Updated September 2020
Since hearing usually plays second fiddle to vision when riding motorcycles, people sometimes forget how vulnerable their ears are out there on the road. The sound of your helmet traveling through the air at highway speeds is more than enough to damage your hearing over the long term – or even the short term if you’re wearing an open face or half-helmet. While it may go counter to your initial thoughts, wearing earplugs can actually help you hear better. When your ears aren’t completely overwhelmed, you have the ability to hear more sounds.
Motorcycles And Hearing Loss
Until recently, your primary choice for protecting your ears was the faithful foam earplug. The good news is that, when properly inserted, they work better than just about anything else at lessening the intensity of the sound reaching your ears. However, they have some shortcomings. First, if improperly inserted, their effectiveness is radically lessened. Second, many riders feel that the uneven damping of frequencies make sounds muffled and unclear.
Currently, we’re experiencing a Gold Rush of new earplugs directed towards powersports and other noisy activities. These new generation earplugs have actually been tuned for the frequencies they attenuate, making it possible for riders to protect their ears and still be able to carry on a conversation at a stoplight.
Should I wear earplugs on my motorcycle?
Ask a room full of motorcyclists this question and half the room will respond… “What? Speak up. I can’t hear you.” In our opinion, you should listen to the other half of the room. As mentioned at the top of this page, just the wind noise can hurt your ears if sustained long enough. And you don’t need to be traveling fast, either. There’s a misconception that wearing earplugs means you won’t be able to hear a thing. While it’s true it might be harder to hear someone in their car talking to you at a stoplight, you definitely don’t lose your sense of hearing, and you often are able to hear your own motorcycle better. The thing about hearing loss is that it doesn’t occur overnight. Years of riding without earplugs will inevitably cause damage, and though you may not go completely deaf, your ears will definitely not be as sharp as they could be.
Is it Legal to Wear Earplugs While Riding a Motorcycle?
Before investing in some motorcycle earplugs, you may want to check whether it’s legal in your state to wear them when operating a motorcycle. Generally speaking, most states don’t have any laws prohibiting earplugs, therefore making them legal (or more accurately, “not illegal.”) According to the American Motorcyclist Association, only California, Ohio and Maryland have restrictions on riding with earplugs.
Ohio has an outright ban on wearing earplugs in both ears when operating any vehicle, though there is legislation currently being reviewed by a state senate committee that would permit motorcyclists to wear ear protection. In California, earplugs are allowed so long as they do not inhibit the rider from hearing horns from other vehicles or sirens from emergency vehicles. The law in Maryland is similar, but further restricts riders to using just custom earplugs.
Are custom earplugs better?
Not necessarily. To get into the reasons why, it’s easiest to create a pros and cons list. The Pros of going custom are self explanatory, primarily the fact you have a set of earplugs you know will fit your ears. Also, some companies can integrate custom speakers into the mold, turning your custom earplugs into a set of custom earbuds, to attach to your phone, GPS, or other device. Alternatively, there are cons to going custom. First of which is the cost. Going with custom earplugs is expensive (relatively speaking) and you may not need them if off-the-shelf plugs fit in your ear canal just fine. Being a one-of-one entity, if you lose your custom earplugs, you’re screwed. Granted, silicone earplugs are also a financial burden if they’re lost, but the ding on your wallet isn’t nearly as bad as custom. Compared to generic foam jobs, however, the cost delta is huge. Another issue with custom earplugs that affects a small number of people is it sealing so well against your ear that it disrupts your equilibrium. We would have never considered this ourselves if it didn’t happen to one of our own MO staff members. Obviously, keeping your balance on a motorcycle is important.
What Are The Best Motorcycle Earplugs (updated Jan. 2020)?
This is really a loaded question, as there are so many variables that come into play, not least of which is the shape of your ears. As such, there is no single answer. Are you trying to block certain frequencies, or do you simply want to block as much noise as possible? Do you want your earplugs to have speakers built-in, or is a simple piece of foam all you need? Ultimately, the best earplugs are the ones that fit your needs and your budget. Read on to find what the best motorcycle earplugs are available for riders.
