, the subject of hearing loss among motorcyclists is rarely discussed. Yes, riders sometimes make passing remarks about ear fatigue after a long day in the saddle, and recent years have (in my subjective opinion) shown an increase in earplug use among riders. Still, the subject and the use of actual, provable scientific numbers have been relatively overlooked when compared to safety items like body armor and helmets.

Roughly one out of every 10 Americans suffer from hearing loss that affects their ability to understand normal conversation. The most common kind of hearing loss is the exposure to excessive noise, and the simple act of riding a motorcycle puts riders at risk for becoming part of those statistics. The wind noise at highway speeds can expose motorcyclists to sound levels in excess of 100 dB – that’s the equivalent of using a chain saw or standing in the middle of a dance club. Helmetless riders can experience noise 10 times greater than that, resulting in potential hearing loss in as little as 30 minutes. Hopefully your rides last longer than a half-hour.

According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, approximately 15 percent (26 million) of Americans between the ages of 20 and 69 have high frequency hearing loss due to exposure to loud sounds or noise at work or in leisure activities.

When we consider hearing loss, we need to keep two things in mind. First, noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is preventable. Second, NIHL is permanent. Once that hearing is gone, it’s gone forever.

NIHL in the workplace has been well documented, and OSHA has made rules regarding what is an acceptable duration of exposure to various levels of noise. Using these standards as a baseline, riders can learn what the relative intensity of noise they’re facing when they ride and make educated decisions on how to minimize their long-term risk for hearing loss. However, before we delve in to motorcycle-specific causes of NIHL, we should look at the physical causes of hearing loss so that we understand how noise damages our hearing.

Hear Ye, Hear Ye!


Ear Anatomy Illustration

The human ear is an incredibly compact and complex structure, providing riders with vital information. (Credit: Bruce Blaus)

In the ear, the air pressure waves that are the physical embodiment of sounds are converted by the ear into the electrochemical impulses that the brain can understand. Sound waves travel through the outer ear (the pinna, the part that looks like a funnel) into the auditory canal. At the end of the canal, the eardrum (tympanic membrane) converts the air pressure waves into vibrations that are, in turn, transmitted via three tiny bones (ossicles – commonly referred to as the hammer, anvil and stirrup). Finally, the vibrations reach the cochlea (a fluid-filled bone structure consisting of a tapered tube that wraps around itself similar to a snail’s shell) where the vibrations are converted to a form that can be sent to the brain via the auditory nerve. This is where the magic – and damage – takes place.

The basilar membrane is one of the membranes dividing the cochlea’s tapered tube lengthwise into three parallel, fluid-filled tubes. The sound vibrations run down the basilar membrane causing hair cells (cilia) in the organ of Corti to vibrate. These delicate hair cells are responsible for making the connection to the auditory nerve by converting the physical vibrations into electrochemical signals. We’re born with about 15,000–20,000 of these cilia, and since we don’t grow new ones when they are damaged, we need to make the cilia last a lifetime.

Noises that are too loud damage and ultimately can kill the hair cells. The amount of damage that occurs is time dependent and related to the intensity of the sound. While an extremely loud noise, like an explosion, can cause immediate, permanent damage, extended exposure to less loud but still damaging noise can also lead to permanent damage. Our goal, as motorcycle riders, is to determine the sound threshold that will allow us to take the long rides we enjoy and still be able to talk to our friends and family when we get home.

In the Wind

Shoei Noise

Head forms like this are used in testing for wind noise in helmets.

We’re all aware that motorcycles have an image problem with the non-riding public. When they think about motorcycles, they generally think about loud pipes echoing through their neighborhood. However, loud pipes aren’t the primary culprit when it comes to NIHL among motorcyclists. At a stop and at low speeds, we can cause our own hearing loss – I’m looking at you unbaffled V-Twin riders – but once the speed approaches 40 mph, wind noise becomes the dominant sound, especially so for unhelmeted riders.

The noise that motorcyclists hear at highway speed is largely a function of turbulence. Recent studies have shown that the primary source of helmet turbulence – and noise – is in the chin bar of a full-face helmet. When these results were initially announced, the anti-helmet lobby latched on to the idea, saying it proved that helmets were bad for riders. However, if one considers the relative aerodynamics of the human head with its ears flapping out in the breeze versus the smoother, more aerodynamic shape of a modern full-face helmet, the fallacy of this argument is readily apparent.

