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August 19, 2017
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  • Have never ridden with earphones until recently. Started listening to podcasts. Was amazed how loud I had to have my ear buds just to hear the podcast over the noise level of the wind. Really, really interesting article. Thanks for posting.

    • Thanks Justin, glad you enjoyed it. And yep, I’ve definitely had the same experience re: headphones and having to turn the volume right up.

    • lefthandside

      My suggestion is wearing full over-ear noise cancelling headphones – you won’t have to turn the podcast up so loud (kidding!)

      • Ben Nicholson

        I use a soft fleece ear warmer / head band. It means my podcast volume is at about 75% on the volume slide compared to bare ears.
        I also have a “wind proof” ear warmer and it’s hopeless; wind noise goes straight through. A cheap, fleecy one from the Aldi snow gear sale is heaps better for wind noise reduction.

    • Steve S

      I know people say you shouldn’t wear earphones and stay closer to nature, but cycling is an awesome time to listen to music. Stay safe, only on bike paths where there are no cars at all, look round more… and put on some music you love.

    • I think riding with ear phones/buds in, is unwise for all, and a lost opportunity for me.

  • Won-Taek Choe

    I am an ear surgeon and noticed the same thing during my rides. Drove me nuts. I found that the newer gen aerodynamic helmets are MUCH quieter, probably because they emphasize laminar air flow over ventilation/turbulence. I settled on the Kask Protone after going through several helmets. I am nowhere near fast enough to benefit from the reduced drag, but the quiet alone is well worth the price.

    • Steel

      Excellent justification for buying a new cool looking helmet. Going to keep that up my sleeve.

      • Jim Ringo

        It will work much better on your head

        • Ron

          Audible chuckle!!

    • Teezy

      Thank you, Won-Taek. I will try out your helmet recommendation.

    • cowieson

      That’s actually a really interesting point I had never considered as a side-effect of the aerodynamic properties of such helmets. I’ll definitely be investigating that for personal use!

    • Bruso

      Agree with Steel!! Nice excuse for the wife ahahah

      CT such a nice article. I have never thought about this issue but now that I read it it makes all sense.

      • Won-Taek Choe

        Tell her the doctor told you so!

    • OR_biker

      Got the Protone as well (love it!) and did notice a bit of difference in the noise level when I started using it. Makes me think of an interview I read quite awhile back with a time triallist talking about how he knew when he got into his best aero position on the bike because everything would get quiet.

    • George Darroch

      This is a very good reason to buy a new aero-road helmet!

  • Mark Kelly

    My 3 point riding strategy:
    1. Ride in the direction of the wind.
    2. If 1 not possible, shelter on someone’s wheel.
    3: If 1&2 not possible, ride slow.
    I thought I was just being lazy, now I can take comfort that I’m simply protecting my hearing.

    • jules

      ‘Ride in the direction of the wind.’

      that presents some logistical challenges :)

      • Karl

        Like never farting for instance

  • jules

    the solution is likely more aerodynamic helmets than minimise turbulent air flow around the ears. ear plugs insulate the ears from the effects of turbulence (and other noises you need to hear), but reducing it in the first place is better.

    strangely I can’t hear a damn thing in my aero TT helmet that covers my ears. I’m unsure if that because the wind noise is louder, or it just insulates the noise better.

    • Deryck Walker

      I have implemented a successful solution, pack-on 10kgs = riding slower = less wind noise.

      • jules

        I tried that but it made things worse when I started going downhill faster

        • Deryck Walker

          disc brake bike purchase validated!

      • bc

        Simple but expensive solution is to get an airhub and ride with it on the highest setting all the time ;)

  • Robert Merkel

    Great article Matt.

    I hope that the follow-up research is actually done on this important issue.

    *puts researcher hat on*

    One fairly straightforward study would be to examine the hearing of current professionals; if the noise is having the expected effects you’d presumably expect a degradation of hearing (in excess of normal age-related deterioration) related to the time spent as a pro.

    You could even compare to other types of athletes – say marathon runners – to reduce the effects of being an elite athlete.

    • Thanks Robert, much appreciated. I like the idea of those studies. There’s probably value in some sort of longitudinal study too – test pros when they’re young, and then again at the end of their career. You’d need to find a way to separate the effects from regular age-related hearing loss, I suppose.

      • CyclingCraze

        What is the frequency range of wind noise? 100-10,000hz? Will it correlate with riders hearing losses? Is there a peak around 2khz?

