Wind Noise! Speak to any rider and they will tell you about this deafening exposure to the elements that not only causes long term damage to hearing but also fatigue, turning long days which should be a thrilling experience into an endless drag.
There are a number of solutions on the market, including earplugs, sound cancelling speakers, moulded earphones or silicon sealing ear phones, each found in various qualities and levels of effectiveness. We had personally tried earplugs and silicon sealing earphones but neither suited our needs, in both cases they were uncomfortable and not well fitted and in the case of the earplugs, also blocked out the sound from our communications unit. The end result was that we carried them with us all the time but they where never used. Going to sound cancelling speakers or moulded earphones is costly but a choice that most people consider a good investment due to the savings in your hearing.
However, there is another option. During our travels we had many discussions about our degrading hearing and got to thinking that there must be a helmet with ear muffs built in! So we did what everyone does these days, we checked with Google. Sure enough, we found Al of Quiet Ride Helmets who had patented the seemingly ideal solution.
First a little about Al. We contacted Al through the Adventure Rider website (www.advrider.com) where we’d seen his responses to comments in the forum. We asked if we could come past and check out his product and to our surprise he responded with an offer to have us camp in his yard and help with the installation of the Quiet Ride Earmuffs. Al certainly surprised us, he is a 76-year-old man living in Northern Minnesota. Three years ago, while riding his snowmobile, he came up with the concept of fitting earmuffs into his helmet to reduce the noise and so went about designing the product. His first attempt was rudimentary, taking a pair of industrial earmuffs and placing them inside a helmet with little pressure to support them. However, the result, in his words, was incredible. He said on that first ride with the muffs in his helmet he had a smile from ear to ear.
After some thinking he came up with the idea of placing an air bladder behind the earmuffs against the shell of the helmet. A small pump attached to the exterior of the helmet inflates the bladder and pushes the muffs against the side of the riders head to create a seal. This operation is similar to the way Reebok Pumps inflate to provide added support within their shoes. A release valve, found next to the pump, releases the pressure to allow the muffs to retract back into the cavity and allow the helmet to be removed effortlessly.
Al worked with an engineering team to design the earmuff system and met with a manufacturer to produce a kit, always insisting on top quality materials. The installation of the kit requires some serious surgery to ones helmet and the better part of a weekend even for the best-equipped do-it-yourselfer. This clearly wasn’t an ideal solution, as it was impossible to clearly illustrate the amount of work required and too often buyers were returning the kits having purchased them with the impression that the installation would be simple.
So Al went back to the drawing board and teamed up with a helmet manufacturer to design a range of DOT approved helmets with the muffs factory installed. The result, the Quiet Ride Helmets, available as a carbon fiber or fiberglass shell in road and motocross styles.
We tried on one of the Quiet Ride Helmets about 10 minutes after meeting Al. It was very comfortable and the ambient noise certainly reduced and gave us enough confidence in the solution to start hacking into the padding of our own helmets the next day. It was tempting at that time to just purchase a helmet and be done with it but believing our helmets still had some life left in them, we decided to go with the more challenging muff kit installation.
We regretted our decision pretty early on during the installation, but were committed to completing the job and proving it was simple enough to do. But actually we convinced ourselves quite the opposite, although we had a great day with Al, his wife Patti and their myriad of animals, we would not want to go through the installation again with a new helmet. Our strong recommendation would be to simply purchase one of his Quiet Ride Helmets and be done with it.
We won’t go into the details of the installation since Al has documented that well on his webpage. (insert as link) http://quietridemuffs.com/installation_arai_XD4.html.
However, it did take us all day and a little bit into the next morning. With the finished product in hand we were keen to get on the bikes and thoroughly test out the result. We paid Al for the kits not wanting to influence our review and were on our way.
So what about the result in noise? Well we could give you all the numbers about the reduction in decibels but this can be found on his website. The muffs drastically reduce the amount of sound that reaches the ear, attenuating high pitch sounds to a greater extent so that wind noise (high pitch) is muffled more so than ordinary traffic and speech (lower pitch). The gel pads only need to be lightly pressed against the head for maximum attenuation; no greater results are achieved with further pressure. The pads are made from military grade materials and highly durable while remaining comfortable for any period of time. We’ve tested the units extensively for over 6 weeks now and feel confident in recommending the technology and the quality of the product.
The most impressive part for us was the volume we were able to set our communications units to. We use the Sena 20S Bluetooth Communications unit with the speakers placed inside the muffs. Prior to having the Quiet Ride Ear Muffs installed we had the volume set to the very maximum and even then would be hard pressed to hear each other at speeds in excess of 60MPH. However, with the Earmuffs installed we have the volume set all the way down to its lowest setting and only when travelling over 70MPH do we need to consider turning the volume up.
Sometimes its hard to remember just how much difference the muffs have made, but pressing the release valve while travelling over 70MPH quickly reminds us, as we get a rush of that high pitch droning sound.
This experience has drastically changed our perspective of hearing protection and never again will we put up with wind noise knowing that such an easy solution is available. For our next helmet, we won’t hesitate in contacting Al to get our hands on one of his Carbon Fiber Motocross Helmets.