Hearing damage can be cumulative and permanent, especially at levels above 85dB, a level at which most motorcycle riding takes place.
There are plenty of good websites with information about hearing loss; see the House Hearing Institute website for a good summary of the problem and its causes.
Motorcycle Riding and Hearing Protection
Our experience has shown that wearing a motorcycle helmet without hearing protection does very little to decrease noise, and in some situations it can actually increase the noise levels due to the design of certain helmets.
It’s very easy to get into the habit of wearing disposable earplugs.
They’re very inexpensive, especially considering the alternative of permanent hearing loss. There are some very good disposable ear plugs available today, and as we shall see, they come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes to fit just about every ear.
The Noise Reduction Rating, or NRR, is a number that is required on every hearing protection device sold in the United States. The testing and calculation of the NRR is rather complex; in general and for our purposes, larger numbers are better.
However, I have found that in some instances, a disposable ear plug with a lower NRR may attenuate certain frequencies better than others.
Since some frequencies seem to be more annoying to motorcycle riders than others, such as the “booming” sound caused by turbulence underneath a helmet, you may find that certain types of disposable ear plugs work better than others for your combination of riding gear.
Long favored by webBikeWorld staff, these are soft, they have an NRR of 32, they do a great job of attenuating noise and they can be found for around $20.00 for a case of 200 pair ($0.10 per pair).
These are our benchmark for disposable ear plugs — all others are compared to these, since we are more familiar with the Pura-Fit than any other brand.
My only complaint: I have an abnormally large right ear canal, so I have to insert the right side with the big end first, because they are not quite as large in diameter as I’d like.
EAR Taperfit 2
NRR: 32 Made In: U.S.A. Made by:E-A-R Inc. (Aearo Company)
These yellow ear plugs (all ear plugs shown with a Pura-Fit 6800 for comparison) come in regular and large sizes. I didn’t realize this until after they were purchased; I should have purchased the large size.
The regular size is too small for my right ear unless inserted large end first, but they should work fine in normal sized ear canals.
They’re “squishy” and roll up into a tight cylinder. They’re very similar to the Pura-Fit 6800, but with a slightly more slippery casing, which allows them to be inserted more easily.
NRR: 32 Made In: U.S.A. Made by:Peltor (owned by Aearo)
Also similar in shape to the Pura-Fit, these have a barbed wire “tattoo” that indicates how far in they are supposed to be inserted. They feel “gummy” when compressed.
Too small for my right ear even when inserted backwards, so they will probably work best on small to medium sized ear canals.
They also seemed shorter than other ear plugs; the straighter taper means that they have to be inserted farther into the ear than others. Lori reports they do a good job of attenuating noise levels when riding.
These are also labeled to meet Australian and New Zealand standards.
These are very soft and large — look at how big they are compared to the Pura-Fit in the photo, although they compress down to a small size and are easy to insert.
They look very intimidating, but they go in very easily and are a cinch to pull out because of the scalloped tab on the end, which acts as a handle.
They are very comfortable for me; I don’t even notice that they’re in my ears. When inserted, they quickly expand to fill the ear canal. They seem like they transmit a tiny bit more noise than the Pura-Fits, but they are only 1 NRR lower, so this may be my imagination.
UPDATE: September 2007 – The uncorded EARsoft Grippers are being discontinued! Buy up any old stock you can find! Unfortunately, the uncorded version is no longer in production!
From “H.R.”: “For years, I’ve had near zero success with the various ear plugs. No matter what I did, the helmet noise would drive me crazy if I came above the wind screen.
Various non-foam plugs just would not work at all, and foam plugs seemed to not have much effect, though Mack’s would work if inserted backwards. I thought my ear shapes were just strange.
Following your reviews, I ordered from Earplug Superstore a sample of all three sizes of the SilentEar, some Howard Leight, and a small collection of E-A-Rsoft Grippers. I found the Leight product to not work at all.
No matter how inserted, the would just not work.
The SilentEar small and medium had no effect, and the large seemed to block out sound only in my left year (which is just as well since their delivery case for all sizes is the same and pulling plugs out of the large required use of tweezers).
I should note that I am a mid-sized person, weighing 160 at 5′ 10″ tall, so I am puzzled that the largest size just will not make a tight fit in one ear.
My wife was suggesting that my experiments alone are running up to the spending levels that I should just buy some custom earplugs as I finally tried the Grippers. I was amazed at the effectiveness.
As an experiment, I rode the 10 miles to work today with SilentEar on the left and Grippers on the right, with a very quiet ride, making me guess this is one way to extend a supply of Grippers.
I do know that I’ll take these along next time I travel by plane.
One thing stopping me from the expensive molded plus is that, given so many plugs I tried with limited effect, I wonder if these molded plugs are all they are given to deliver.
The Earplug Superstore offers a trail kit that doubles as the mold/impression-making kit, so the ability of the mold fit can be tested, but I am very skeptical.”