When you reach for your helmet, remember to reach for your earplugs too. They don't cost a lot, but in the long term they can save you years of frustration – for both you and your loved ones.
Riding a motorcycle exposes your ears to volumes and frequencies that can lead to both short term and, with prolonged exposure, long-term hearing damage.
It might only sound like the whistle of the wind backed by a gorgeous V-twin beat to you, but in actual fact you're exposing yourself to dangerously high frequencies and volumes of 100-plus decibels, the equivalent of using a chainsaw.
Even just half an hour at highway speeds can lead to a temporary ringing in your ears (known as 'tinnitus'), so it's easy to see why really prolonged stints in the saddle without protection for your ears can lead to bigger problems.
The answer? Earplugs. They're cheap, they're not too much bother to use and they should be comfortable to wear. If you've never worn them before, give them a go and see the difference when you get to the end of a decent ride – there should be no ringing and you'll be less fatigued too. Even dirt bike riders can benefit from earplugs, as although speeds are generally slower, and periods of exposure shorter, wind noise and engine noise can still cause damage.
Earplugs are available in quite a few varieties, and for cheaper, disposable items your first port of call should be any decent chemist or pharmacy.
There are a couple of types of soft foam plug that do a good job (about $1 a set), or you can get small plugs of wax that mould perfectly to the outside of your ear (around $5 a set). The wax plugs are super comfortable, but they tend to attract more dirt and gunge, and so they need to be replaced more often.
At the top of the tree are custom injection-moulded earplugs, available from earplug specialists. These are often similar to plugs made for people like competition shooters or those who work in noisy environments like construction, and they're brilliant because they're shaped exactly to the outer portion of your ear canal, and you can use them time and time again.
The fitting process takes about 10 minutes, and is painless and hassle free. Expect to pay around $200 – they're not cheap but they're worth their weight in gold, and they last forever. Check out the classifieds of local bike magazines, or the Yellow Pages, for more information.