An aside: Some studies have shown that certain helmet shapes and construction may amplify sounds of certain frequencies, which is not a good thing and may contribute to hearing loss. However, when compared to the full-on auditory assault of riding helmetless, using this factor as an excuse for not wearing a helmet is nothing more than a straw-man argument.

Levels of Noise

dB Example
140 Fireworks, gunshots, jet engine at 100 ft.
130 Jackhammer, fire truck siren
120 Jet during takeoff, pnuematic rivetter, thunderclap
110 Rock concert, car horn, jet flyover at 1000 ft.
100 Operating a gas lawnmower, MP3 player at full volume
90 Food blender at 3 ft., power tools, hair dryer
80 Diesel truck passing by, garbage disposal
70 City traffic, vacuum, lawn mower at 100 ft.
60 Normal conversation, workday in business office
50 Moderate rainfall, dishwasher in next room
40 Quiet theater or library
30 Whisper, rural nighttime
20 Leaves rustling, broadcast studio
10 Barely perceptible
0 Threshold of human hearing

Whatever you do or don’t have on your noggin, riding a motorcycle at highway speeds is a noisy undertaking. As noted before, extended exposure to loud noises will damage hearing. OSHA standards for noise exposure provide a means of gauging potential damage.

Sound intensity is measured on a logarithmic scale. Decibels (dB) start a 0 dB for the quietest sound that can be heard and goes up from there with the threshold of pain being around 130 dB. When a sound becomes 10 dB louder, it is 10 times louder. A 20 dB change is 100 times louder, and 30 dB is 1000 times louder.

OSHA has defined 85 dB as the intensity beyond which there is the potential for permanent damage to your hearing. In other words, the longer you listen to sounds above 85 dB, the more cumulative damage you will suffer. From there a sliding scale has been developed to define what duration is safe exposure to noise based on its intensity above 85 dB.
Hearing loss from overly loud sounds presents itself in a couple ways. First, temporary threshold shift is the short-term loss of hearing after exposure to loud noise. Think of this as the cup over your ears feeling you had for a few hours after a loud concert. As the name implies, this is a temporary symptom, but doing it repeatedly can cause permanent damage. The second presentation of hearing loss is the permanent damage this article is addressing.

OSHA Permissable Noise Exposures

Sound Level in dB Safe Duration in Hours
90 8
92 6
95 4
97 3
100 2
105 1
110 30 minutes
115 15 minutes

Put a Sock in It

Wearing earplugs while riding is the best means of preventing NIHL. Riders have several options which offer various levels of protection, comfort and convenience. The range of cost goes from less than a dollar a set to over $100 for custom molded items.

Hearing Loss Foam Plugs

Look around the offices of almost any motorcycle publication, and you’re likely to find a bulk dispenser of foam earplugs. They are inexpensive and effective for the majority of riders.

The cheapest and most common ear protection is foam earplugs which can be found at any local drug store. Foam earplugs come in a variety of shapes, from cylinders to tapered to bullet-shaped, but you insert them the same way: roll them into a tight cylinder and slide them into your ear before they expand.

When installed correctly, foam earplugs can effectively reduce noise to a level to allow all-day riding without any hearing damage. All brands of non-custom earplugs are required to include a Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) on their packaging. Claims of 32dB sound reduction are common with foam. When they get dirty – and they will – simply throw them away and open another package.

However, be forewarned, proper installation of foam earplugs is required for anything close to the NRR protection. People with narrow or oddly shaped ear canals will find that the softness that makes these plugs so comfortable to wear also makes it extremely difficult to get them completely inserted – grabbing the top of the ear and pulling it up and back is key to getting them fully implanted.

Another feature of foam plugs that some riders don’t appreciate is how they muffle high-frequency sounds more severely than low, which can make conversations difficult. On the plus side, the high-frequencies are the first to be damaged from excessive noise.

ETY Ear Plugs

Flanged earplugs like these from Etymotic Research attenuate the sound with a flat frequency response for quieter but still natural sound. Large ear canals are accommodated by the white plug, and small/average sized require the blue for a proper fit.

Flanged earplugs are often made of a pliable latex or silicon – although some are made with a foam material. The flanged tips are usually tapered for deep insertion into the ears to gain the required air-tight fit. However, if you have deep ear canals, you may find that you can push the plugs in far enough to make them difficult to remove (as E-i-C Duke did on a recent ride).

