I have been riding motorbikes for the thick end of 35 years and it is only in the last five that I have worn earplugs. I suppose there were so many years without them because at the time, so few other riders I knew wore them. I was also worried that they were dangerous, fearing that they alienate you from your surroundings by eliminating all sound. This simply isn’t true – as it turns out, you can still hear everything, but at a reduced volume. I became an advocate of ear protection when a friend of mine was medically retired with tinnitus, which he feels was brought on by the continuous wind noise from riding (and not his unhealthy love of very loud music). Tinnitus is the sensation of hearing a sound in the absence of any external sound. In his case, it is a ringing and whooshing in both his ears, which causes him dizziness. This can be continuous and irreversible, and after seeing how it has affected him, I am desperately keen to avoid it.
A study carried out by Germany’s automobile association (ADAC) concluded that motorcyclists are at risk of permanently damaging their hearing after just 15 minutes of riding at 62mph, seven minutes at 74mph or just three minutes at 87mph. These figures are shocking, and it is not noise from the exhaust pipes or engine that is the issue, but simply the wind noise. You can extend the time before damage by a few minutes with better noise-cancelling helmets or higher screens; however, prolonged exposure without decent earplugs could still result in tinnitus.
I have tried loads of different earplugs in my search for a solution, but most deaden all sounds around you. I look for ear protection that filters the nasty dB from the other sounds I want to hear and that are, most importantly, extremely comfortable.
I had heard that Ultimate earbuds were the best of the best, and I had seen these guys at loads of shows around the UK. Ultimate are a UK manufacturer of custom-made ear protection, established in 2001. Whilst I am testing these for motorcyclists, they make a huge range of earplugs for most needs.
Ultimate’s first step in manufacturing their earplugs is that they take a mould impression of your ear, and from this, they produce bespoke earplugs that will fit you perfectly, giving the best in noise reduction. When I received my earplugs, I was pleased to see that they come in their own carry case, along with cleaning products and lotion. When you wear the earplugs, they are soft, squidgy and wonderfully flexible: as they are moulded to your ear canal, there is no pressure holding them in place, which makes long use pain-free. My first two-hour ride was very relaxing with these earplugs, and when we stopped for coffee, they were so comfy that I forgot to take them out! I can assure you that with cheaper options, I have never forgotten to remove them - on the contrary, I am desperate to get them out as soon as possible.
These aren’t the cheapest earplugs on the market – however, they are amazing. Cheaper products will block out all sounds, and they also rely on expanding pressure on your ear canal, which is uncomfortable and sometimes outright painful. We motorcyclists spend thousands on clothing, helmets and gloves to protect us from the potential danger of a crash, but our hearing is under a real and constant threat of irreversible damage, so get the best.
Below is a list of events the guys at Ultimate will attend, so go, have a chat and protect your hearing.
26-28 July The Game Fair Hatfield House AL10 0RN
10-11 August Heritage Sprint Betteshanger Park, Deal CT14 0BF
18 August Tag Speed Motorcycle Lepton Highlanders Sports and Social HD8 0LX
30 Aug-01 Sep Chatsworth Country Fair Chatsworth House DE45 1PN
14-15 Sep Midland Game Fair Weston Park TF11 8LE
16-24 Nov Motorcycle Live NEC B40 1NT
4 out of 5
Perfect fit so very comfortable
Great noise reduction
No pressure on ear canal
Range of colours
No speakers for music however timateear.com make these and are sending me my bespoke ones to review.