Are Motorcycle Helmets Responsible For Hearing Loss?

New twist in the debate regarding motorcycling with or without helmets. Not about freedom of choice, not about health and safety benefits, not about DOT etc…

New studies published in The Journal Of The Acoustical Society Of America warn that if helmets can protect your brain they can also largely contribute to hearing loss. 

Results show that the biggest and most dangerous source of noise is not the roar of your engine, but your helmet acting as a special air filter attenuating noise in the region above 500 Hz and amplifying noise in the regions below 500 Hz. Even at legal speeds, the sound of air rushing in areas underneath the helmet and near the chin bar can exceed safe levels.

For demonstration purpose, scientists placed motorcycles helmets atop mannequin heads, mounted them in a wind tunnel, and turned on the fans. By placing microphones at different locations around the helmet and at the mannequin’s ear, the researchers found that is a significant source of the noise that reaches riders” sensitive eardrums. It is the 1st time that the acoustic effect of helmets has been reported. These findings may incite or oblige, if governments get involved, helmet manufacturers to design quieter helmets and use the “riders’ ears protection” as a new marketing tool. 

Zipper's

38 Responses to “Are Motorcycle Helmets Responsible For Hearing Loss?”


  1. 1 Keith Stone Jul 30th, 2011 at 8:43 am

    WHAT…..?

  2. 2 Hamilton Jul 30th, 2011 at 8:53 am

    Love your news, Cyril. Always something interesting to debate or fight over. Let’s get started.

  3. 3 Gas Man Jul 30th, 2011 at 8:54 am

    Huh?

  4. 4 Shifter Jul 30th, 2011 at 8:54 am

    Conclusion. Ride with straight pipes and no helmet.

  5. 5 Brandon Jul 30th, 2011 at 8:56 am

    Cyril airing the latest news…Safe for your ears.

  6. 6 Jim C Jul 30th, 2011 at 9:14 am

    With a 1/2 helmet and no windshield – can’t hear the SE pipes on my Superglide, the wind is so loud. Some real truth to this.

  7. 7 R Wolf Jul 30th, 2011 at 9:47 am

    Last year I experienced some hearing loss.I was wearing a 3/4 helmet with face shield,bike also has shield.Rode some 600 miles,when I got home could not hear anything very well,All sounded like a very low whisper.Took about a day to start hearing better.I now use ear plugs when I do long distance riding and I do agree with studie about helmets and loss of hearing and I do have loud pipes on my FXDWG but the wind made more noise .

  8. 8 burnout Jul 30th, 2011 at 10:02 am

    My hearing loss is from shooting guns and loud music. Been wearing earplugs while riding going on 7 years now. EVEN with my full-face helmet. peace

  9. 9 Bleeding Ears Jul 30th, 2011 at 10:17 am

    I like LOUD pipes!

  10. 10 Drew Jul 30th, 2011 at 10:27 am

    That’s why i wear disposable earplugs. I can still hear my pipes and traffic around me, without losing my hearing.

  11. 11 Luis Jul 30th, 2011 at 10:44 am

    I now always wear my disposable ear plugs. I used to think it was BS but I rode with and without them and it was surprising how I was less tired when I arrived. I know I have some hearing loss from riding 10 years w/o them. They also work great in airplanes to block out the drone and badly behaved children.

  12. 12 Toby Jul 30th, 2011 at 12:54 pm

    My first thought was to see what kinds of helmets they are using. They all must differ. My full Shoei is as quiet as a church mouse. Too quiet sometimes. And a half helmet would be no different than no helmet unless you have ear muffs.

    They appear to have only used BSI approved (British version of DOT standard) helmets with no mention of visors (also regulated in Britain), which might have an effect on wind noise.

    I only read part of the article but it does refer to Temporary hearing threshold shifts (THTSs) which does not imply permanent damage, although I can certainly see prolonged exposure to any excessive noise causing hearing loss.

    I am wondering what does more damage, wind noise or iPod usage. 😉

    Oh, and it is SPECTRAL air filters… not SPECIAL filters.

  13. 13 hoosiervic Jul 30th, 2011 at 2:03 pm

    With or without a helmet it’s long been known that it’s much better for your ears to wear ear plugs. Problem is that in some states it is illegal to wear ear plugs while riding……. go figure!

  14. 14 chopperfreak29 Jul 30th, 2011 at 3:42 pm

    Solution = ear plugs. I wear them when I play drums, electric guitar and when I ride. I also wear them at work and mowing the lawn and for many other things. It’s like ear armor. I also wear a full face AGV and body armor under a leather jacket. Personally I like my ears, eyes, face and skin to stay put and perform the way they were designed to in the first place. Oh and IPods definitely do more damage. Anyone who sports headphones when they ride has a death wish.

  15. 15 Fernando Jul 30th, 2011 at 5:19 pm

    No IPODS? So, it’s ok not to hear anything over listening to music? Huhmm… debatable… OK, I only wear headphones on long roadtrips, but i refuse to wear ear plugs. They dull the senses entirely too much, and they also restrict airflow, which can play a trick on the ear drums and throw off your balance.
    My pipes are not the loudest.. loud enough for the idiots to know I’m there, which is what matters to me.
    To each his own, I guess…
    By the way Chpperfreak29, how loud is your IPOD? I’d like one just like it.

