Many riders know that wearing earplugs can make your rides much more enjoyable; smooth airflow over the helmet is one thing but turbulent air, from other road users or a screen or mirrors, for example, can make a ride unpleasant at best and at worst, damaging.
A test carried out by our sister title RiDE recorded sound pressure levels within a helmet at 70mph of 100.8dB. That might not sound much but at that level, it is less than five minutes until your ears are in danger of potentially permanent damage. So clearly, earplugs should be on every rider’s kit-list.
Many, including almost all riders at MCN towers, favour the ‘rhubarb and custard’ pink and yellow squishy foam earplugs that are everywhere in our office building. These are cheap and even though are designed to be used just once, will go a few times if you look after them. However, they aren’t for everyone, myself included; they never seem to fit properly or seal as well as they could and anyway, surely we should be cutting back on single-use plastics?
I tested various types of earplugs a couple of years ago and found that not only did these not work for me, other types of earplugs also reduced noise even more than the disposable versions. In fact, the ones that reduced noise the most were the original Isolate Pro examples from Flare Audio. These used a solid aluminium ‘bullet’ centre section with a foam tip to seal in the ear.
Despite looking very James Bond, the concept was simple; the metal section helps to block out the lower-frequency rumbly noise caused by turbulence while the foam section would help seal against higher frequencies. They performed very well but eventually, the foam of the tips begins to degrade and you need to replace them – you can buy replacement foam tips easily.
However, when I went to buy some more, I discovered that the originals had been superseded by these, the new Isolate Pro which seek to do the same as the originals but with a much lower profile… and the main aluminium body is now also available in titanium (more expensive) and in (cheaper) plastic.
Straight away, you can see that the metal section is much smaller (if you go for one of the two metal options). It still mounts the foam section which is designed to be rolled and inserted into the ear canal but it protrudes less from the ear itself, so it is less likely to catch on the inside of the helmet lining and offer improved comfort.
I went for a slightly larger foam section than I used on the originals and found that this sealed my ears just as well as the older plugs though they were more comfortable.
They still reduced wind and road noise to very acceptable levels – they have a quoted noise reduction of 32dB - but also allowed music from my intercom to pass through without losing any of the detail though obviously, the volume was lower than without. I had no comfort worries at all, including day-long rides with stops only for fuelling and the occasional removal.
I had no issues other than one single time when for no apparent reason, one did not seal in my ear well – perhaps it was too cold to expand fully into the ear canal, after being left in the mesh bag on my keys during a fuel stop. I used a backup earplug to the next fuel stop, by which point these were working fine again and have done ever since.
It’s also worth noting that if you do use these, be very careful when removing them. Don’t just yank them out, as they create an air-tight seal and you could easily damage your eardrums if you do. As I learned, you need to carefully break the seal between earplug and ear before beginning to remove them. Do that and everything should be gravy.
I really like these earplugs. I have been using the older versions for around two years before the new example and now, I like these even more. They are light, comfortable and they work; they kill external noise but allow you to hear enough of what’s going on around you and if it’s your thing, music and phone calls too.
And though you need to periodically replace the memory foam inserts, you certainly don’t need to throw them away every time you use them. They’re not cheap but then, they are considerably less than custom-made plugs, which some people also struggle with.
32dB quoted reduction in noise
Reusable, so little plastic waste
Cut wind noise but allow music in
More expensive than disposables