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

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day

Today is Memorial Day, May 25, 2009 and I have little to do. Oh sure, there are a thousand things I could do, but none I have to do. That's the difference between a regular weekend day and a holiday. My obligations to self and family are no more than to fire up the grill in the middle of the afternoon and cook a palatable meal.

Yesterday's weather was a bit dicier than today's (sunny and warm) but since Sunday is our "normal" ride day, the wife and I saddled up with a short ride planned to visit the Shaker Village in nearby Canterbury, NH. I suppose it's a bit of an historical recreation like Sturbridge Village, down in Massachusetts. Still, having once been within a few miles without stopping, it seemed like a good destination for those of us not opting for the early and multi-hundred mile route that the club had planned for the day.

We made our way across Bedford, jumping onto 101, headed East towards the coast. Our jumping off point to head North was Candia (Candy-O, I need ya) but soon the sprinkles began. A few miles further up the road, they became steady and I pulled off the highway to confer with the missus. A line of rain was sweeping West-to-East across the state, with the leading edge the furthest East. That meant that our ride North would encounter this rain, with potential for heavy downpours, with the Southernmost part of the state missing out. Suit up and go on or save this ride for another day?

We decided that rain suits would be a drag and so turned tail, headed South through Auburn before turning West through Manchester. We had a nice ride through the city, much quieter on the weekend than I suppose it is during the week.

Returning home, we tucked the bike into the garage, tucked into a big lunch (and the Indy 500) before doing taking care of some other errands.

Perhaps we'll get out for a short scoot today. The weather's nice and I wouldn't mind going out just to hear my exhaust roar as I click through second and third gears. The cacophony of acceleration beats out the steady hum of highway riding, every time.

And let's not forget why we have this extra day to enjoy ourselves, our families and our hobbies. I extend my thanks to veterans everywhere and those in my family who have served, to bring us peace, safety and the American way of life.

A low, slow wave,

Joe Rocket