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Monday, March 1, 2010

Can you hear me now?

An article in today's Boston Globe about tinnitus made me think about a mistake I made a long time ago. I used to ride with no helmet which was not too smart in itself but carried an unnoticed side-effect that now plagues me.

The roar of the wind over my ears is what has caused my current problem with tennitus, a constant tone at about 3khz in my ears. This causes a problem not just with hearing but with comprehending what I hear. Once the damage is done there seems to be no cure. I'm screwed!

Wearing a helmet helps. A full faced helmet is best as it provides the greatest wind protection. Better still is using ear plugs. Custom fitted ones are generally ~$100-150 which, in hindsight, would have been cheap money. They provide the best protection. My friend Marty, who is a musician, has a pair to protect himself. Custom earplugs have the benefit of easy insertion which makes using them more convenient. However, losing them is a big hit and if you have a variety of gear it would seem that they would always be with the other jacket or helmet

Howard Leight LL1 Laser Lite Earplugs no Cords (200 ct)

Foam ear plugs come in all sorts of styles, colors, and types. Over the years I've settled on Howard Leight LL1 Laser Lite Earplugs for my use. The sound suppression is very good and they are inexpensive, $21.25 for 200 pairs or about 11 cents a pair. A box will last me a couple of years. I keep several pairs in every jacket, every tank bag, and every gear bag so that I always have them with me. With spares I can offer them to other riders who don't have them or don't use them.

The upside of foam earplugs is that they're cheap and disposable. The downside is that they take a little practice to get inserted correctly. And they take a minute or two to insert. My buddies can sometimes get impatient but it's not my hearing loss they're concerned about. I just start getting ready a bit sooner so I can take my time.

Another downside is that I lose some of the clues I need when I'm riding my dirt bike. I don't know if it's the quietness or some sort of subtle inner-ear balance thing but I don't use the ear plugs when I'm out in the woods. Since my top speed is generally ~20mph this is not a big deal.

I'm sure that listening to loud rock bands in night clubs was a contributing factor with my tinnitus but I am even more sure that the larger villain was the wind noise in my ears while riding my motorcycle. Don't make the same mistake, get ear plugs and use them! A few seconds to put them in will save you years of saying, "What?"  You, and everyone around you, will be happier.