  16. 16 MaddMax2u Jul 30th, 2011 at 5:20 pm

    What? Huh? Sorry, I can’t hear you. Could you please speak up?

  17. 17 Jeff Nicklus Jul 30th, 2011 at 5:30 pm

    I started using disposable ear plugs shortly after I got married …. wonder what that means? My wifes says I have “selective hearing” ….. HUH?

    Over & Out,

    Jeff

  18. 18 Luis Jul 30th, 2011 at 7:40 pm

    @Jeff I think every married man has learned to wear earplugs. 🙂

  19. 19 john reed Jul 30th, 2011 at 11:39 pm

    I have broken myself a lot over the years and a while back I had a load of surgeries to repair things, twice a week I had to to ride down 2 freeways in rush hour to Fremont which is about 50 miles away for therapy..
    The therapist told me lots of times during every session that my hearing would be damaged if I carried on riding without ear protection , she gave me some ear plugs and I said I would try them when I rode to my next appointment.
    I spit on my ear plugs and poked them in my ears as far as I could while my bike was warming up,I was amazed how much quieter everything sounded, the bike felt good the weather was great .I was having a good time as I was pass the traffic. cruising in and out off the car pool line at what felt like my normal speed when suddenly my radar detector went off ,I looked at the speedo and freaked out when I found out I was going over 20 miles faster than I did without the ear plugs , if I hadn’t hit the brakes before I passed the cop with the radar gun I would have been going fast enough to be in a lot of trouble.
    I slowed down to the speed I usually go when one of the ear plugs came out and was bouncing around between my ear and my helmet,I always keep both hands on the bars when splitting lanes but the ear plug was driving me crazy so I took my right hand off the bars and tried to force my fingers inside the helmet pull it out when suddenly everyone hit their brakes, and I lost interest in my loose ear plug and grabbed for the front brake with my right hand and I was very very lucky that I missed hitting the truck in front up the ass .
    After analyzing the trip. I figured that the ear plugs may have helped my hearing but because everything sounded quieter I rode faster and I could have been in jail if I had been caught going over 30 miles over the speed limit and I was ever so lucky I didn’t hit the truck and ending up in hospital when one came loose in my helmet.
    I have worn helmets for 50 years and apart from a bit of selective deafness I dont think they have damaged my hearing at all.

    My doctor was Dr Art Ting , He is a really cool guy and I believe one of the best surgeons in the world when it comes to building people make together when they have fallen off and broke things.

  20. 20 hk Jul 31st, 2011 at 12:23 am

    the stupidity encased in this argument is too much to handle .A helmet causes hearing loss like not having a fork keeps a fat kid from eating pizza .If people stopped buying salad bowls instead of properly built helmets this would not be something to even talk about .Maybe the researches could explain that this only applies to fish bowls and plastic novelty pieces of garbage ,not properly built full face helmets ,but yet those are pictured at th bottom of the article.So helmets break your neck and cause hearing loss ,but riding an open pipe vtwin and smacking your bare head on the concrete is a better option ….wow .

  21. 21 gustian Jul 31st, 2011 at 6:12 am

    Wearing or not wearing a helmet isn’t the problem over here on the other side of the great blue.
    I’m living in Belgium-Europe, and am simply used to wear a helmet. Rend in Turqui a motorcycle and there also, they don’t wear helmets. After a “helmetless” day, (they simply didn’t have helmets)
    I stil heard the whole evening the wind in my ears………….No more, thanks !
    I’m hidding the road now about 37 years (also sessions on circuit) and my yearly visit to the doctor was ( luckely) positive. I have a verry small loss of hearing but normal for my age.
    As HK says, I ‘d rather wear leathers and a “good” helmet (not a salad bowl),
    than feel free with the risk of finding myself one day my skin ripped-off and my face “rebuild”.

    PS: I always wear earplugs.

    Peace Gustian

  22. 22 Luis Jul 31st, 2011 at 8:53 am

    A good helmet w/ lots of ventilation tends to be louder. My Bell star carbon is louder than my suomy vandal which wasn’t as loud as my shoei X-11. My RF-800 was pretty quiet but hot as hell. For some reason I get shit from some fellow harley owners for wearing “crotch rocket” helmets.

  23. 23 jim h Jul 31st, 2011 at 11:12 am

    I went to the ASA site and it appears the study was done during ongoing acoustic studies promoting improved helmet design for the rider and driver. Ride safe my friends…..

  24. 24 Olive Oil Jul 31st, 2011 at 11:48 am

    I did too many trips to Sturgis from the west coast without eagplugs and sporting straight pipes that were LOUD. Now have two grand invested in hearing aids. My doctor is Vinnie Boom Bah……

  25. 25 hk Jul 31st, 2011 at 11:56 am

    hey luis ,let the harley guys give you grief about the “crotch rocket” helmet ,its only a matter of time when those bottle cap lids will be banned ,or at least ridiculed out of production.

