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Hearing Protection for Motorcycles

December 1, 2023
Amy Sarow, AuD, CCC-A
Written by
Amy Sarow, AuD, CCC-A
Amy Sarow, AuD, CCC-A

Dr. Amy Sarow is a practicing clinical audiologist and serves as Audiology Lead for Soundly. Her expertise and experience span topics including tinnitus, cochlear implants, hearing aid technology, and hearing testing. She holds a doctoral degree in audiology from the University of Iowa. During her residency at Mayo Clinic, Dr. Sarow was inspired by the three-tiered, patient-centered approach, incorporating clinical work, teaching and research.

Soundly Staff
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As an experienced audiologist, I've treated numerous patients who enjoy the freedom and thrill of motorcycle riding. The wind in their hair, the vibrations under their feet, and the breathtaking scenery passing by - it's a unique experience that only a biker can truly appreciate. 

However, this exhilarating pastime is not without its risks. Many of my patients are unaware of the potential harm regular motorcycle riding can cause to their hearing. The constant exposure to high noise levels can lead to noise-induced hearing loss, a condition often overlooked until it's too late. Fortunately, this type of hearing loss is not inevitable. With the proper protection and awareness, you can continue enjoying your rides while maintaining your hearing health.

Assessing Motorcycle Noise Levels

Some riders may argue their motorcycles aren't "that loud." Not all motorcycles are created equal when it comes to noise production. For example, a Harley-Davidson bike right off the assembly line is approximately 80 dBA. For comparison, a Ford F-450 truck idles at about 50 dBA. However, users sometimes alter their bikes exhaust to be louder, some reaching levels of 110 dBA (or more). 

However, it's crucial to remember that the risk of noise-induced hearing loss is not solely linked to the motorcycle's engine noise. 

When riding a motorcycle, one is exposed to various other sounds. The roar of passing vehicles, the whistling of the wind as it blows past your helmet, and the ambient noise of your surroundings all contribute to the overall noise level. 

These additional sound sources can combine to create a severe risk to your hearing health, even if your motorcycle's engine is relatively quiet. It's vital, therefore, to appreciate the cumulative impact of these sounds on your ears. Check out a decibel meter app to check your bike’s noise output.

In short… 

Most riders should consider hearing protection regardless of the bike-type they ride. 

Legality of Hearing Protection for Motorcyclists

The question of legality when it comes to wearing hearing protection on a motorcycle is valid. While laws vary by state, it's important to note that the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) states explicitly that covering both ears while riding a motorcycle is not permissible "unless the protectors (earplugs or molds) are specifically designed to reduce harmful (injurious) noise levels." 

This suggests that the use of hearing protection specifically designed to mitigate damaging noise is acceptable and encouraged to preserve the rider's hearing health. However, they stipulate that hearing protection cannot reach a level that prevents the wearer from hearing sirens or horns. Therefore, it's crucial to balance protecting your ears and maintaining awareness of potential hazards on the road.

It's always advisable to check with local regulations to ensure compliance while also safeguarding your auditory well-being. It's worth noting that even if your state does not have specific laws regarding hearing protection for motorcyclists, it never hurts to err on the side of caution and wear hearing protection that protects but still allows environmental awareness. 

What are your options?

Understanding hearing protection options for motorcycles is essential for maintaining good hearing health. There are a variety of options available to motorcyclists. Earplugs are the most commonly used form of protection. 

They are inexpensive, portable, and come in disposable and reusable types. There are even custom-molded earplugs designed to fit your ear canal perfectly. It's crucial to find what works best in reducing noise exposure while still allowing you to hear essential sounds for safe riding.

Misconceptions About Helmets and Hearing Protection

A common misconception among motorcyclists is the belief that simply wearing a helmet provides sufficient hearing protection. It's crucial to understand that while helmets offer some level of noise reduction (5-7 dB), they are not designed primarily for this function and offer much less protection than earplugs (15-20 dB). 

Helmets protect the rider's head from physical injury, and their ability to diminish noise is limited. The noise levels experienced when riding a motorcycle often significantly exceed what a standard helmet can dampen. Hence, relying solely on a helmet for hearing protection can lead to a false sense of security and potentially contribute to long-term hearing damage. 

Noise Cancelling Headphones: A False Sense of Protection?

Many people may think of using noise-canceling headphones as a solution to protect their hearing while riding a motorcycle. After all, these devices employ technology that actively reduces environmental noise. They work by analyzing the environment and emitting a sound wave that is 180 degrees out-of-phase. This counteracts the movement of air particles, effectively reducing the perceived noise. Wearing something in the ear will passively reduce noise.

However, a significant limitation exists when considering noise-cancelling headphones for hearing protection. This technology is most effective at lower frequencies. It does not have the same noise reduction capability at higher frequencies, which are quite common in the cacophony of sounds experienced when riding a motorcycle. As a result, noise-canceling headphones cannot effectively reduce noise to the level that dedicated hearing protection devices, such as earplugs, can.

