Short answer, Yes!
Recreational noise exposure can be just as damaging to a person’s hearing as work-related noise – in fact, even more so.  Loud music, loud motorcycles, loud anything can permanently damage hearing…and this is dangerous.  This is why it’s just as important to protect your hearing off-the-job as it is on-the-job.  Research shows riding motorcycles can produce hearing loss.  But it is possible to ride safely if you understand a few simple principles.

Wind Noise
Most do not realize that above about 35 miles per hour, wind noise is actually louder for the rider than engine or exhaust noise (unless you are running straight pipes).  Even when full-shell helmets are worn, wind noise inside a helmet is often 90-100 dB when traveling at 35 mph. It can be much louder when traveling at highway cruising speeds and can be the equivalent of having an auto production factory inside your helmet!  In fact, noise levels inside full-shell helmets have been measured as high as 116 dB which is the equivalent of a chain saw inside your helmet!  And with either no helmet or a partial helmet, these noise levels can go higher.

There is no such thing as a quiet motorcycle or a quiet helmet.  All motorcycles are hearing hazardous, but some are much louder than others.

Helmets can actually amplify low-frequency wind noise.  The more cuts in the helmet, the more wind noise.  Except for a few, very expensive helmets, motorcycle helmets are NOT designed to protect hearing. Most of the wind noise enters the helmet through the neck and chin area.  Utilizing a cotton or silk helmet liner or scarf to seal this area will help reduce noise inside the helmet.  This will also keep the rider warmer in cold weather as well, but can be too hot in warmer months.  Alternatively, trying the Windjammer II Wind Noise Blocker or similar products is recommended.

Reducing your exposure to wind noise is critical to protecting your hearing and your future enjoyment of riding motorcycles. Wearing earplugs is the way to ride!

Engine/Exhaust Noise
Engine and exhaust noise are usually louder than wind noise under about 35 miles per hour.  Most motorcycles will idle around 80-90 dB going well over 100 dB when accelerating.  Backfire on competition dirt bikes can easily reach 140 dB…the equivalent of a shotgun!

Listening to Music
Listening to music while riding can be very hearing hazardous, especially with a loud exhaust system!  Why?  Because we set the volume of the music higher than the background noise…and we already know that wind, engine and exhaust noise is very loud even inside full-shell helmets.  For this reason, the speaker systems built into helmets to listen to music should not be used.  Some states even outlaw it!

Rather, use noise-isolating earphones like the ER-6i.  This costs about $150 and is well worth it.  When used inside a helmet, this provides protection from noise while allowing the rider to listen to music at reasonable loudness levels.
The only way to fully protect your hearing when riding a motorcycle is to wear hearing protection…earplugs!

Wear Hearing Protection When Riding!

  • Custom-made earplugs are inexpensive, comfortable, effective and will not interfere with helmet fit
  • ER-25 “musician’s earplugs” will help preserve situational awareness
  • But any well-fitting earplug will do
  • Use your eyes for situational awareness!  With all that wind, engine and exhaust noise, you cannot rely upon your hearing for safety!

Motorcycle noise may be affecting your hearing if you experience the following:

  • “Fullness” in the ear or muffled sound after riding
  • Temporary reduced ability to hear speech and quiet sounds
  • Sounds suddenly become louder, more bothersome
  • Tinnitus (ringing in the ears) after riding
  • Consult with an Audiologist if you experience these symptoms.