Many riders are familiar with the Pinlock anti-fog visor inserts, but few know about the company’s earplugs. Constructed out of medical-grade silicone-free materials the flanged earplugs are inserted into the ear canal to form a seal. Pinlock claims the earplugs are all-day comfortable thanks, in part, to the two sizes included in the product box. The protection comes from an “advanced precision filter” that limits the wind noise that can damage hearing while still allowing the frequencies that deliver important information – like sirens, horns, or other road users. Riders should also be able to hear conversations with these plugs in place. Even with those capabilities, the filters are rated at a CE certified 24 decibels of suppression.
Pinlock earplugs retail for $26.95. Learn more about them at the Pinlock website.
Eargasm earplugs have been around since 2015. As with many of the earplugs that utilize attenuation filters, the big selling point for Eargasm plugs is their flat frequency response that leads to the sound not being muffled despite the 20 decibel drop in volume. The packaging and the included aluminum carrying case add to the premium feel of these earplugs.
Eargasm earplugs retail for $29.88 and are also available in small sizes. Visit the Eargasm website for more information.
Welcome to Old School hearing protection. Just because Hearos foam earplugs don’t use fancy filters to damp the sound intensity doesn’t mean that time has marched on, leaving them behind. They are still some of the best motorcycle earplugs you can buy. If you’re looking for the highest amount of noise-reduction you can buy, Hearos claims a rating of NRR 33, the highest attenuation in this buyer’s guide. A word of caution, though: The protection offered by foam earplugs is highly dependent on proper insertion in the ear canal.
Hearos are available in a wide variety of color and softness options. The package shown features 56 pair of earplugs for $14.99. Learn more at the Hearos website.
NoNoise Motorsport Earplugs
NoNoise earplugs claim that their filters are “precisely tuned for optimum attenuation at the frequencies required by motorsport enthusiasts, particularly motorcyclists.” The ceramic filters are directed at the frequencies where motorcyclists can potentially suffer the most damage from wind and road noise, while still making important things like conversations and sirens unmuffled. According to NoNoise, the earplugs feature an “independently measured mean sound attenuation (EN352-2:2002) is 29.6dB at the higher (most damaging) frequencies.”
The silicone-free flanged NoNoise earplugs retail for $29.95. the NoNoise website has more information.
Alpine MotoSafe Race Earplugs
Alpine MotoSafe Race Earplugs allow riders to hear important information, such as traffic, intercom systems, and the motorcycle’s engine, while still providing high attenuation of potentially damaging sounds. The earplugs themselves are constructed of silicone-free AlpineThermoShape material that molds to the ear canal as it warms under use, delivering a comfortable fit. Alpine claims that MotoSafe earplugs are the only ones on the market with soft filters for better fit in ears and under a helmet.
The Alpine MotoSafe Race Earplugs offer approximately 20-dB of noise reduction for a $19.95 retail price and ship with a zippered storage case. Learn about the MotoSafe line of earplugs at the Alpine website.
Etymotic ER-20XS High-Fidelity Earplugs
Etymotic is widely known within the music industry for making high-fidelity earplugs, earbuds, and ear monitors for much longer than many of the other filtered earplugs now on the market. (I have been riding with them for years since I was never happy with how foam plugs fit in my ear canals.) The Etymotic ER-20XS High-Fidelity Earplugs are a new form-factor that sit closer to the ear and work much better with helmets than the previous model. Each earplug reduces the sound intensity by 20-dB across the spectrum of frequencies that the ear can detect. Essentially, you hear everything the same – only quieter. The flanged earplugs are available in standard and large fit to accommodate different ear canal sizes. Definitely one of the best motorcycle earplugs you can buy.
Etymotic ER-20XS High-Fidelity Earplugs are priced at $19.95. Learn more about their products at the Etymotic website.
Custom Molded Earplugs
At many motorcycle events, you may have seen people getting brightly colored goo injected into their auditory canal, but that’s not the only place you can get custom-molded earplugs. Decibullz are one option on the market that allow you to make your own custom earplugs at home. 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 feel that these solid custom plugs mute the sound too much, making it hard to hear things that riders want to hear, such as approaching traffic or conversation at a stop. Still, it’s hard to argue with earplugs made specifically to fit your unique ear canals. Plus, as noted above, custom earplugs are the only ones motorcyclists are legally allowed to use in Maryland.
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