        • Robert Merkel

          Cat-ears, the product mentioned in the article, has some data on the frequency profile of wind noise (both with and without the use of their product).

          It’s not peer-reviewed science, but it looks reasonably plausible at first glance.

          In short, it appears that wind noise peaks at quite low frequencies.

          • Cat Ears

            Thanks for the link, Robert. Indeed at Cat-Ears have done hundreds of hours of testing both on the road and in wind tunnels. As measured, typically wind noise will peak around 100 Hz and be reduced in loudness by roughly 50% at 1000 Hz and roughly 75% by 2000 Hz

      • cowieson

        Matt, question – apologies if this has been covered elsewhere. It’s not clear from the article whether the microphones used to measure the noise level were within apertures which emulate the shape of ears including the ear canal – was this the case? Intuitively I would imagine that the sound that one perceives from the wind is largely created by the interaction between the air and the ear itself (both outer and perhaps to some extent inner) so I would imagine that there would be a non-trivial difference between a ‘bare’ microphone and one within an ear-shaped aperture?

        • Cat Ears

          We do not know the precise placement of the microphones used in this test. One problem with human testing is that it is essentially impossible to place a microphone inside the ear canal. The next best thing is to place a very small microphone just outside of the ear canal but inside the outer ear. When we do wind tunnel testing we use a dummy head with small microphones placed in the ear canal. It is very important to prevent the air stream from directly impinging on the microphone surface, as this causes a microphone to generate its own noise, rather than recording sounds you desire. Anyone who has tried to record sound outside on a windy day has experienced this.

    • Mark Wells

      What?

  • Matt James

    Wind noise has often annoyed me. I’ve tried Cat Ears but not been very impressed, and when experimenting have found it more effective just to tape my ears to my head with surgical tape to reduce their profile and smooth the airflow across them. You would think that taping your ears would make your hearing and situational awareness worse, but I’ve found it better and this article explains why. But you can imagine how often I want to do that. Perhaps taping in their earpieces helps pro riders more than just keeping it in place, as I often wondered how they could hear anything. I have read several times that aero helmets help, but mine (Rudy Wingspan) and, I suspect, others that have a very thin ear covering, make it worse, as the cover itself vibrates in turbulence.

    • donncha

      Cycling is the new Rugby!

    • George Darroch

      I have a Rudy for triathlons, and the thing is deafening. An excuse to replace it!

  • Avuncular

    After years of motorbikes and cycling I can’t hear this article.

    • jules

      standing in bars with loud music is another hearing killer

      • Shane Stokes

        When I was studying physiology in college, part of the course was practical work. I was asked to take a group of undergrad students and put them through a hearing test, measuring their hearing capacity across a range of frequencies. Many showed hearing loss, with one guy particularly bad. His hearing in the bass range was appalling; I asked him if he was around loud noises, and he said that he was a DJ in a club… That day was a real reminder how fragile hearing can be.

    • You certainly wouldn’t be alone. Research has shown that motorcyclists are at considerable risk of hearing loss: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC539364/

  • Luke Bartlett

    haha, you always notice it when you hear a group of cyclists talking just before the cafe stop, always so loud. although when you’re the one rolling up you don’t realise.

    • Jaybo

      a colleague of mine lives in the Adelaide hills and one of his pet hates is that 7am on a saturday/sunday morning he can just hear pack after pack of cyclists having a 100db conversation as they roll past the front of his place.
      went for a ride with my bluetooth speaker in the bottle cage one day and noticed that i had to have it on 100% volume to hear it when doing 30km/h, downhills you could forget it but uphills was fine. it’s a pretty damn loud speaker too so riding past someone’s house at 7am with that thing cranked is not the way to make friends :D

  • Altimis Nuel

    Wow, wind blow noise can make your hearing losses!?!?

    • jules

      what?

      • Andy B

        wind blow noise jules, you know

  • Peter Moline

    Great article – wind noise has been a problem for me ever since I started riding with a group (as opposed to solo commuting). Sorry all my MC buddies, I’m not being rude, I just can’t hear you.
    It’s good to know that someone is is doing some research into it. Meanwhile, it might be time for me to look at helmet features that smooth the airflow around the ears.

  • Teezy

    I have strong tinnitus (about conversation level intrusion) that has progressively gotten worse over the past 20 years, despite my taking precautions around loud noises.

    Annnnnnd, now I know why. Will be investigating the Kask Protone asap.

