Headphones for motorcycle riding
June 23, 2010 10:58 AM   Subscribe

When I ride my motorcycle long distances on the highway, I like to use sound isolating headphones to listen to quiet music and block the wind noise. I've tried several different headphones and nothing is quite right.

I had a pair of Etymotic ER6 in-ear canal for a long time and they were mostly great. My problems were that I have very short ear canals and they stuck out quite a bit, so putting the helmet on was usually a 2 or 3 try experience. Once they were in they were great...until I had to take the helmet off again.

When they died, I replaced them with a pair of Shure SE420-K canalphones, which I thought were great until I rode 800 miles last weekend and they physically hurt my ears after a couple days (and also didn't have even close to the sound isolation as the Etymotics)!

Is there any hope? Or am I just screwed and have to get expensive customs? Would customs even fit with enough inside the ear that they wouldn't stick out?
posted by bikergirl to Technology (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It may very well be illegal in your state for you to use headphones while riding your motorcycle. Especially if they so effectively block out noise that you can't hear the rest of what's going on on the road.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 11:12 AM on June 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

This is crazy unsafe.
Your ears are your best safety device to hear what is coming from behind you.
posted by Flood at 11:14 AM on June 23, 2010 [3 favorites]

I ride with Shure SE115 sound isolating headphone under my helmet. They were uncomfortable until i switched from the foam in-ear sleeves to the silicon sleeves, and then I went from medium to small. That greatly improved comfort.

Occasionally, after several days in a row of riding for a couple of hours a day, my ears will start to hurt with these. I go without for a day or so, and then it's ok. I guess my ears still aren't comfortable with them in there.

No matter what, after every ride, removing my helmet is somewhat painful if I don't pull outwards near where the chinstrap is anchored. I'm sure the helmet you choose has a lot to do with the comfort. I have a Scorpion EXO 700, and it's pretty snug around my ears, but the padding from the helmet doesn't touch the headphones.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 11:16 AM on June 23, 2010

I always wore ear-plugs with my Scala connected to my phone or my gps for music on long trips. I could hear just enough music; traffic was quieter but still noticeable.
posted by Back to you, Jim. at 11:24 AM on June 23, 2010

I should mention that the amount of sound I can hear is about the same as people in cars with stereos on. I can hear sirens, horns, etc., but it blocks the very loud noise from the wind.

CA CVC 27400. A person operating a motor vehicle or bicycle may not wear a headset covering, or earplugs in, both ears. This prohibition does not apply to any of the following:
(d) A person wearing personal hearing protectors in the form of earplugs or molds that are specifically designed to attenuate injurious noise levels. The plugs or molds shall be designed in a manner so as to not inhibit the wearer's ability to hear a siren or horn from an emergency vehicle or a horn from another motor vehicle.
posted by bikergirl at 11:31 AM on June 23, 2010

You don't need to hear while riding, ask any Harley rider. I mean, I have a very quiet bike and I still can't hear anything less than a car horn when at normal driving speeds.

I use generic skull candy headphones, and the large size sleeves are enough to block out most of the noise.
posted by anti social order at 11:46 AM on June 23, 2010

noise canceling headphones may actually HELP you hear "emergency" types of sounds. They cancel out constant noise (jet engines, tire noise, exhaust noise), but I find that intermittent noise (a baby crying, a horn, a clink from a glass) is actually easier to hear.

I can't help you with brands, but you might want to make sure they are noise canceling, for your own safety.
posted by HuronBob at 1:48 PM on June 23, 2010

Canalphones are what you want, but don't use the tips that come with them. Get some foam tips from people who do hearing aids, they are a LOT softer and more comfortable. It really makes a huge difference. The tips from "comply" are very comfortable, and can fit most major earphones. They also allow me to get my earphones in further (because they don't hurt), which causes them to stick out less, which would help you out.

As for customs, they are amazing, and once you get them, you will love them. However, once you accidentally step on them and realize it is going to take your next months rent payment to afford a new set, you will probably end up going back to the universal fits with nicer foam tips.
posted by markblasco at 2:10 PM on June 23, 2010

I wear Sennheiser CX300's while cycling, and they block wind noise pretty effectively.

For the people saying 'don't wear headphones while on a bike/motorbike', it makes zero difference to safety in my experience. If anything, it makes me more aware of my surroundings because I don't rely on my ears at all - I look around all the time. Have you any idea how quiet some cars are these days? Telling bikers/cyclists not to wear headphones is like telling motorists not to have stereos in their cars, it's nonsense. We're vehicles too. Maybe you should be driving with more care and not thinking sole responsibility for accident avoidance lies with people not surrounded by a half ton of metal.
posted by Happy Dave at 2:58 PM on June 23, 2010

I use the Etymotic hf5 and had a similar problem until I got a new helmet. For some reason the shape of the new helmet is better.

Looking at the Etymotic site, the stem on the hf2 looks much shorter. That might help too.
posted by cjemmott at 3:10 PM on June 23, 2010

I have done long distance touring on a suzuki DL-650. I swore by a pair of Sony earphones. I much prefer the silicon earpieces to the foam ones (and returned a pair of Shure's as fast as I could get back to the store).

For me, the most important thing was having a readily accessible volume and skip control. Timex makes a watch that can wirelessly control an ipod and the buttons are big enough to use with gloves on. (It doesn't work quite so well w/ the iphone, but use an ipod nano for the bike).

I found the smallest earphones with silicon earpieces were the way to go. Also, I don't recommend using the biggest size, as they tended to get painful after the first couple of hours. Low profile is the key to my comfort; the smaller the better.

It still takes me a couple of tries to get the helmet on over it all.

PS earphones on a bicycle tend to make me less safe (YMMV). On the motorcycle, with a full-face helmet I find they make no difference. If you're wearing a brain-bucket with your ears exposed, it's possibly a different story, but I'd estimate the approach to safety is entirely different at that point.
posted by desl at 9:09 AM on June 24, 2010

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