Quiet helmets and how they can make a difference
Motorbike engines, the noise of the open road and the rush of turbulence through and around you helmet, can all make a ride on your bike a noisy experience. The simple truth is that riding a motorcycle is a very noisy endeavour, even if you are wearing ear plugs and the quietest helmet you can find.
Some noise is also necessary as you really do need to have some peripheral sense of the road around you, but when you are looking at incredibly high decibel levels you could risk damaging your ears after many hours of riding.
Quiet helmets and strategies to help reduce the noise of your next ride can make a difference and help to ensure that you are able to experience the joys of the open road, without the worry of going deaf just for the occasional drive out.
Why should you buy a quiet helmet?
Hacking it down the motorway on your bike can be a noisy old business, and even on quieter highways and byways motorcycle engines can still create an awful lot of noise. With it being possible to achieve a sound level of up to as much as 95 decibels (dB), exposure to that level of loudness could possible cause permanent damage to you hearing even after just as little as a 50 minute ride on your bike.
Surprisingly, given how important it is to be able to protect your delicate ears when out on the open road, it can be difficult to measure just how much protection your new helmet will offer without first trying it out in person. While some companies like Schuberth for example, claim to test out their lids in a wind tunnel on your behalf, most to them leave the rider in the dark. To this day it is still very much down to the manufacturer to decide whether or not they choose to share decibel data with the buying pubic, making it harder for riders to make a judgement call on sound levels from the outset.
What makes a helmet noisy?
While the level of noise that is comfortable varies completely depending on the tolerance of the rider, most helmets simply aren’t that effective when it comes to soundproofing. This could be for a number of reasons, but most usually it is down the design of the helmet, the type of liner, the aerodynamics or how the helmet physically fits the rider’s head.
There are also very different types of noise that can irritate, annoy and potentially cause damage to the ears with low frequency noises that “boom” mid-tone noises that sound like wind rustling past your ears and then the high-frequency “whistling” type noises, being the most common.
A 2011 study undertaken by the University of Bath looked extensively into the “aeroacoustic sources of motorcycle helmet noise” and found that while the helmets wake and boundary layer can be a source of additional noise pollution, it is usually the turbulence caused around the lower portion of the helmet around the chin and neck area that produces the most noise.
It is also worth mentioning though that this particular study (also the only one undertaken on the subject) did not take into account the size of the rider or the motorcycle, while also recognising that sounds levels can vary dramatically depending on how well the helmet fits. The presence of loose components and the fit of the chin bar can also add to the levels of noise experienced by the rider.
What features should I look for to help keep the noise down?
As there are is currently no magic button for reducing noise while riding, it is important to look out for features and design attributes that can help to at least help to bring the noise down to a safer and more bearable level.
To begin with, a well-fitted neck roll should be your first line of defence against troublesome road noise. Combine the neck roll with a chin guard and/or windjammer and you could be able to block out the noise even more effectively.
There are other useful ways to lower those pesky decibel levels too, and sometimes by just using a combination of the same you can dramatically enhance your riding experience. For example:
- The correct size helmet for your head is not just safe, but will also help to reduce the amount of wind resonating through it, thus reducing the residual cacophony around it.
- High-quality lining and padding around the head and neck will help to reduce noise as well as offering better impact protection
- A good quality shield can cut out wind noise, but you must ensure that it is sealed all the way around to prevent extra noise from turbulence.
- A tight fitting visor or shield with effective rubber seals and a well-fitting closure will also help to reduce the risk of avoidable irritations like whistling.
- Poorly designed air ducts or vents and closures systems can also make a difference to the noise you experience, as they are more likely to get caught in the wind and increase the noise level when you ride.
- Single-piece, full-face helmets also tend to be quieter than a modular or a 3/4 model designed with additional openings and seals.
- Finally, one of the most effective ways to help reduce noise on the road is to invest in a pair of earplugs. These offer an affordable, effective and popular way of protecting your ears against higher decibel damage.
Reduce noise, stay safe, enjoy your ride more…
If your pockets are deep enough, there are some premium helmets on the market that can do a pretty good job of reducing the noise for you. Both Schuberth and Shoei are famous for making some of the quietest helmets on the market, while the next generation of “smart helmets” often feature integrated headphones and active noise cancellation to help cut down on the decibels.