  26. 26 Todd8080 Jul 31st, 2011 at 1:14 pm

    When mandatory helmet states begin showing better motorcycle safety records (on average) than pro-choice states, I’ll start believing helmets are the miracle cure-all that the [non-riding] press keeps claiming they are.

    I repeatedly see news articles where [non-riding] pro-helmet fanatics claim that a DOT-labeled helmet increases a rider’s chance of surviving a wreck by 67%. If that were true, mandatory helmet states would have absolutely stellar motorcycle safety records, yet they do not.

    Year after year, mile for mile and bike registration for bike registration, motorcycle deaths & injuries remain virtually the same for both mandatory helmet states and pro-choice states.

    If you want to believe a helmet will protect you from any and all injury, by all means wear the biggest one you can find. Wear it to bed, wear it in the shower, wear it at you desk in your 9-to-5 job, but kindly allow me to make my own choices concerning my body.

    In other words, let those who ride decide.

  27. 27 Fernando Jul 31st, 2011 at 1:41 pm

    After reading 3 days of postings on I am starting to smell all of the elements of a covert corporate strategic product development panel.

    We the “core” “innovators” “influencers” are being bated into providing an unbiased assessment of a business opportunity. This is worth millions to the motorcycle industry!

    So listen up, here’s what we want:

    The Full Face, DOT Compliant, noise canceling, surround sound/ambient sound, whiplash proof, radar detecting, bluetooth, stealth mode, pro-choice helmet with invisibility function, so we can be free riders and happy husbands…

    Got that Bell?

  28. 28 Mike Greenwald Jul 31st, 2011 at 5:41 pm

    The sound issue is a government inspired excuse for more helmet usage. I suspect that the outcome will be more regulation for the manufacturers, more helmets that fail testing, the same death rate whether the helmets are worn or not.

    Mike

  29. 29 Mark Jul 31st, 2011 at 7:44 pm

    hk,
    I don’t understand why you insist on hitting your head on the concrete.

    And when it comes to your other comment about what helmets this study applies to, you must not have read it.
    It specifically mentioned the wind rushing around and under the chin bar.
    Last I checked, the only helmets with chin bars are full-face racing helmets.

  30. 30 janbolt Jul 31st, 2011 at 8:42 pm

    Huh? What?

  31. 31 Paul Aug 1st, 2011 at 10:16 am

    Loudness is different for everyone but I’m with chopperfreak29. I wear earplugs in my full face helmet and everything else due to too much Metallica in my college days.

    Once I tried ear buds to listen to music while driving a skid loader. I had to turn the volume up so much that I was more deaf afterwards than if I’d worn nothing at all.

  32. 32 TRexSG Aug 1st, 2011 at 12:36 pm

    Yes, when riding with a crappy helmet or no helmet, the wind causes hearing loss and after 40 years of riding, mainly without a helmet or ear protection, my hearing is shot and I need hearing aids. The wind blowing past your ears is very hard on them. Guess I should have invested in disposable ear plugs long ago because they would have been much cheaper than hearing aids!

    As for the sensation of speed mentioned by John above, it takes about 5 minutes to get use to the difference the first time. No big deal.

    To hk
    “the only helmets with chin bars are full-face racing helmets”…when was the last time you went in a store that sells helmets? 1950?

  33. 33 cooldaddy51 Aug 1st, 2011 at 8:26 pm

    Helmets causing hearing loss? Howabout a big WTF !! Been riding since 1967 with a helmet ,am experiencing hearing loss now but I attribute it to playing lead guitar standing in front of a stack of amps in the late sixties early seventies. Actually made you wince on certain notes. Or maybe it was the wind rushing past my helmet? What do yah think ?

  34. 34 vince Aug 1st, 2011 at 9:57 pm

    yet another reason to let those who ride decide

  35. 35 hk Aug 1st, 2011 at 10:40 pm

    to trex . Im not the one who said that about full face helmets ,that was Mark ,not me .

    I work at a motorcycle shop ,I’m well aware of the different kinds of helmets with chin bars .Maybe mark has never heard of a dirt bike helmet ,or a.flip up ,or a supermoto helmet ,trials lid ,,,,,,i can go on but why bother ,its a goofy argument .Ive never bought a cheap helmet ,so my hearing is just fine and ive been around ear piercing racing sportbikes since i was 17 ,now im surrounded by open pipe harley’s and i still wear my full face.I rode 5 hours with my crew in the pouring rain and they all had open faced salad bowls ,at the end of the trip the boss said next time we make that run he wants a full face .Sometimes vanity takes a back seat to common sense ,,,,unfortunately its not that common .

  36. 36 tjk Aug 1st, 2011 at 10:41 pm

    Enough of the BS already. Wear earplugs, wear a helmet, and go ride and have fun. Or, don’t. Go deaf early, or split your melon on the pavement the next time you take a dump. Gotta love america – free choice and all.

  37. 37 Kustoms and Choppers Aug 2nd, 2011 at 9:34 am

    Really helmets cause hearing loss? I never would of thought of that.

  38. 38 hk Aug 2nd, 2011 at 10:27 am

    in other news sunglasses cause vision loss ,and gloves will give you arthritis .

    aaannnd ………. done .

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