I spend a lot of time browsing online motorcycle stores. A lot of time. Probably too much time, certainly given my budget. I convince myself that it’s research for when I have disposable income. So I’m pretty up on the accessories available that manufacturers promise will significantly enhance my riding experience. Recently I came across one that really did live up to its promise, although no promise was actually given because it’s something that cannot be found in a motorcycle store, real or online. It is under $100, has revolutionized my riding experience, and is protecting my health more than any other piece of gear or item in my day bag. Curious? It’s a custom ear plug.
Most bikers are well aware of the potential risk of permanently damaging your hearing through prolonged exposure to noise from the engine and the wind. Of the two, the wind is worse. Even the most expensive helmets, like mine, that are the product of extensive R & D time in the wind tunnel can do little to shut out Aeolus’s angry growl. Most bikers invest in cheap pharmacy bought foam plugs, the kind that are yellow or orange, that you twiddle between your index finger and thumb to compress into a narrow cone that expands once inside your ear. They aren’t bad, but they don’t compare to a custom plug. I know because I’ve tried both.
I’m also a drummer so I’m pretty familiar with ear plugs from that passion, and I’ve tried a variety. The waxy swimmer’s plug works well to cut out sound but is tricky to get in right, and if you’re riding in a group and the lead rider says “Let’s go!” you’ve got about 30 seconds to get earplugs, helmet, sunglasses, gloves, jacket (if it’s a hot day and you’ve taken it off) all back in or on, the bike started and in gear, and ready to pull out. You don’t want to be the doofus holding everyone up. So you want a earplug you can pop back in, no fuss, and know it’s going to work once you pull out and get up to highway speed.
I have a musician’s earplug, the kind with the filter running through the middle. It cost me about $250 bucks, but it doesn’t do squat to cut out wind. Wind must be the same frequency as human speech because the filter just lets it blast right through. I decided to invest in a full plug, and went to my audiologist to get it done. The appointment only took about half an hour. He made a mould of my ear canal and sent it off to the lab. Ten days later my plug was ready, in a colour that matches my jacket. (Bikers are extremely fashion conscious.) Because I’m completely deaf in one ear (the result of a mountain-climbing accident in my teens), I’m using the singular. The plug cost about $70, so double that if you’re not a freak like me. Companies like http://www.bigearinc.com/ probably offer custom plugs for less.
My first long ride with it last Saturday was down to Smuggler’s Notch in Vermont, a 550 km round trip, and it was heaven. Imagine driving 550 clicks in your car with your radio between stations and blasting loud static in your ears all day. That’s what it’s like without earplugs. Now imagine reaching out and pressing the button that turns off the radio leaving you in a cocoon of blissful silence. That’s like popping in custom ear plugs.
Suddenly your other senses, that have been deadened in a self-preservation sensory clench, come alive, especially the tactile sense. The sound of the engine is now just a slight buzz, so I have to feel the frequency of the engine more than hear it, and my butt tells me when to shift. Sight and smell are also heightened without the distraction of an all-encompassing noise. The absence of pain really is pleasure.
But beyond this immediate reward is the knowledge that my one good ear is safe. When it comes to safety, as you already know from a previous post, I throw machismo to the wind. Earplugs also reduce fatigue, which can lead to even more serious consequences. Custom ear plugs are comfortable, washable, reusable, and the most effective hearing protection available. If you ride, do yourself a favour and get yourself a pair.