Friday, May 29, 2009

Motorcycles and hearing loss

As I write this, my ears are ringing. For the past two years, I've gone for annual hearing tests as my tinnitus seems to be getting worse. What's the cause, do you suppose? Riding without hearing protection.

I can't blame all of my hearing loss on motorcycle riding. I did a lot of stupid things when I was younger and now my chickens have come home to roost. In the 1970's, live bands played at our school dances and I didn't think that there was anything cooler than to stand right in front of the band's speaker system to get a full dose of early rock classics, played by local musicians. Sure, I suppose if I'd had been feeling up Gina Statutore, instead of groovin' on Wipe Out, I might have better hearing right now. And then, of course, there was Arena Rock.

On one occasion, my brother won tickets to a Grand Funk Railroad concert from WPLR but his gf, Anna Marie, was being a bundt, so he gave them to me, with the stipulation that I take her younger brother Donnie to the show. Sure, why not. GFR rocked the house and about halfway through the show, we noticed that there were empty floor seats closer to the stage so, we eagerly moved forward. The sound was literally deafening. I couldn't hear much after the show and I remember that being the first time my ears rang for days (or weeks) afterward.

Post college found me working for a printing company, training for a sales job. We spent months in the bindery (no OSHA rules for mandatory hearing protection at that time) and in the press-room. Hearing protection was required in the press-room but the problem was, we couldn't hear the pressmen if we wore it! So, we routinely took it out and left it out. Big mistake. These days, all printing presses have enclosed areas (with all of the machine controls) nearby where you can escape the noise levels of the large machinery.

By then, the damage was done. Add to that the noise levels we take for granted at concerts, races, mowing the lawn, using a chainsaw and we put ourselves at risk on a regular basis. But, I had no idea how much damage wind noise can do.

If you ride with a full-face helmet, like I do, there's an assumption that takes place, thinking that since your ears are covered, your hearing's protected. Even with a great quality helmet, like the Arai that I wear, fit is a very important matter and, unless your ears are mashed into a helmet too small for you, air is going to flow through that helmet and whistle past your ears.

I noticed the effect of this, in full, last summer during our ride to Sturgis. Due to the long riding days, I was experimenting with different positions of my face shield. I have to state that, for the most part, we were riding well above the posted limits. Even when it was 65 mph. I found that the noise levels were actually reduced when I opened my shield into the full upright position. Why this is, I don't really know. I suppose that with the shield up, the air didn't have to sneak in and out of my helmet, like it did with only certain vents open.

I had purchased special earplugs for the trip. One of which I lost following our first day. I had other plugs, cheapies, that rolled up or squished down to fit. I used what I had, as often as I remembered.

On my last ride, we visited White Horse Press, in Center Conway, NH. Nice folks. They hold an annual event and offer a discount on everything they sell, during the Open House. I found a set of mold-able silicone plugs to use. You start with them rolled up as round balls and then flatten into your outer ear. I've used them on one ride and, so far, I like them. I'm not sure how long they'll last but I'll report back on this. Not bad for $3 and if I use them.

I have tried to impress upon my own child the errors of my ways, so that he learns from my mistakes. He's pretty good about keeping the volume of the stereo and his iPod, down. And he wears hearing protection when he mows the lawn or practices his drums.

So, if you hear me saying "What?" (repeatedly), cupping my ear to hear you above the din or seating myself centrally at any group gathering, you now know why. I wish it weren't so, but hearing loss is not reversible.

Here's a couple of good links for additional information (cut and paste):

Take an extra minute, before you ride off, to stuff something into your ears. You HEAR me?

A low, quiet wave,

Joe Racket

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