The construction of these earplugs makes them uniquely tunable. Some have a solid core that results in the best NRR with similar sound characteristics as foam earplugs, while others have cores that produce more accurate sound reproduction. Since there is no free lunch, the flat response plugs may have a lower NRR rating. (For example, Etymotic Research’s ER–20 have a NRR of 12dB, but the company claims that “actual clinical measurements of properly inserted ER•20s indicate that these earplugs provide almost equal sound reduction (20 dB) at all frequencies.”) You may find this type of earplug from other manufacturers listed as “musician’s earplugs.”

Although flange-type earplugs are more expensive than disposable foam ones, they can be reused for extended periods. If they become dirty, they can be easily cleaned.

Inserting flange earplugs takes some getting used to. They require a little lubrication (saliva works just fine), and you have to place them fairly deeply into the ear canal. My rule of thumb is to insert them until I get the urge to cough. I’ve worn Etymotic’s ER–20s exclusively for over five years, and have no desire to switch to anything else – unless it would be stepping up to custom molded units.

Custom Ear Molds

Custom fit earplugs like the these can be bought at many motorcycle events for less than $100.

For people who want the ultimate in protection from NIHL, getting custom molded earplugs is the way to go. At many motorcycle events, you may have seen people getting brightly colored goo injected into their auditory canal. Custom earplugs will only fit the unique ear shape of their owner, giving them easier insertion and a perfect fit for maximum attenuation of noise. Like with foam plugs, some people may feel that these solid custom plugs mute the sound too much, making it hard to hear things that riders want to hear, like approaching traffic or conversation at a stop.

Turning to earplugs developed for musicians (who require sound to be as accurate as possible) can help riders experience a natural sounding environment at an intensity below the threshold for long-term damage. In fact, some people who have used these plugs report that they actually hear better on the road because their ears aren’t getting overwhelmed by the intensity of the noise. Bringing the sound level down actually allows for the rider to discern the different frequencies of different sounds rather than having their auditory nerves overloaded by a sound soup.

Etymotic Musicians

The Etymotic musicians’ earplugs ($150) on the right have replaceable buttons to tune the attenuation from 9–25 dB and require a custom earmold from an audiologist.

Think of our perception of sound as a glass of water. When you try to pour more into a completely full glass, it just runs out. Our ears can’t process any more information. However, if you find a way to lower the level of water (the wind noise), you have room for other sources.

Because of their neutral reduction of sound, these specialized earplugs require that an earmold be made by an audiologist. While this process is more expensive than the custom plugs made at motorcycle events, they do allow for multiple copies to be made if you are worried about losing your earplugs.

No matter what earplugs you choose, you can take additional steps to reduce the noise that you have to combat. Sometimes, a small adjustment of windshield height will make a huge difference in the way turbulence hits your helmet. Directing turbulence away from the helmet base can pay big dividends. If your helmet has adjustable visor mounts, make sure that they allow the visor to completely seal the eye port. In hot weather, use the helmet vents rather than cracking the visor at speed. Although vents do increase the noise inside a helmet, it is usually significantly less that the noise created with a slightly opened visor.

Noise: A MO Investigation

The fit of a helmet around its base can leave gaps between the rider and the liner that allow noise access to the rider’s ears. Consider this fit when buying a new helmet. Also, if a rider has an oval head but chooses a helmet with a round shape, there will be excessive space on the sides that affect both impact and noise performance.

Looking Ahead

Two areas of research hold the most promise for reducing the noise that motorcyclists experience at speed. The first is fairly obvious. Build helmets that are increasingly designed towards attenuating noise. Although helmet manufacturers are more frequently mentioning the quietness of their helmets – particularly premium models – when unveiling them for the public, until there is an accepted standard for measuring helmet noise, motorcyclists have no way to ascertain which helmets provide the most auditory protection. So, some kind of national or international standard would improve the consumer’s ability to make an educated choice. Steps are being made in this direction since Schuberth makes a specific claim of “85dB(A) at 60 mph (with naked bikes)” for its S2 helmet. Both HJC and Shoei have specifically mentioned wind tunnel testing in an effort to reduce turbulence around the chin bar in recent launches of 2014 helmet models.