Additionally, some state laws require that a rider cannot wear headphones in both ears while riding a motorcycle and that one ear must be free. Therefore, it's crucial to understand that relying on noise-canceling headphones for hearing protection on a bike can lead to inadequate protection, potentially resulting in hearing damage over time. It's always recommended to use proper hearing protection that's designed explicitly for high-noise environments.

What to Consider

There are several factors to consider when choosing the right type of hearing protection for motorcycling. Let's get to the most important points when selecting hearing protection.

Selecting the Right Hearing Protection

  • NRR (Noise Reduction Rating): The effectiveness of hearing protection is measured by its Noise Reduction Rating (NRR). The higher the NRR, the greater the level of noise reduction. Therefore, when choosing hearing protection, look for a device that offers an NRR to ensure maximum effectiveness in safeguarding your hearing while preserving awareness of emergency vehicles.
  • Comfort: Just as important as the NRR is the device's comfort. If a device is uncomfortable, you're less likely to use it consistently. Therefore, find a hearing protection device that offers a snug fit and doesn't compromise on comfort. This will ensure you're more likely to use it every time you ride.
  • Fit: Different forms of hearing protection fit in different ways. Some are designed to fit directly in the ear canal, while others cover the entire ear. Regardless of the design, it's crucial to ensure proper fit. A device that doesn't fit correctly won't provide optimal protection and could even become a distraction while riding. Therefore, seek a device that works well and stays in place, even during long rides.
  • Durability: Earplugs are made from various materials, with foam earplugs designed for single use, while silicone is reusable. It's essential to care for the earplugs as per the manufacturer's recommendations, replacing ear tips or entire earplugs when necessary. Ensure the device you choose is durable enough to withstand the rigors of motorcycling.

Our Picks for the Best Hearing Protection for Motorcycles

After a thorough consideration of different options, here are our picks for the top three hearing protection options for motorcyclists:

#1. Eargasm High-Fidelity Earplugs

Most Convenient Carrying Case

These earplugs are top-rated for their high-quality sound filtering and comfortable design with an NRR of 16 dB. They are perfect for motorcyclists as they reduce harmful noise levels while preserving sound quality. One of the most convenient features with these is the durable carrying case that you can attach to your keys. While it may seem minor, keeping your earplugs at arm's reach means you'll always have hearing protection when needed. Made from hypoallergenic silicone, they are comfortable to wear for extended periods. 

Read more about Eargasm in our earplug review here

Get Eargasm Earplugs on Amazon here

Eargasm High-Fidelity Earplugs

#2. Custom Molded Earplugs by Decibullz

Best Custom Fit

For those looking for a personalized fit, these custom-molded earplugs are worth considering. When sealed properly, they offer an NRR of 31 dB. These earplugs are great for those with larger, louder motorcycles due to their added protection. They are designed to be molded by the user to fit the unique shape of their ears. Once molded, they provide a comfortable, secure fit and excellent noise reduction.

Get Decibullz Earplugs on Amazon here.

Custom Molded Earplugs by Decibullz

#3. Lucid Hearing Motorsports Earplugs

Best for Tight Helmets

These earplugs are a great option to preserve sound quality while effectively reducing noise. The design of these earplugs keeps the tight fit of a helmet in mind. While some earplugs stick out from the ear, these motorsports earplugs are designed to sit closer to the ear canal to prevent discomfort while wearing a helmet. They offer an NRR of 13dB and maintain high-fidelity sound quality while reducing noise levels. These also come in different sizes to ensure proper fit and comfort. Read more in our review of Etymotic's products here

Get Lucid Hearing Earplugs on Amazon here.

Lucid Hearing Motorsports Earplugs

#4. Loop Experience Plus

Most Stylish Option

For those looking for a stylish option, the Loop Experience Plus offers style and fun colors with an NRR of 18 dB. The range of sizes ensures the right fit, and the Mute add-on provides an additional 5 dB of noise reduction.

Check out our review of Loop earplugs for a more detailed breakdown. 

Get Loop Experience Plus Earplugs on Amazon here.

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Final Thoughts

Remember, the right choice for you will depend on your individual needs and preferences, so be sure to consider factors such as comfort, noise reduction capabilities, compatibility with your helmet, and ease of maintenance.

In sum, proper hearing protection is instrumental for every motorcyclist, offering a shield against potential hearing damage due to pervasive noise levels while riding. The perfect earplug will provide apt sound reduction, comfort, and durability and fit well with your helmet. 

With a wide range of options available, including the Eargasm High-Fidelity Earplugs, Custom Molded Earplugs by Decibullz, Lucid Hearing Motorsports Earplugs, and Loop Experience Plus, each with their unique properties, motorcyclists can select the protection best suited to their specific needs. Remember, your ears are as important as the thrill of the ride, so ensure you gear up completely before you hit the road.

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