There's no way to dress it up – motorcycling can be a noisy business. Sure, cushioned behind a vast screen and complex aerodynamics in the silent envelope of a touring bike’s sheltered environment might be a calm and relaxed place to be, but on the other side of the coin, a naked or sports bike can put the rider’s head right in the flow of air and this can get noisy.
Nice even airflow needn’t be a problem – it's turbulent air that tends to create the most noise, and this can have an effect on not only your general enjoyment of the ride but also, it can damage your hearing.
Tests have shown that the interior of a crash helmet can see Sound Pressure Levels (SPL) well in excess of 100dB and this can quickly end up causing permanent hearing damage. Of course, the helmet itself as well as the bike and whatever screen it is using will affect the noise level, but this is why many motorcyclists wear earplugs, to reduce the sounds level that reaches the inner ear.
The thing to look for with earplugs is the SNR, or Single Number Rating; this indicates by how much they reduce noise as per the relevant standards. The bigger the number, the more they reduce noise.
There are lots of different earplugs available, from incredibly cheap off-the-shelf ones to custom-made items costing significant money. Here are what we reckon are among the best on the market. After all, what price do you put on your hearing?
Top motorcycling earplugs
1. Howard Leight
The cheap onesThere is always a box of these shaped squidgy foam earplugs on the go in MCN Towers; they're bike journos' go-to earplugs. Cheap, lightweight and easy to use, you simply roll them between your fingers, insert into the ear canal and wait a moment for them to expand and seal. The shape means you should be able to get a good seal and in use, they work pretty well, though they're not for everyone. Designed for one use only, you can get away with a few if you look after them but it does mean lots of discarded plastic. SNR 35
2. Auritech Bikers
The comfy onesMade in silicone-free plastic, these use three different sized 'flanges' to ensure a proper fit while remaining exceptionally comfortable. The flexible design means a good seal and they use an internal filter to allow useful sound – like the noise of other road users, for example - to come through while removing the damaging noise. It also means you can hear any intercoms for phone calls, music or sat nav instructions. SNR 21
3. Flare Isolate
The effective onesLooking like something from The Terminator's accessory kit, these use a solid aluminium 'bullet' which has a squidgy ear foam fitted to the end. The metal helps remove the sound with a lower frequency, which is usually generated by turbulence and the ear foams help seal the ear canal and reduce general noise levels while allowing that of other traffic or intercoms to come through. Once bought, the ear foams need replacing periodically and the initial set comes with different sizes to ensure the right fit. SNR 35
4. Peltor Torque (10 Pairs)
The shaped onesLooking a lot more technical than some of the other, cheaper earplugs, these cone-shaped foam examples from Peltor effectively 'screw' in and the tapered design means that they should seal well for most sizes of ear canal. They are comfortable but can become less so over time. You push them in using the central stem and remove them the same way, making them more hygienic than say a pair of roll-up foam ones. SNR 32
The mouldable onesThese mouldable earplugs from Decibullz take things one step further. They pair thermoplastic mouldable sections with either flanged or nosed earfoams. You heat the mouldable section in boiling water, let them cool and then mould them to fit your earlobes, helping seal against noise while giving a personal fit to your ear to prevent them falling out. It's an interesting concept and they can be heated and re-moulded again if necessary. You can also get them with speakers built in, for example, for connecting to intercoms. SNR 27
6. Custom Fit Guards
The bespoke onesTaking the idea of a mouldable earplug to its ultimate conclusion, these from Custom Fit are designed specifically for your ears. The company comes to your home or office and makes a mould of both of your ear canals, then produces a pair of earplugs to fit you perfectly. You can choose from various options but the CF Auto variety includes a filter to allow the sound of other vehicles or intercom sat-nav instructions, for example, to come through. You can also specify wired or wireless ear pieces if you like. SNR 26
7. Earpeace M
The adjustable onesThe idea here is that in addition to three hypoallergenic silicone flanged earplugs, you get three pairs of interchangeable filters, to allow you to tailor the amount of noise that comes through, depending on whether you're riding in town and need to hear traffic around you or on a motorway where you want to cut as much wind noise as possible. SNR 17/20/26
The funky onesThese weird-looking earplugs from the USA come in two flavours; Quiet blocks all sound, reducing noise by 30dB while the Experience reduces it by 20dB but allows speech and other sounds through, thanks to its 'acoustic channel' forming part of the circular section and an integrated filter system. And while they may have a unique appearance, once you've got your helmet on, who's to know? SNR TBC (-20dB Experience, -30dB Quiet)
9. Jabra Elite 75t
The connected onesAppearing for the second time in our list, the Jabra earbuds also work exceptionally well as earplugs, albeit rather bulky. The HearThrough system uses the microphones to play ambient sounds into your ears, allowing you to hear traffic around you, for example. With it turned off, they block an impressive amount of noise while also pairing with your smartphone for audio or sat nav instructions. SNR N/A