    • armstrongcycles

      I also give the protone a thumbs up, especially compared to a gen I Prevail (the version ii prevail is quieter but still not as good as the protone) I personally think the straps have a bearing as well, the thin prevails “hum” at speed, while the protone’s which are thicker, sit much closer to the head are near silent.

      I have pretty average hearing at the best of times, but can (almost) have a normal conversation when out in the protone

  • Daryl Brice

    I get a black felt marker and colour the ends of the standard orange earplug, the type I find at my local hardware store.
    Then I cut about 5mm off the rounded end to make them just a little shorter. Roll them between your fingers and stick them in. No one really notices.

  • Nathan Stares

    The military use ear defence that blocks the sound of Rifle fire but still enables the user to hear talking

  • Martin Hayman

    This is the more important because hearing loss can accelerate the onset of dementia, according to some researchers: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/jul/17/hearing-loss-could-pose-greater-risk-of-potential-dementia-in-later-life-study

  • Colm Alley

    Used to have my iphone turned up to the highest and it was still not near loud enough to drown out wind or road noise.Tend not to bother with it any more. However, I did notice that cycling with headphones in and no music does help to quell road and wind noise. This practice is very handy if the wife calls. Article makes a whole lotta sense. Descending is also really noisy particulary as the speed ramps up. Need a new helmet. So I am definetely going to look into that Kask Protone. Hope it comes in red!

  • CyclingCraze

    I stapled some foam (about 1/2″ x 1″ x 3″) on my ear strap, went riding and it cuts the wind noise down noticeably.

  • ridein

    Cycling is quite a bit quieter and a lot more enjoyable if you stop riding in a wind tunnel.

  • Doubtful Guest

    Has anyone actually heard a car coming at them and swerved in time to avoid being hit? The whole aural “situational awareness” concern seems illogical.

    • George Darroch

      Plenty of times it’s given me time to move over.

  • Cruz er

    Whoa, great article. I never really thought about the potential damage!

    • slowK

      Yep – very interesting. Thanks Matt! I find conversation on the bike very difficult, and also wince at how loud our voices are in the early hours of the morning.

  • Phil Durham

    I have been using Cat-Ears on every ride for several years. They do a great job of reducing the wind noise allowing me to hear cars approaching from the rear much sooner. Definitely recommend them.

    • Andy B

      I read this as “They do a great job of reducing the wind noise allowing me to hear cats approaching from the rear much sooner.”

  • Superpilot

    Seems if the downwind ear was to experience louder wind noise due to turbulence, that Cat ears and the like would also increase wind noise due to turbulence. Will watch for more experimentation on this aspect.
    You can also get musicians ear plugs that mitigate noise by a certain percentage while allowing sound to remain crisp. There are options that do the same but allowing the input of music to the ear like an earphone, while mitigating overall volume, and allowing outside sound in through mixing an outside sound mic with the input sound.

    • Cat Ears

      The physics of aerodynamically induced sound are very complex. We’ve done wind tunnel testing at various yaw angles (turning side to side) and the results are very sensitive to all kinds of variables (for example, the shape of the glasses you are wearing). Our unique design reduces the turbulent flow energy, whereas a solid deflector will create additional turbulence. Testing of our product shows that from angles of -45 degrees (ear turned away from the wind) to angles of about +20 degrees (ear turned into the wind), our Airstreamz reduce a significant amount of wind noise compared with a bare helmet.

  • Andy B

    perhaps a stocking like sock over the ears would work, like they use for sunroofs

  • curtis goodwin

    I disagree strongly with Dr Seidman’s comment that riding while wearing earplugs is illogical. I have custom molded ones that I’ve been wearing on every road ride for 7+ years now. They have a very minute hole drilled through the center of them which allows me to still have a conversation, and hear traffic approaching from behind. I can even hear the hum of my tires on the asphalt, and the whir of my drivetrain. I have accute tinitus & without my earplugs riding on the road is just to painful because of the wind turbulence past my ears. It’s the best $150 riding accessory I’ve ever spent. The bonus is that I also wear them to live concerts without fear of further hearing damage!