When asked about wind tunnel noise testing, a representative from Shoei Japan said that, while developing helmets, the company does comparison testing of comparable helmets on the market for internal purposes. In addition, Shoei won’t publish numbers for its own helmets because “as there is no standardized procedure, the results…depend heavily on the conditions of experiment itself (and no one knows what it is, except [the person] who had done the test).” The representative stressed that until a standard for testing is agreed upon, a “comparison between the data which Shoei made and someone else made will be totally meaningless, as the fundamental conditions of the experiments [are] most likely different for each.” With this in mind, it seems clear that both motorcyclists and helmet manufacturers would benefit from the implementation of a noise standard.

Schuberth Wind Tunnel Testing

Advances in aerodynamics and establishing noise standards for helmets may hold the key for reducing NIHL.

Another area of interest in reducing NIHL for motorcyclists is the development of noise canceling technology. Active noise canceling could come in the form of speakers which use the destructive interference between sound waves to effectively cancel the ambient noise itself. Other passive ways to reduce helmet noise could be retractable ear muffs that form a tight seal over the ear, for protection like you see on airport workers or in shooting ranges.

While these developments will be interesting to watch, the best advice we can give riders about how to protect their hearing is to wear earplugs on every ride.

  • Coo

    You talk about riders putting ear plugs. Should pedestrians in the town center wear them too? Maybe tube commuters also? In fact just anybody? That’s ridiculous. Wouldn’t it be better if there wasn’t so much noise in the first place? Where’s the government and health institutions investigating into street’s decibels? And where’s the building of youngsters’ awareness of this threat with the constant worship about this-and-that thunderous engine sound in car and motorcycle magazines?

    • Evans Brasfield

      Gee, Grumpy Gus, having a tough day?

      Your comment makes me wonder if you actually read the article. I mentioned motorcyclist’s very real image problem with noise and even called out one group of bike owners (Hint: It involved the word unbaffled.). Also, as stated in the article, wind noise, not loud exhaust systems, is the primary culprit in NIHL among motorcyclists.

      I hope your day gets better. Perhaps you should go out for a nice, long motorcycle ride. That always improves my mood. Just don’t forget your earplugs.

      • DickRuble

        I think Coo makes a few good points. Instead of focusing on a narrow solution for a niche, he broadens the discussion and points to steps towards a more general approach to solving noise problems. For one, if this information (in this very concise style) were presented to high school students, there would be significantly more awareness of noise pollution and effects in general. For two, if government actually enforced noise pollution laws, we would all do better. I am thinking specifically to straight pipes on a certain brand of two-wheel lawnmower, but not only.

        • Chris_in_Kalifornia

          I thought those were two wheeled tractors??? Nah, just kidding. I want an XR1200 myself. Need more money! I love the idea of almost no maintenance. Belt drive quiet, clean, actually probably better than a shaft, no valve adjustments just like my old CB700SC Nighthawk. Loved that bike. Would have bought the XR before I retired if it had a bigger fuel tank. A 90 mile commute each way does not go well with a 3.X gallon tank. Primary reason I bought a 650 Vstrom. Put 87,000 miles on my Vstrom in less than 5 years just commuting to work and back. Wore ear plugs the whole time.

        • Cecil-T

          It is a valid point, but that’s what OSHA is for. There are noise standards, they are enforced, and there is training – for occupations where loud noises are regularly incurred.

          Out on the street / in public, loud noises fall off with distance very quickly. Passing noises can be a nuisance but you’re very unlikely to experience any hearing damage unless the exposure is somehow prolonged. There’s little if any chance of hearing damage from walking around a city.

      • Hefailed

        Well , Coo, this article was for motorcycle riders. By the way, how do you suggests we lower the sound from wind turbulence?

    • Motorcyclists don’t wear earplugs to diminish the noise of their exhaust systems (which is what you seem to have an issue with) – we wear earplugs to diminish WIND NOISE, which is a hundred times louder than the exhaust (to the rider). I’d suggest trying (or least getting a better understanding of) motorcycling before bashing it.

      • DickRuble

        So according to you motorcycling is about riding with earplugs to block noise that bothers us while not giving a rat’s &^%s about the noise we make. I am glad I now know what motorcycling is about. Explains a lot of what you see on the street. No wonder town councils are debating ways to prevent motorcycle access.

        • Logic is clearly not your strong point. Carry on.

