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I've heard claims before that when riding a motorcycle, wind noise (especially on the highway) is loud enough that it will cause eventual hearing loss.

Personally, I ride a motorcycle, and I usually wear earplugs on longer rides, but I have no scientific reason to do so - I just prefer the decreased noise. Is there any reason to believe I'm actually protecting my hearing by doing so?

Here are some example claims:

  • 2
    it would depend on the helmet – ratchet freak Aug 11 '11 at 21:01
  • google.com/… I can tell you that my father is suffering from riding bikes for years with no ear protection. Its fairly well researched and documented. I havent voted to close but this really shows not attempt to do any research on your own. – Chad Aug 11 '11 at 21:02
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    @Chad - the first page of Google results are mostly motorcyclist forums, as well as web sites pushing cures for tinnitus and free hearing tests. I'd hardly consider these unbiased, reliable sources. – Zack Elan Aug 11 '11 at 21:10
  • @ratchet freak: ;) Which helmet? – user unknown Aug 11 '11 at 22:25
  • @ZAck but there are 4 good results right there on the first page. – Chad Aug 12 '11 at 13:35
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I found this study Hearing loss in motorcyclists: occupational and medicolegal aspects Andrew W McCombe, MD FRCS(ORL) 2003 to be most thorough, it also has links to six other studies which you could use as further reading:

However, over the past 10-15 years, as motorcycle development has led to quieter machines with radically improved performance, there has been increasing concern that riders are exposed to excessive noise through turbulent airflow around the helmet—so-called wind-noise. The seminal report on this topic (although not the first) was that of Van Moorhem et al. in 1981. Apart from the work of our group, there have since been only six published reports on the subject. (See article for linked references)


All groups have used essentially similar techniques: a miniature microphone is placed at the rider's ear under the helmet and sound levels are measured in various riding conditions. All these studies show excessive wind noise around the helmet—about 90 dB(A) at 60 km/h and increasing linearly when plotted against the log of speed, to reach 110 dB(A) at 160 km/h.


Modern helmets, we found, offered very poor low-frequency sound attenuation and we also demonstrated a phenomenon of resonance at 250 Hz. The source proved to be a turbulent boundary layer, vibrating against the outside of the helmet shell, with its maximum sound energy focused between 250 and 500 Hz.


When we used more suitable controls, we did confirm hearing loss in motorcyclists. We also identified a temporary threshold shift after only 1 hour of high-speed riding and a corresponding subjective complaint of tinnitus. After long periods at high speed, riders commonly report other non-specific complaints such as fatigue, headache and even disequilibrium. Similar symptoms have been described in industry and elsewhere.

60 km/h is common on urban streets, but if you are regularly traveling along highways or touring you can be sitting at 100 km/h for reasonable stretches which means above 90 dB for an extend period of time. According to several sources this is sufficient to cause hearing damage.

Example sources for above claim:

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