Old 12-15-04, 01:09 AM
John C. Ratliff
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Join Date: May 2002
Location: Beaverton, Oregon
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Bikes: Rans Stratus, Trek 1420, Rivendell Rambouillet

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I too have started using ear plugs while bicycle commuting. The traffic noise can be quite high. I have tinnitus, and a recent hearing test showed significant hearing loss in the very high frequencies. I started thinking about where I was exposed, and since I am in the safety profession, I have no excuse not to use hearing protection.

Does noise cause stress? Yes, certainly, definately. Studies have shown this, and a recent bicycle ride once again showed it to me. I took my van for servicing, and dropped it off at the shop. I then faced a five mile bike ride to work, along a busy, four-lane road. In places there were no bike lanes either. At mile two I started feeling the acid stomach. By mile four, I was uncomfortable enough to look for relief, and a half mile further stopped by a drug store for some TUMS. The next day, though it was raining, I wore hearing protection, and did not have stomach problems.

I use the ear plugs provided by work (E-A-R plugs, I believe). They have a very good NRR (Noise Reduction Rating) of somewhere around 20 dBA. This is a huge reduction, and as people above mentioned, will help a lot with the startle reflex. The higher frequencies, which are most damaging to the inner ear's hearing mechanism, are filtered out better than the lower frequencies. This is why we can still hear important sounds, and speech, while not damaging our ears when wearing hearing protection.

Muffs, believe it or not, do not have as good an NRR as good-fitting ear plugs do. Muffs tend to leak noise, especially if you wear glasses. The best with glasses have a fluid-filled padding.

I have not tried noise-cancelling muffs or phones yet, but they sound promising.

But the ear plugs are easy to use, and provide excellent reductions of noise exposure. I recently had my plugs in, on my trip home, when I heard my cell phone ring. I was able to answer it and carry on a conversation with my wife even with the ear plugs in place.

I would recommend commuters in busy areas with longer commutes begin using ear plugs, as they will reduce the off-the-job exposures to noise. Noise exposure is cumulative, and hearing loss is a huge problem in the modern world. Auto drivers are insulated by the enclosure provided by their vehicle from the noise the vehicles produce. We are not. Also, since a vehicle is in the flow of the traffic, they remain at a distance from most other vehicles. But those vehicles travel within a few feet of us as bicycle commuters. This happens continually, and because of their proximity, the noise can be quite high (95+ decibels). Add studded tires, and the road noise can cause significant stress, not only on the inner ear, but also on the overall body.

Hearing protection can help the bicycle commuter preserve his/her hearing for the rest of our lives. Hearing is under-rated by our society, and hearing loss is more devistating than blindness to people experiencing these disabilities. Nobody knows that a person is deaf, but they know and take into account that a person is blind. We need to do all we can to preserve our hearing.


Last edited by John C. Ratliff; 12-15-04 at 01:13 AM. Reason: Add information
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