    • kakeyed

      Pedestrians should wear ear protection when they are moving at more than 100kph (that’s 60 mph for the flat earth society), and the same goes for the Tube commuters if they like to commute with their heads sticking out of the windows.
      After a week-long Chili binge, try putting your ear to your big buddy’s butt to understand the concept of wind noise….. Or you could just have your wife blow increasingly hard (not directly in, please) but across your ear and you’ll see how quickly noise levels increase.

    • Paul Girardin

      I use them in airliners and when driving my sportscar as well as on the bike.

  • Jeremy

    I became accustom to riding with earplugs after going to the track and now I wear them on the street too. I find that it reduced the headaches I used to get from long rides and now I hooked. I prefer the disposable earplugs that you can buy in bulk at any hardware store as they last for about a month and provide 32dB reduction (about the best I have seen from any package I have looked at. The only thing that I am split between is that as a motorist, at least in this state it is illegal to have a headset covering or earplugs in both ears while operating a motor vehicle or a bicycle (California v.c. 27400). While I haven’t had any problems hearing emergency vehicles due to it and I have been stopped by police who may have seen the plugs while I pulled off my helmet… I wonder how others feel about the opposing forces of health vs. legal.

    • Evans Brasfield

      That’s what I thought, too, but according to the AMA state law page, there are no restrictions on earplugs in CA. Earphones can only cover one ear, though.

      I’ve always just worn plugs and figured that I wouldn’t get hassled about it if I didn’t antagonize the police. I have taken earplugs out in front of a cop who was giving me a good driving certificate without incident.

      • Jeremy

        Great link! It has all the goodies listed. Even covers ape hangers, which I didn’t know they spelled out as 6in above your shoulder.

  • I wear earplugs all the time and I swear by their value. At the moment I can only afford the bright orange disposable ones, but I’d like to one day own a pair that fit a little better. To me the argument in favour of earplugs is simply the fact that when I’m weariing them (and a full-face helmet) I can still hear my breathing at 90 mph. I can hear the smack of car tires on the road, and all kinds of things that would be lost to the roar of wind.

    • ‘Mike Smith

      If you save your dirty disposable ones and tie them in a sock, you can wash them and re-use them.

      • disqus_j3vVz4d8ZQ

        wash by hand,soap and water,use the next day.job done.
        WOT ?

        • Paul Girardin

          Washing foam plugs changes the expansion properties of the foam and they will no longer fit correctly.If you don’t notice the change in the fit ,you haven’t been installing them correctly.

      • Johnny Boyle

        How do you get the sock in your ear?

    • realistic conservative

      yeh but you subject people around you to the noise you protect yourself from – shame on you!

      • OldTimeBiker

        You seem to be assuming that because he rides a motorcycle it MUST be noisy…SHAME ON YOU for assuming facts not in evidence!…Not everyone who rides rides a noisy bike. The world is a noisy place…they’re YOUR ears…ultimately it’s YOUR responsibility to protect them!

    • Alex C

      try earpeace… same technology as custom moulds without the burnt hole in your pocket.

  • Instead of plugging your ears, you can use ear plugs that filter out the harmful sound range. NoNoise has a new product specifically designed for motorcyclists that cuts out the damaging high frequencies and lets you hear the things you need to hear like speech and music clearly. They are pretty cheap too at $30.

    More info here:

    • Evans Brasfield

      Thanks for pointing this out! They look interesting. I’ll give them a try.

    • DickRuble

      As the dude points out, not sure where the concept of high frequency being the sole damaging component comes from. Low frequency sounds seem to me would be just as damaging. Boom boxes, subwoofers turned to the max.. Just filtering high frequency won’t save your hearing IMO. I think the accent is on loudness, not frequency.

      • Good point DickRuble. The NoNoise Motorsport Hearing Protectors are tuned for attenuation at the frequencies commonly experienced by motorcyclists. The product’s measured sound attenuation is 29.6dB at the higher (most damaging) frequencies. But they work well for Medium and Low frequency noise too. You can see in this chart (right side) from the NoNoise website that their product has an attenuation of 16dB for low frequency sounds. So this product provides protection against loud sounds throughout the frequency range.

        • DickRuble

          Interesting. i wonder how it does at 20 Hz and 20 KHz. There’s a big gap from 8KHz to 20KHz. Are those frequencies not relevant to motorcycling?

