Since I began riding, my long-suffering gentleman friend has patiently slowed his pace so I could keep up (or, if he was behind me, to avoid rear-ending me). I couldn’t understand why I was so slow on the road, compared to my lead-foot pace in a car. I think I know now.
I’ve always hated wind in my ears: after an hour at the beach, I’d be putting my fingers in my ears. Even with the full-face helmet and the chin bar, the shrill whistling was unpleasant. I tried a bunch of different earplugs, but they either wouldn’t seat (I apparently have very tiny, labyrinthine ear canals, according to my ENT), or would fall out, or their core would stick out and hurt when I pulled my helmet into place.
But a couple of weeks ago, I had some custom earplugs made at the BigEar booth at a bike show (www.bigearinc.com). They squeeze quick-setting silicone gook in your ears to follow all the little nooks and crannies; I’m sure it looks as if you’re having your head caulked.
Oh. My. God. I don’t actually know what shizznet is, but these things are clearly made from it. They look like twisted wads of blue chewing gum (although I suspect the earwax taste would tip you off). There’s a dimple in the right ear plug to identify it so you can’t shove it in the wrong ear. They push in easily, they’re perfectly comfortable, and they completely eliminate the wind noise. As you might expect, all high-frequency notes are subdued; the SV now sounds more like a growl than a sewing machine. But I don’t think it makes me less safe.
I expected riding to be a bit more pleasant (well, less painful, anyway). What I couldn’t have anticipated was the huge difference in riding experience overall. Somehow, I’m feeling the bike more acutely, riding more intuitively. I corner much better. I’m more relaxed. I didn’t think I was tense, really, but I would catch myself sort of clenched in the seat and would have to consciously let go of the seat with my sphincter muscles.
But the biggest surprise was my speed. I happened to glance down on my first earplugged ride to discover that I was doing 60 in a spot where I’d previously gone, oh, maybe 45. Mind you, I’m not advocating speeding, but in this instance, the higher speed actually made me safer in that I no longer had a train of antsy SUVs closing in on my ass. Maybe the wind noise was convincing some internal speed-assessment mechanism in my brain that I was going much faster than I was. Maybe it was screwing up my internal gyro, too: At any rate, now I feel more balanced.
I told my gentleman friend and I’m sure he thought, “uh, sure, hon, of course, if you think so.” But we went on a ride over the weekend and he was pretty surprised at my pace. He even complimented me on what he called a 25% improvement in my overall riding style. It’s not my imagination. And it’s all due to that chewing gum stuffed in my ears.
Looking back a year, the earplugs can’t take all the credit: I can remember staying in fourth all the way down Mink Livsey road the first time. Now I’m in sixth. In retrospect, I was *so* slow. No wonder my friend was antsy. I now realize just how patient he was. Poor guy.