Gearing Up: Hear Us Out (Or Why You Should Always Ride With Earplugs)

Most of us are capable of injuring ourselves on the way to the bathroom — who among us hasn’t stubbed a toe at 3:27 AM? So when it comes to riding two-wheeled machines at inhuman speeds down roads that would make a cheese grater feel inadequate, it’s probably wise to take heed and cover up!

In our last post we talked about the major pieces of protective motorcycle gear that you should never ride without. This week it’s a couple of little things. Some might see them as peripherals, or accessories, but they’re actually just as important as a jacket or a helmet. Remember, the purpose is comprehensive protection, so even the little things like  earplugs are necessities. But just as you need to preserve your hearing, you also need to think about sight. That is, can others on the road see you? 

Let’s get started, with…

Hearing Protection

Motorcycles are loud, and a lot of people prefer it that way. But unless you religiously wear earmuffs or earplugs while riding, you’re on a one-way trip to hearing loss. To understand why, we need to have a quick, one-sentence anatomy lesson:  deep inside the inner ear are thousands of microscopic hairs that take the vibrations caused by soundwaves and converts them into electrical signals that the brain can interpret. It’s at 85 decibels and up that the potential to damage these hairs begins, and it only compounds from there. 

Like the Richter scale, decibel levels are logarithmic:  if a typical converversation clocks in around 60, a vacuum cleaner at 70 decibels is twice as loud, and a garbage disposal at 80 decibels is four times as loud. At 100 decibels (x16) is where we find motorcycles, which in terms of loudness is tantamount to riding a jackhammer down a city street. 

The permissible exposure time to 100 dB is only 15 minutes. After that, hearing impairment occurs. It’s an inconvenient truth to find out that your favorite pastime is slowly beating your eardrums to an early death. Your savior:  earplugs.

If damaging your hearing isn’t enough to convince you, wearing earplugs is also a smart safety choice. The sound of wind in your ears, lovely as it is, can cause a condition called temporary threshold shift (TTS), or auditory fatigue. If you’ve ever walked out of a concert yelling “WHAT?!?” at your friend trying to talk to you, that was TTS. The temporary hearing loss is your body screaming “enough,” and taking preventative measures into its own hands. That’s because overexposure to a continuous sound — like wind rushing by — can also cause damage to those auditory hairs we mentioned above. In response, your body reduces blood flow to those tiny hairs, effectively shifting your auditory threshold upwards. The result:  temporary hearing loss to sound below that threshold.

The danger of this is that many traffic sounds fall below that threshold, meaning auditory fatigue can actually make it harder for you to hear what’s happening around you. Not good! One of the big reasons many people are afraid to wear earplugs while riding is because they believe they will block all sound — not just that of the bike, or the wind. This isn’t actually true! Earplugs made for motorcyclists can actually help you hear better. That’s because they are designed to specifically filter out the frequencies most likely to cause ear damage, while letting the ones you need to hear — like those of the cars around you, or emergency sirens — through. 

And don’t think you can just get away with wearing a helmet! While a helmet might dampen some external sounds, the wind rushing around you at highway speeds can still be 100dB or higher.

The verdict:  don’t skimp on those earplugs! 

Of course, hearing is only one of a number of senses you need to think about when your out riding. Now that you’ve heard us out about earplugs, let’s take a look at sight. This time, what others see when they look at you.

High-Visibility Gear

If you think headlights and taillights are good enough to make you visible to other motorists, think again. Even in the daytime it can be tough to pick a motorcyclist out from other cars — in low light environments it can be so much more challenging. While most people only equate high-visibility gear with night rides, in-between dusk and dawn also comes with added risk risk to your safety. With the sky still on the lighter side, contrasted with the deep shadows on the ground, our eyes struggle to adjust. There’s sometimes no longer enough light to see clearly, but not yet enough darkness to make headlights effective. And that makes it that much more difficult to spot you, riding on a motorcycle with a much smaller profile than a car.

Wearing high-visibility gear increases the overall effectiveness of headlights in more than one way. First, they’re usually accented with a bright neon yellow that doesn’t occur in nature. Second, it’s been scientifically proven that the colors like neon yellow grab our attention faster than any other color, meaning we notice those yellow objects entering our peripheral vision quicker than any others. (It’s why school busses are painted yellow!) And third, is that most high-visibility gear comes with reflective strips sewn into them. These strips pick up light in all low visibility situations, making you stick out like a sore thumb — exactly what you need to remain safe on the road. Other motorists can’t react to you if they aren’t able to see you. 

Gear Up For Good

There’s a saying in sports:  leave it all on the playing field. The same should not be said for motorcycles and the road. If you avoid serious personal injury in a motorcycle accident (and wisely keep all your body’s requisite components in their original configuration), you need to be dressing yourself in head-to-toe protective gear every time you ride. No exceptions. After all, that’s how the professionals do it, remember? If it’s good enough for MotoGP riders, it’s good enough for you.

Remember:  for every mile-per-hour you go above 30 mph, direct skin contact with the road will cost you an additional millimeter of flesh. It’s not unheard of to have abrasions upwards of an inch deep! So take the right precautions! 

From broken bones, to life-threatening head injuries, to a skinned knee so bad it looks like you’ve been run through a medieval torture device — you have so much on the line every time you hop on your bike. Don’t leave it behind at a crash scene because you didn’t gear up.

Have a serious injury and need legal advice?
Contact Howard Blau.

Ventura County’s Favorite Law Office

Check Out These References for Further Reading:

What Is the Decibel Level of a Jet Plane?” Sciencing. Retrieved 20 September 2019.

Dusk and Dawn Driving Can Be Deadly.” Bottom Line Inc. Retrieved 20 September 2019.

Low-Light and Night Motorcycle Riding Safety Tips.” Ultimate Motorcycling. Retrieved 20 September 2019.

Safe Driving at Dusk, Dawn and Night.” AARP. Retrieved 20 September 2019.

Safety:  8 Ways to Make Your Motorcycle More Visible.” RideApart. Retrieved 20 September 2019.