  • the dude

    what article says

    According to the National Institute on
    Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, approximately 15 percent (26
    million) of Americans between the ages of 20 and 69 have high frequency hearing loss due
    to exposure to loud sounds or noise at work or in leisure

    what NIDCD website actually says

    Approximately 15 percent of Americans between the ages of 20 and
    69—or 26 million Americans—have hearing loss that may have
    been caused by exposure to loud sounds or noise at work or in leisure

    see the difference, ok. Article says High frequency, and it gives a definitive cause for that hearing loss. Actual info from website does not mention high frequency and wind noise nor motorcycle noise would fall into that category to begin with along with NIDCD simply says “MAY HAVE BEEN CAUSED” meaning that the numbers for NIHL will be lower than 15%

    other than that info was
    pretty spot on regarding anatomy and way the ear works and just to nitpick a bit
    the cilia of the ear are called stereocilia.

    • Evans Brasfield

      It’s nice to know that someone is reading the article so closely. Thanks for the feedback.

      • the dude

        if you wouldn’t have thrown high frequency in there I wouldn’t have checked your source but that’s what I used to do and where I used to do it so something didn’t sound right 😉 But like I said everything else was pretty spot on which is impressive and unexpected when it comes to news articles these days so give yourself a pat on the back.

  • Chris_in_Kalifornia

    There’s going to be a huge quantity of people who never ride a motorcycle who have significant hearing damage. Those idiots who’s car is vibrating to the sound of their car stereo are usually just as bad about making noise that bothers other people as much as the no muffler idiots.

    That said, I knew about the hearing loss early on due to my father losing his hearing after WW2, firing 50 cals in a B17 and working on the engines etc. His is so bad now that the only way to fix it is with cochlear implants which are horrendously expensive. Regular hearing aids probably exacerbate the hearing loss since, at best, they are simply an amplifying device making every thing much louder for anyone who has hearing loss.

    I took it upon myself to start wearing earplugs AND a set of ear muffs while around the jets I worked on in the Air Farce, er, Force. Didn’t think to use them when riding till I finished my first 650 mile riding day and could barely hear anything for a couple of days. Since then I’ve worn the best (for me) protection I could find. Best for me are the cheap round plugs in your picture above (I’ve never had the spare money to spend on custom plugs). I’ve also started wearing them in my Mustang since the wind noise and exhaust (it’s the way I bought it) keep me from hearing the radio and I had a headache, ringing in my ears after an hour or so. I can turn the radio up enough to hear it and an additional benefit is it cuts out a lot of the static when I tune to a station that’s not coming in well. I’m 63 now and can still hear quite well although I do have some loss. I take my plugs with me when I go to a movie these days too. More preventable hearing loss if you don’t.

    One thing I would like to emphasize is your point about wearing them properly. I see a lot of folks with the plugs half way out of their ear. They are losing most of the protection. I insert mine till the outside of the plug is even with the outside of the tunnel to the eardrum. Anything less and you are losing protection.

    • Paul Girardin

      Most people do not know how to insert plugs correctly.That is usually why you see them hanging out of the ear.The ear canal needs to be straightened by pulling the ear up with one hand and the plug inserted with the other hand.

  • kakeyed


    • markdeanda

      And that’s why you’re yelling?

      • kakeyed


        • Chris_in_Kalifornia

          Love it. Sarcasm at it’s best!

  • Radical Knight

    I have tinnitus. I used to work at several construction sites and have also ridden for over twenty years; usually without a helmet but with ear protection. I don’t recall when the hissing noise began, but do figure it was complicated after my last spill about 3 years ago.

  • Leslie Bianchi

    I’ve found that getting some silly putty eggs at any toy store works the best. You can get them for about a buck an egg and get a couple of pairs out of each egg. A pair will last me several weeks and custom fit to my ear. I roll up a dime size ball in-between my palms and afterwards form a cone using my fingertips. insert in ear and go! The best I’ve ever had. when done riding, I just put the plugs back in the egg until the next ride. I swear by these. I’ve tried everything else in the market and nothing even comes close. Its made an immense difference in my riding comfort. Once the plugs get a bit dirty, I just throw it out and get a new one.

    • DickRuble

      What if one day you can’t remove the putty or some of the putty out of your ear canal?

      • Leslie Bianchi

        That’s never happened to me. It always comes out in one piece. I recommend this highly. Try it and see, after all, its only a buck. Thank me later.

