Bikers at risk of profound hearing loss

Photo credit: ajay bhargav GUDURU from Pexels

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

According to this article by Matt Colley for the British Motorcyclists Federation, bikers are making themselves deaf. Not exactly surprising, but the cause of the hearing loss isn’t just from riding loud motorcycles, it’s from exposure to wind noise.

Colley states that “[w]hen riding at 62mph, 95dB of noise turbulence is generated by the airflow within your helmet.” 95 decibels is more than enough to cause permanent hearing loss. The article continues, adding that “even at standards speeds, exposure to wind noise can have significant consequences.” So what happens if a motorcyclist goes faster? “Unsurprisingly, the faster you go the higher the noise level and consequently the higher level of risk,” says Colley, adding that at 74mph the turbulence ratchets “up to 98dB, which can be damaging after only seven minutes of exposure.”

Ironic isn’t it? People ride big, loud motorcycles because they love the sense of freedom and power and yes—they like being noticed. Meanwhile, motorcycle manufacturers–even Harley Davidson–are already developing quiet, battery-powered bikes. But a quiet, electric motorcycle, while clearly an improvement for helpless bystanders, won’t solve the wind-noise problem that the British Motorcycle Federation says is the real cause of hearing loss among motorcycle riders.

As Colley notes, it’s important for riders to hear sounds that are necessary for situational awareness, like horns and sirens. He adds that wind noise causes fatique, requiring rider to concentrate more. So what does he suggest? Something we at The Quiet Coalition have recommended since our inception–always use ear protection when you are exposed to loud noise.

In addition to serving as vice chair of the The Quiet Coalition, David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: The Acoustics Research Council, American National Standards Institute Committee S12, Workgroup 44, The Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Working Group—a partner of the American Hospital Association. He is the lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0 (2012, Springer-Verlag), a contributor to the National Academy of Engineering report “Technology for a Quieter America,” and to the US-GSA guidance “Sound Matters”, and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics (LARA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He recently retired from the board of directors of the American Tinnitus Association. A graduate of the University of California/Berkeley with graduate degrees from Cornell University, he is a frequent organizer of and speaker at professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

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