by Roger S NelsonIn my first article I told how I had trouble communicating with my stoker because of wind noise. How do I cope with wind noise? When I first started biking I tried putting cotton in my ears, which just doesn't work. Besides, someone would see the cotton and say, "Your brains are coming out." Since dry cotton didn't help at all, I tried wet cotton. Wet cotton quiets everything down. The wind noise is less, but so are all the other noises including the ones I'd like to hear, so that doesn't help either. Besides, wet cotton can be uncomfortable after a while, tends to dry out, and can be cold on a cool day. A few years ago someone came out with some black round plastic things that clip on the side straps of the bike helmet which were supposed to deflect the wind and help you hear better. They helped a little when I was sitting upright on the bike, but if I was in the aero or down position, they were facing the ground instead of ahead where the wind was, and didn't help at all. When I was wearing them people wondered, "Is he a man or a mouse?", "How is he related to Mickey?", "Is he from Disney World?"
When these Mickey Mouse like wind silencers came out, it got me thinking that I could make something better. It seemed like a half cup shape would deflect wind both when you're upright and when you're down. In fact, cupping my hand in front of my ears works pretty well, but it's hard to ride that way. I tried all sorts of things - a cut up tennis ball, Styrofoam containers, bra cups... well maybe not, but it was a thought. I found out that material with a hard surface usually made the noise worse, and a soft foam works best. I finally found some suitable foam and cut it in the right shape. Then I used some wire strapping to fix it in place, and voila, they looked like odd shaped ear muffs, open in the back, but they worked. I could hear perfectly. Cars didn't sneak up on me. I could understand what people were saying. I could hear the grass grow. Whenever I passed a bakery, I swear I could hear a doughnut whispering my name. There was no more noise from the wind. (Well almost, I could hear the guy on the third bike back breaking it.)
In spite of this success, I found that the foam would absorb sweat and get dirty easy. The silencers were nice and warm in cold weather, but in hot weather they were really, really hot. Apparently there is a strong cooling effect from the wind tornadoing around inside my head as it passes through. But least I didn't look like Mickey. Come to think of it, maybe looking like Mickey wasn't so bad.
Why are wind silencers so important to me? First, while I have good hearing, I don't have that great of an interpreter. That is, I have to actually hear consonant sounds to make out words, my mind doesn't fill in missing sounds very well. So I'm constantly asking people to repeat themselves, especially in places where there is a lot of noise. At a party sometimes I simply tune out because I just can't follow a conversation with all the competing chatter. Wind silencers make it a lot easier to carry on a conversation with other bikers, or a stoker. Second, I rely heavily on my hearing to tell when cars are coming up behind me. Sometimes cars sneak up on me because I can't hear them, especially when there is a lot of wind noise because of a headwind. It's a safety issue. And third, the constant wind noise in my ears diminishes my hearing. I notice that sometimes after a long ride, I just can't hear consonant sounds as well as I normally hear them. So wind silencers are a form of hearing protection, like wearing noise protectors when mowing the lawn. I hope that some day helmet makers will add wind silencers to helmets, at least as an option. I don't think it would be too hard to do, and I'd be first in line to get them. After all, I did buy the Mickey ears.
So how do I cope now? I do what every one else does. Duh! I turn my head. At least the trailing ear is in shelter from the wind, and the ear in front hears a lot better, too. You may see me riding down the road turning my head from side to side. I'm not shaking my head "no", I just can't make up my mind which ear to trail for the best hearing. This especially occurs at blind intersections when I'm listening for cars before I can actually see them. Normally my stoker can't see the road in front since my body is blocking that view, but that changes when my head is turned so she can see through my ears. After I've had enough caffeine to lift the fog in my mind, she has been known to actually get a pretty good view of the road in front of us.