        • DickRuble

          As a college student, studying for exams and not having earplugs on hand, I tried something similar with some putty. It blocked all sounds pretty well, I could hear the sound of my own blood rushing through the veins and my own respiration and heart. The problem came when I couldn’t retrieve most of one of the plugs. Ended up with a visit to the ER. Pretty embarrassing. Your putty may be different, but I would still be very cautious. An ER visit these days can run in the 000s.

  • kakeyed

    I agree with Chris, below, except I don’t wear earplug if I’m stay in town, but if I’m doing a mix of city and highway, in they go. With earplugs, I can still hear pretty well around town, but once speed increases over say 70kph (40mph) with my bike anyway, I can hear much more of what’s going on around me.

    On the highway, I can hear cars creeping up to my left or right, or how close my riding buddy gets, etc. Without ear protection, I can’t hear a bloody thing except my eardrums being shaken loose by the rapid hammering of high to low to high pressures caused by turbulence.

    Before I done lernt about earplugs, I would get back from a 5 or 6 hours highway jaunt and would feel buzzed, or fatigued. That constant loud noise puts a lot stress on the body. With earplugs, I cut my fatigue by more than one half – which is also important in order to stay alert the whole trip.

  • Rogerio Valente

    Hi Evans.

    It is very interesting your article.
    Can I translate it into Portuguese?

    • Evans Brasfield

      What do you want to do with the article once it’s translated?

      • Rogerio Valente

        Evans, I would like to post on my blog. Most readers do not have reading proficiency in the English language. This is the address of my blog:

        If I can not post, can I just post the link to the article on

        • Evans Brasfield

          Rogerio, thanks for doing the right thing and asking for permission to post this. Many people don’t do this. So, I appreciate the request.

          Yes, go ahead and post your translation, but please credit and link back to the original article.

          Thanks again for asking,


          • Rogerio Valente

            Thank you so much Evans.
            Obviously and you’ll be credited of course.

  • Ken Scheinker

    I use moldable earplugs after trying everything. They help tremendously in making my very loud racing exhaust Harley bearable. I wished I’d figured this out before I got tinittus, but at least it won’t get worse. A lot of safety/contruction supply sources will have them. I even sleep with a pair at night, to get a peaceful nights sleep. Order several pair, it takes some practice to get the perfect shape and fit.

  • Old MOron

    Well, I’m late to the party, but here’s a suggestion for saving some bucks. Buy your ear plugs in bulk quantities. Go to and search for ear plugs. You’ll find lots of choices. Something like this will allow you to pay about 12 cents per pair rather than a dollar per pair at the drug stores.

  • flowboy

    Good article & very relevant to me. Due to hearing damage I’m having to think of quitting bike racing which I love doing, after 20 years. (UK race noise limit 105db) I’ve worn earplugs for about 12-15 years since first signs of permanent tinnitus set in. Kept it at bay with the plugs but it got a major step worse since persuaded against my better judgement to go to a music festival last summer & forgot my ear plugs… The levels of bass were the hardest for my ears to cope with & no-one was selling plugs. I’ve worked most of my life in light construction, played in bands from 18 – 30 (no musicians plugs then), started riding bikes at 27 (without plugs), racing in my early 30’s. Got a perforated eardrum at 30 which gave me tinnitus until it healed. That ear has always been worse. Had the usual “ringing in the ears” issues after loud gigs & dance clubs then tinnitus crept up on me like the high pitched whine of an old TV set. I love music but avoided gigs & clubs for many years due to high noise levels. Like Kakeyed, Chris Cope & Jeremy, riding pleasure really improved when I discovered foam plugs, can still hear engine / traffic but arrive more relaxed / less noise stressed etc. I had some expensive custom plugs but lost ’em & went back to foam. Now use Earsoft FX = SNR 39db – better than my customs. High pressure low frequency wind noise is an issue with helmets. Some of it is transmitted thru the jaw / skull / cartilage & earplugs can’t help that much. My cheap Takahachi spare helmet actually rings like a bass bell if I tap it when it’s on – don’t think that helps either. HJC carbon doesn’t fortunately. Position of head & any screen also makes a difference. Tested my range on “” tone generator. Could hear bats at 16 now upper limit is 11khz so have lost a lot of top end.

    • Valerie Henson

      It’s been a couple of years since you wrote this, are you still using the Earsoft FX = SNR 39db? I will be taking a class this month and they require that we bring a helmet. So I am doing some research on what kind to get and I was concerned with the noise factor.

