Ear plugs, the best cheap bike mod

The must-buy ten-cent bike mod
Published December 17, 2012

I am at once amazed and unsurprised that so few motorcyclists wear ear plugs. Amazed because, after years of using ear plugs, I can no longer stand to ride without them. Unsurprised because they’ve been sold the entirely wrong way by the enlightened few.

Ear plugs are pitched as preventative health care, making them about as cool as condoms to the GSX-R youth. Tinnitus, preach enlightened elders, is the wailing future of high-milers who ride unprotected. Maybe it’s true. But the future is so far away and uncertain, not immediate enough to shape behavior. We ride death cycles after all!

I’ll grant that preventing tinnitus is an excellent reason to wear ear plugs, but I’ve got a simpler one: Ear plugs make riding better, every day. They soften the din. They sharpen my focus.

I’m often asked if I don’t need to hear things while riding. Sirens, car horns, my own bike’s revs, all useful audio cues necessary for navigating the city alive. And I hear them all, even with NRR 33-rated Howard Leight Max plugs stuffed deep into my ears.

For anyone that’s never ridden with ear plugs, here’s an easy analog to understand. Drive a car on the freeway with all of the windows down. Roll the windows up. That is the difference ear plugs make.

Ear plugs enforce a welcome calm on the buzzing mess that is San Francisco

It’s not that ear plugs block all sound. Rather they cut the most grating noises to a muffled hush. Even through an aerodynamically superior full-face helmet, wind roar is deafening, frantic and fatiguing. A ten-cent pair of ear plugs improves the experience immeasurably.

Absent the berating bother of wind, freeway traffic loses its artificial frenzy. Ear plugs enforce a welcome calm on the buzzing mess that is San Francisco. I cannot measure the contribution to tinnitus a single unplugged ride to work might yield, but I can tell the difference in my mental cool. Helmet off, ear plugs out…what was all the fuss again?

Try a pair. Give ear plugs a week. In my experience there’s no going back, which is more than I can say for fruity race pipes.