I ride bikes for a living, in case you didn’t know this already. I ride more miles on two wheels in a year, than the average American does in their automobile (I put more four-wheel miles down a year than the average American does as well, if that gives you any idea how much of Asphalt & Rubber is written while on the road). With all this riding, I’ve become increasingly concerned over my hearing, as I’d like still to have it when I’m older. Thus for my own personal benefit, I’ve been trying out the different kinds of ear protection that are available to motorcyclists, as well as a variety of helmets from manufacturers (articles surely to ensue).
So when the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America published a study titled “Aeroacoustic Sources of Motorcycle Helmet Noise” in which the various frequencies and decibel levels of helmet-generated noise were measured and tested, I became very interested in the study’s findings. Bear in mind I’m a staunch believer in helmet laws and riding with a full-face helmet (my apologies to the Libertarians in the group), so when the study suggested that my two main concerns regarding my head may be at odds with each other, it piqued my interest.
The study conducted by the University of Bath and Bath Spa University in England performed a very intuitive test where they placed a mannequin’s head in a wind tunnel, turned on the wind, and recorded the sound volume and frequency at various points in and around the helmet. The conclusion was that at even normal legal riding speeds, deafening levels of sound were reaching the eardrum, primarily due to the chin bar on the helmet.
The researchers plan on following up the wind tunnel test with real-life situational testing, but the results so far are interesting. The idea that the helmet itself could be creating wind noise that could deafen a rider over time is a bit shocking, but not counterintuitive. The obvious affect from this study is that it will give some fodder to the anti-helmet law consortium, though I’d like to be the first to point out the fallacy in that logic, since there’s no data at this point to suggest that the basic wind noise from riding helmetless isn’t any less damaging (I don’t think we need a university study to figure this one out, just maybe a college writing class to fix that double-negative).
Instead the takeaway here is perhaps how extra important wearing ear protection with your helmet is to your hearing, and also perhaps shines a light on an industry segment that hasn’t seen a tremendous amount of innovation and progress in the past 30 years. While composite materials have changed, and perhaps the perception of safety with them, the fact remains that we still see helmet manufacturers not addressing how the motorcycle helmets have failed to change with consumers’ needs (active noise reduction? hands-free communication?).
Maybe if a published study shows proof that helmets are creating noise that causes hearing loss, more than say riding without a helmet, helmet manufacturer will perceive that there’s a product liability situation and improve on their design before some crafty lawyers show up at their door. Just sayin’…