The Importance of... earplugs

The Importance of... earplugs
30 January 2023
The Importance of... earplugs

In this first part of our “importance of…” series, we’ll look at probably the smallest but most frequently overlooked part of your riding gear. While most of us don’t mind opening our wallets for gloves, boots, leathers and helmets, it seems some people are strangely averse to spending a couple of quid on little foam blobs which protect a part of your body that’s very hard or impossible to heal. Our hearing is an essential sense. It allows us to hear engines, police sirens and complaints from irate spouses about walking through the house with dirty boots. Although I’m sure many of us could live without the latter, it’s still a sense that’s worth protecting. The humble earplug should be a part of everyone’s kit.

Our ears are amazing things. A big flap of flesh channels vibrations to the middle ear, which makes some tiny bones wobble to boost the vibrations. The boosted vibrations pass through a ligament that softens the really loud noises, which finally end up in a small pocket of goo and hair, turning them into electrical signals. The brain interprets those signals as sound or, if you’re watching Celebrity Love Island, interprets them as irritating noise and makes you reach for the remote control. Clever stuff.

However, with prolonged exposure to noise, those tiny hairs that convert sound to electrical impulses will start to die. Once a hair dies, it will not regrow, and your hearing will gradually worsen. It may even reach a point where you could comfortably enjoy Celebrity Love Island—it’s that serious.


While you may think hearing damage occurs after one big noise, like standing next to a cannon during a ceremonial firing, it’s not quite that simple. Permanent damage occurs from exposure to noise over time. For example, 85db has been deemed the top end of the safe limit over an 8-hour period. This would be the equivalent of working in a busy office or a lively restaurant. However, things get a bit more complicated as the decibel level increases. For each 3db increase in volume, the intensity of sound is doubled and so your exposure time should be halved:

Noise Level Exposure Time
88db 4 hours
91db 2 hours
94db 1 hour
97db 30 minutes
100db  15 minutes
103db 7 minutes, 30 seconds
106db 3 minutes, 45 seconds
109db 1 minute, 52 seconds
112db 56 seconds
115db 28 seconds

To try and give some real world examples of what those figures means, a food blender hovers around the 88db, so if you want to listen to a blender for four hours, you can go ahead. A Honda VFR800 from 25ft away sits around the 90db mark, whilst something fruity and Italian giving it the beans on a trackday may well exceed 110db.

However, it’s not the noise of the engine that’s the biggest concern for motorcyclists. The thing we need to worry about is wind noise. Once wind noise is factored in, bikers can be exposed to noise levels from 85db at 40mph to 106db at 70mph, and exceeding 115db once you start creeping past 125mph. It’s not hard to understand why motorcyclists are prone to permanent hearing damage.

While a Panigale with a full Akrapovic system may sound awesome as it tears around Donington, it's less than pleasant when it's a couple of metres away, and if anyone with a decibel meter is brave enough to get close to a sunday-riding Harley or straight-piped crosser and let me know the results, I'd be keen to hear them. We have a noisy hobby and should definitely consider earplugs to be an essential part of our protective equipment. It's madness not to, frankly.

A quiet helmet isn’t enough

While many helmet manufacturers may boast about creating quiet lids, it would be more accurate to say they’re less noisy. However, even wearing the quietest helmet and tucking yourself behind the largest screen will still leave you exposed to potentially dangerous levels of noise. I’ve owned a lot of helmets over the years, covering a lot of brands, types and styles, and none of them has been quiet enough to use without earplugs.

One of the joys of earplugs is that they only filter out unpleasantness, such as wind noise, droning engine noises and Celebrity Love Island. Even with the best custom-fitted earplugs, you’ll still be able to enjoy the sound of your bike as well as being able to hear the sirens on emergency vehicles. If you buy a set of filtered plugs, which have a small channel through them, you’ll happily be able to enjoy music and conversation through your helmet’s comms system, too. There is no downside.

Plug me up!

There’s a hell of a lot of choice out there, so which earplugs should you use?

When you’re buying earplugs, whichever type you buy, you want to look for the SNR number. The SNR (single number rating) is an indication of the level of noise reduction. For example, earplugs with an SNR rating of 22, will shave around 22db off the noise levels, so exposure to 105db whilst wearing SNR 22 earplugs will allow around 83db through to your ears. While it’s possible to by earplugs which have SNR ratings of 40 and above, those really aren’t suitable for riding as, by that point, they’ll be filtering out things you need to hear, such as sirens and horns. You probably want to be looking in the range of 20 to 30.

The other consideration is comfort. Just like how our heads only suit certain brands of helmets, our ears only suit certain brands of earplug. While there’s no guide on which earplugs suit which ears, your best bet is to try a few different ones and see what works best for you.

The various plugs can probably be split into three different types:


The cheapest option and best to buy in bulk. These plugs are made from foam and should, in an ideal world, be disposed of after each use. They should be disposed of regularly because the foam can be a natural breeding ground for bacteria and a raft of unpleasantness you don’t want to push into your ears. On the plus side, they’re cheap and easy to buy in bulk. Prices range from £1/pair down to 10p/pair if you’re buying in bulk.

Pros: Cheap, readily available, suitable for lots of different ears

Cons: Gets expensive over time, can be unhygienic if reused, not great for the environment


Reusable plugs are typically manufactured from silicone or other materials, which can be cleaned and reused after each ride. They’re a sensible compromise between wasteful disposable plugs and the more expensive custom option. You can expect to pay between £15-25/pair.

Pros: Better for the environment than disposables, should last a long time

Cons: Not as comfortable as custom plugs, expensive if you lose them


Custom earplugs are the most expensive option but also the comfiest. To create a set of custom earplugs, a technician creates an impression of your ear by pumping goo into it, letting it harden and then removing it. The impression is then used to create earplugs perfectly mated to your ears. You’ll also have the option of creating filtered plugs or even plugs with tiny speakers inside to connect to your comms system or audio player. Prices vary, but you can expect to pay around £70-120/pair depending on the manufacturer and options.

Pros: The most comfortable option, should last a good four or five years

Cons: Expensive,can take a few weeks before you receive them

As ever, if you’re not sure what option is best for you, please go and speak to the friendly bunch at Bike Stop who will be able to talk you through the options and help you find something that works for you. It’s also worth mentioning that Bike Stop hold special events for custom earplug fitting with ACS Custom plugs, so you can book your place, pop along, get your impressions done and then wait for your shiny new custom earplugs to be delivered.

Whatever option you choose, just make sure you use something. There are no second chances with hearing and tinnitus is almost as annoying as Celebrity Love Island.

Leave your comment
Your email address will not be published