  • Tee Moo

    Any sport which involves even moderate speed will generate wind noise, sailing, cycling, motorsports, horseriding even. Personally, I think if you ride with headphones to solve noise issues you’re just asking for trouble. Being able to hear your surroundings is essential to safe riding on public roads. Besides, I actually like hearing all the sounds of my bike, it provides feedback – minor changes in pitch of the chain noise tell me my cadence is drifting, etc.
    After ‘liking’ too many cycling related companies and people, Facebook relentlessly targets me with ads cycling products. Cat Ears popped up one day and I was mildly curious. The branding is a bit amateur as too the website, but for less than USD$20 I thought ‘why not try?’. My main helmet is a Scott Overtake, the Cat Ear’s velcro attach over the straps. They don’t look too intrusive, they are black and are about 1cm in total wider than the original straps. They do make getting your sunglasses on little more fiddly, but the important thing is what they do the wind noise. They work. I notice them most on descents. Firstly, it has the odd effect of making it seem like you’re not going fast enough, as the brain thinks noise equals speed. This made me spin up more and I ended up getting a new set of PR’s after first using them as a result. There are a few products that do similar things. Effectively, they all try reduce the airflow over the ears by redirecting or diffusing the flow. What is really interesting to me, is when you reduce the wind noise how much more the environment you can hear, which is both safer and, to me more enjoyable.

  • Andrew Smith

    Related to hearing impact, I went to an ear specialist a few years back who commented that I must be a surfer. That’s a no – but apparently the many years of early morning training has had a similar impact and there is significant narrowing of my ear canals. Which I guess makes sense with 0-7ish C (Melbourne) air being forced into your ears. During the cooler months I now never ride without a full ear covering beanie or head band. There may be a warm vs cold weather design dimension to solving this problem.

    • George Darroch

      I wasn’t aware of that, and it disturbs me. My usual response to myself is ‘toughen up, it’s only cold’ but I already struggle to hear some things as a result of too much time in very loud clubs 15 years ago.

      Will definitely be looking at ear-protection that keeps them warmer from now on.

  • Sebastian Kovacs

    Neither safe nor scientific, but in my experience, riding with a hoodie up over your head completely cancels out the wind noise. I assume because it creates a pocket of still air, you can hear everything around you as if you were standing still, with next to no wind noise. Another downside is the cops pull you over more often…

  • Dukester

    How does a helmet affect noise levels of wind?

    • Cat Ears

      We’ve made many tests of the noise impact of various helmets. Compared with just a bare head, helmets add noise mainly because of the straps. But we’ve also found that some glasses can substantially add to wind noise.

  • 2ndeffort

    After 15 years in the Army, noise from cycling is the least of my ears’ concerns.

    • George Darroch

      You don’t want to add to it. Nightclubs did damage to mine, and I’d like to protect the rest of my hearing.

  • Shane Stokes

    Great piece, Matt. When riding my bike about 20 years ago I thought to myself, ‘there should be something over the forward helmet strap to block wind.’ If I’d patented the idea I’d be rich now :)

  • George Darroch

    This is both fascinating and disturbing. My one caveat with this research is that their yaw distribution is unrepresentative of real-world conditions.

    Even on a notoriously windy bike course (the cycling leg of the Kona Triathlon) wind yaw angles rarely reach beyond 15 degrees and almost never above 20. Around 80% is spent at less than 10 degrees. On more typical cycle courses, that increases to around 95-98%.
    http://www.slowtwitch.com/Tech/Real_World_Yaw_Angles_5844.html

    Now, 100dB is still far too high. I’ll be taking concrete steps to address this. And 105dB, as experienced with a 15 degree angle, is worse.

  • Neuron1

    Good thing this wasn’t a podcast, I would have to turn it up all the way.

  • Jeffrey Brody

    So you were saying about Harley Davidson riders who explicitly like their machines so loud they can be heard from a mile away….What? Say it again? Can you write it down please? Arg….

  • Jason Smith

    Surely human ears can withstand wind noise of 60km/h forever. That is a natural amount of almost constant wind in many coastal places around the world.

  • eclectic_reader

    I wear a HeadSweats Shorty whenever I ride. Balding guy privilege. The band pulls down over my ears. I’m wondering if this provides sufficent hearing protection.

  • Frank

    We have a simple solution – MotoSafe Earplugs by Alpine Hearing Protection. Designed primarily for motorcyclists, they work well for cyclists as well. Cut the wind noise, but not voice or other traffic sounds.

  • will59

    Thanks for the excellent article. I as well was amazed at how loud I had to set my volume to hear my ipod over the wind and road noise. Will absolutely check out the mitigation products mentioned in the article. Have there been any studies done on the pros who’ve raced at high speeds everyday for years to see what the effects have been on their hearing?

  • Marcus Björling

    I find that these work pretty well to alleviate the problem.

    http://www.windfree.se/en/home

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