The Beats go on…
We wear helmets, gloves, boots, Kevlar, goggles, leather, armour, goggles, but hey… what about our ears? How do you go about protecting them? At high speeds, the ambient wind noise-level reaches over 100dB. It can sound high-pitched, be annoying, distracting and over time… damaging. Do you use protective earplugs, noise-cancelling plugs or add to the noise with tunes, or both?
A somewhat controversial topic… there is no right or wrong. Always consider safety first for both riding and your hearing protection.
There’s Bluetooth systems now, especially designed for motorcycle helmets and they’re so clear; you can listen to music, answer phone calls, hear map directions, talk to your riding buddies… but is it safe or is it just one more distraction?
Some swear it helps them concentrate and don’t leave the driveway without the music already happening… some only use it for long trips to eliminate the boredom… though who would consider long spells in the saddle, boring?
Then there are those old-school traditionalists, like me… who say music kills the whole concept of hearing the wind, the throbbing of the cylinders and the beats of the exhaust.
So who is right?
No-one and both? It depends on the person and how their minds work. Personally, I couldn’t think of anything worse than having Jimmy or even Adele in my ear… although I love them both; the rhythm of my Vance and Hines do it for me, lulled by hearing-protective earplugs, to stop the wind noise as well. You know what… with hearing protective earplugs in, I actually hear people talking to me, without them needing to shout and can even faintly hear, map directions, from my phone, on my handle bars. If on the other hand I had the earphones in my ears from the phone, I wouldn’t hear anything over the bike and wind noise… Weird as it sounds, hearing-protection earplugs actually block out different frequencies and dull others, to enable you to hear a lot clearer.
Importantly, while riding, there should be no visual, physical or cognitive distractions. The dangers there, lay with taking your eyes off the road for longer than a quick flick of the eyes… taking a hand from the handlebars to touch the screen of a phone, inbuilt communication, mapping or entertainment system… and an attention lapse which can happen when trying to perform multiple tasks.
Reaction time to register a red traffic light, or perform an emergency manoeuvre could be compromised if you are in mid phone conversation with someone, especially in an argument with your partner, or finding out your daughter, sister, or brother is pregnant… or really getting into that death metal head banging with Jinjer, which by the way is my one and only favourite Death Metal band… Just out of curiosity, if you’ve never listened to Jinjer and you think Death Metal is all about skinny, long haired blokes that can’t sing, think again and check these out ...this is such a talented band with a singer who’s voice just blows you away; she is all woman and totally owns it!
SO… slower reactions, mean slower braking… less distance, shorter stopping time between you and a potential major ouch!
Are you able to still be alert to what’s happening around you… mirror checks, looking ahead and pre-empting, checking your speed and other gauges, aware of traffic beside you in a multiple lane scenario, watching out for wildlife wanting to cross the road suddenly…
Listening to music while riding, for some, enhance their experiences, so really boils down to personal choice, riding experience and skills. Being able to hear clear map directions would be great, so for me, that would be the only reason to have Bluetooth speakers, as I love getting away from the world’s noises… all part of the throttle therapy.
If you love your music, it’s recommended the safest method to listen is via the bike’s entertainment system and speakers; others will also hear the music from your bike in this case. If you like this idea and your bike isn’t equipped with a built-in stereo system, speakers can be installed which can hook up to your smartphone.
Bluetooth speakers within the helmet are the second safest method. That way you can also wear protective earplugs, to protect your hearing from the pipes and wind. Be particular in your choice of hearing protection or noise cancelling plugs, because it’s important to still be able to hear traffic sounds, e.g., horns, sirens…
There are specific wireless earbuds available now for motorcyclists which are easier to use; also less likely to damage your eardrums as they are restricted to 100 decibels and don’t fully block out surrounding noise, so you can hear vital traffic noises.
Sourcing information from the various State Transport Departments, there are no laws against listening to music, however, beware of the laws pertaining to the use of operating your devices that give you the sounds…
A few pros and cons… your choice which is which:
- Hearing protection earplugs, in loud environments help you to hear better, due to certain frequencies begin dampened over others, so choose ones to enhance the sounds you need and dull the ones you don’t.
- Listening to music can stimulate senses in some, making the riding experience more pleasurable, which can increase alertness and if you do bore quickly on lengthy rides, possibly a good choice.
- Just that one second to take hand from handlebar to fast forward to the next song is a distraction… choose your moment, preferably away from other vehicles and obstacles. A great idea is to have a pre-planned playlist, so there’s no need to skip songs and have immediate access to mute in case of emergency.
- Recent studies have proven motorcycle riding to be a very powerful form of mental therapy and if you enjoy music, why not add some of your favourites into a playlist.
Minimises wind noise:
- The wind gets louder, often over 100dB, the faster you go. That sound is not only damaging to your hearing, but can be annoying and distracting. Constant wind noise can cause a temporary threshold shift condition, which produces a partial deafness.
- Music can have a soothing effect on our brain that can help manage road rage.
Reduction of noise fatigue:
- There is such a thing as noise fatigue which is the product of being on a motorcycle for long periods; this can be avoided by wearing hearing protection earplugs.
- Listening to loud music within your helmet is highly likely to cause some hearing damage, especially if the wind and bike sounds are combined… just play it smart.
So here are some old-school favourites to crank up on the bike speakers:
… and of course the greatest of all time… Born to be Wild, Steppenwolf
If you are new to riding and still inexperienced with keeping the focus on the road and your surrounds as well as getting used to your bike and all the movements involved with staying upright… then it’s highly recommended you leave the tunes alone… until you are familiar with your bike without thinking about how, what, why… and all that encompasses.
It’s actually important to know the sound of your bike, what’s normal or not, get the feel of it all, before adding foreign sounds to the mix. Feel exhilarated with fact you are riding, soak up all the additional things you see, smell and hear, by just being out in the elements… enjoy all of that while learning and becoming skilled at your riding technique. Then once you are completely competent, slowly adding musical beats, if that’s your style…
Have fun out there…
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