  • Chris_in_Kalifornia

    I have to wonder if the idiots in the booming, vibrating cars realize just how loud their noise is or if they turn it up that loud so they can hear it. I’ve found that while traveling in my car, my radio picks up some distant stations I want to listen to but they have a lot of static and putting in earplugs and turning up the radio (only works if I’m traveling by myself) blocks the static more that the music or speech and makes it worth listening to.

    I like talk radio and get tired of prerecorded stuff. Helps a lot as well as keeping my hearing good. Also, worked around Jet engines in the Air Force for 7 years and always wore those yellow disposable earplugs under my regular ear protectors. I’m 63, have ridden since I could afford a bike and all that and I can still hear better than a lot of teenagers. Oh and shooting is a fun sport too. Definitely need good ear protection there.


  • Brian

    Try the swimmers silicone wax plugs. They work well sealing out any air leaks which foam or even molded plugs can let in. There is no pressure from a foams friction fit inside ones ear canal to deal with either.

  • Big Daddy

    For nearly 20 years I rode without earplugs then a few months ago one of my good riding buddies convinced me to try a pair while we were out on an all day ride. The difference it made in my ride that day made me a believer and now I wear them every ride unless I run out (disposable plugs) for some goofball reason.

    I find that with the earplugs in, I can still hear the important stuff: sirens, vehicles, etc while cutting down on the things that were annoying…mainly wind noise. I find my rides much more relaxing now.

  • Lisa Glover

    There have been flight helmets that had ear cups that could be sealed against the ear. I’ve often wondered why Motorcycle helmets never attempted to do that… other than it would require more skill at removing the helmet after an accident… so you would trade one liability for another. In my youth, noise did not bother me. Now if I take off without earplugs or the foamie gets out of place… I will stop and fix them. Wish I could still hear all the sounds on a CD…. getting old.

  • Joe Smith

    As hearing loss becomes a greater concern for even young people, companies like Audicus are providing a more progressive way to ensure you’ll have access to new technology. Check out their blog post regarding closed captioning here: as well as the products featured on their site:

  • Omar M Kharbat

    Wondering whether it’s the sound or the helmet pressure that causing some riders vestibular migraines or meniere’s disease. I have met few riders that experienced vertigo and ear problems other than hearing loss who Haven’t thought of wind sounds. Any ear doctors here who gave this a thought?

  • Robs

    Truth! Data! Wonderful! I started wearing earplugs while riding back in 1981. I had a 90 mile commute for a few months and I was arriving at work exhausted, and even worse when I got back home! A couple of riding coworkers said to try earplugs so I did. HUGE difference!!! Have worn them for any ride longer than 5 minutes. I took a 20 year break from riding during which time I drove a Miata on the street and raced various types of cars (my father attributed his hearing loss to driving a convertible sports car for many years). I started wearing earplugs in the Miata when the top was down (which was 80% of the time) and convinced several members of my car club to do the same. I organized custom earplug fittings at some of our events.

    I’ve ridden a few times without them, usually on a short test ride after working on the bike, and it is RIDICULOUSLY loud! Even with a full face lid. I cant imagine how the beanie-boys can stand it.

    Something important about the foam plugs: wear them DEEP! I’ve seen way to many just set them in the ear…they do no good there. I have a set of baffled ones that have speakers in them and I use these on long stretches of highway so I can listen to my tunes.

  • OldTimeBiker

    A good portion of my younger years was spent not mindful of protecting my hearing. About 40 I realized (and my employer started to talk about) the damage being done to my hearing by noisy activity. I’ve been protecting my hearing since then but, I can tell you that not protecting it earlier while subjecting it to loud music, racing & riding motorcycles, and the noise of working in industry and out on the road as an operating engineer cost me plenty! Protect your hearing and start your kids to doing the same at a VERY early age!

  • Matthew Hadden

    Surefire Sonic Defender EP4’s – by far one of the best investments I’ve made in my safety while riding. You can hear normal conversations (thus noises of concern) but it filters out the whooshing air around your head. Wear them on my daily moto commutes – I go through one pair a year. Not because they no longer work but the material starts to get hard and uncomfortable. At $13, they aren’t cheap but over the course of a year, they are as cheap as foam plugs! Just wash them with some antibacterial foaming soap about once every two weeks and they are good to go!

  • Paul Girardin

    How to fit earplugs correctly