Oct 3, 2009

Aerostich Earplug Sample Kits

All Rights Reserved © 2009 Thomas W. Day

Disposable Kit: Photo courtesy of the 2007 RiderWearhouse Catalog.

Sometimes a product is more than a product. A really good product can even be a public service. The RiderWearhouse Aerostich Earplug Sample Kits (offered in a "Disposable Kit" for $10 or a "Reusable Kit" for $25) are that kind of product.

Riding a motorcycle is a well-known cause of hearing damage. It's almost impossible to find a hearing damage chart that doesn't include a picture of a motorcyclist with a suggested decibel caption beside the picture. Those charts seriously disagree about the level of noise exposure a motorcyclist suffers (from an impossible low of 85dbA to a more believable 125dBA), but they all agree that motorcycle riding is detrimental to the health of your hearing. If you experience the joy of a continuous tone, whine, "metallic waterfall" noise, or hiss when you are in a quiet room, you're one of the millions of tinnitus sufferers. Don't worry, if you like the sound of that tone, it won't go away for the rest of your life. Enjoy.

One of the additional joys of the "loud pipes" theory is that while you may think other people can hear you and, accordingly, watch out for you, you're not hearing much because you're driving yourself deaf. Helmet haters are getting the same benefit from their preference.

Exhaust noise is not engine noise and is mostly useless for troubleshooting purposes and wind noise is totally distracting. Lowering the overall noise level allows me to discriminate odd mechanical sounds, sirens, car horns, and even voices from the two major useless noises. The obvious solution is to ride wearing hearing protection. In a 90-125dBA environment, you have lost much of the subtlety in your ability to discern noises; important from unimportant. A high-noise environment is well known to cause fatigue, stress, loss of concentration, circulation and respiratory anomalies, and a weird psychological characteristic known as "learned helplessness syndrome." I've found that, if I want to hear the sound of my engine, I have to reduce the overall noise level to something tolerable. So, if you want to be able to put in a long, focused day on the bike, you're going to need to protect yourself from the noise of your vehicle, helmet, and wind.

Reusable Kit: Photo courtesy of the 2007 RiderWearhouse Catalog.

That's easy to say, but it's difficult to find an earplug that fits. At the corner drugstore, Walmonster, or hardware store, you can find all kinds of earplugs and maybe you'll find one that works for you. I've tried the cylindrical industrial foam earplugs and they do a great job of shutting out noise, but they irritate my ears after a few hours. The latex flanged plugs I found in an industrial supply store were even more painful. The waxy sleep plugs work, but they get filthy quickly and stick to my helmet and are expensive. My expensive "musician's earplugs" work really well, but I'm afraid I'm going to misplace those $140 plugs in a restaurant after a long day's ride. When I discovered these kits from Aerostich, I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to try out a variety of plugs (many of which are stocked individually at RiderWearhouse) to see what best fit my ears and personality.

The "reusable" kit comes with ten different pairs of reusable plugs. Moldex Rockets, North Com-Fits, and others are in that kit. Seven are corded (for us forgetful types) and three are not. The "disposable" kit supplies you with twelve different pairs of plugs, six corded and six not. This kit includes Howard Leight Max's, EAR Express Pod Plugs, Moldex Pura-Fits, and others.

Most of the plugs in both kits were reasonably comfortable and all of Aerostich's choices provided good hearing protection. I found the reusable latex (or latex-like) plugs to be too stiff for long use, except for a couple earplugs (I liked the Moldex models). Some of the disposables wouldn't fit in my ear well enough to provide good isolation. In the end, I found that the Howard Leight Multi-Max was the optimum protection and most comfortable fit for my ears. I bought a case of 200 and I use them on the bike, mowing the lawn, working in my shop, in the recording studio and around live music, and when my wife is trying to get me to do some job I don't want to do. Your mileage will probably vary, which is the point in these two kits. Like snowflakes, no two ears are alike (even your own, probably). What fits and works for me probably won't work for you. The best way to find a good fit is to try a lot of earplugs and, for $35, you can try out 22 of the best.


Anonymous said...

Hi Tom,

I know this will help some give earplugs a try, and some of those will give our company a chance and these kits a try. We will not disappoint them.

I appreciate your encouragement.



Anonymous said...

The odd thing is that, after years at race circuits, I seem to have more acute hearing than the others in my family. I don't understand this. I hear critters in the attic when others hear nothing. But I never seemed to need to wear "devices" when at races, although there was for a time a move on the part of many to pretend they were all audiophiles whose auditory acuity had to be preserved like a precious resource.

Maybe the loud noises have got on the wrong curcuit and have impaired my vision instead.


T.W. Day said...

The hearing mechanism is a sometimes-fragile, unpredictable, weirdly designed mess of acoustics, mechanics, hydraulics, and neuro-circuitry. Some people seem to be able to stand next to cannons without damage. Others go deaf or worse (tinnitus) with almost no noise exposure. The problem with testing the system is that it won't heal itself after damage. One you start hearing those test tones, you'll hear more of them for the rest of your life.

Thomas Day
Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly Magazine

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