Life before Earmolds
I've always been a massive fan of music while riding.
Even before the days of fancy intercoms I was always rocking the $20 wired Sony earbuds you can get in the bargain bin at JB Hi Fi.
One fateful day, I was riding back from the Great Ocean Road VIC for the first time. My earbuds were wired into my iPod Nano which was clipped to a belt loop of my very worn Kevlar pants.
I was high on life, excited to be riding in the warm Australian spring wind, belting tunes at the top of my lungs. The music quality was a bit crap from the low grade buds I was using, distorted by the wind pushing through my cheap helmet, but I knew all the lyrics so it didn't matter at the time.
Then came the dancing. I was the poster child of wild hops especially when my favourite songs came on. Head bouncing, arms flailing, it was a great time.
Until of course, I whacked my iPod straight off of my belt clip, the wires getting pulled with it, the whole thing slipping out of my helmet and into the fading sunset behind me.
I pulled over straight away and went for a short walk along the side of the highway. It was starting to get dark quickly, and I had no other choice but to continue the rest of my journey listening to nothing but the loud sound of the wind. I don't know how the old fashioned guys do it, but what is life without music? And the wind was SO LOUD.
What I was using
I've always at least given half-a-worry about my health. I try to eat right, lift heavy, maintain my mental health most of the time, and use sunscreen. What people don't talk about much is ear health, and why should they? It's a boring topic for most people, and you don't make friends that way.
Even during the iPod era of my riding career, I was a strong believer in plugging your ears while riding. For me, that meant cheap wired music buds, but it's mostly because I love going long distances and wind noise is super fatiguing without realising.
On the track, where the music moves aside for the sound of my grinding teeth, I used $1 disposable earbuds instead.
Then, when I officially graduated to my first intercom, those $1 disposable earbuds stayed, and I replaced them every couple weekends. It was good enough for me, until one day Earmold Australia showed up to a track day.
Bikelife is largely about maintenance and care.
They always tell you to maintain your line, maintain your speed into the corner, care for your engine with regular oil changes, care for your tyres, suspension, fluids, clean your chain, use leather cleaner in small circular motions, top your bike up with fuel every ride and for godssake, clean your visor or your mates will make fun of you.
But nobody really talks about maintaining your body. Our visors keep our eyes safe, our leathers keep our skin safe, and ear protection keep your ears safe. Afterall, what's riding if you're not enjoying it? And how would one enjoy it if it weren't for all your senses?
Some riders spend thousands, or hundreds of thousands, of kms listening to the wind and their exhaust. You can tell who they are, because when you try to talk to them, they give you a confused expression and ask you to repeat yourself.
If you do use those cheap disposable plugs, you'll find they don't last long and with every use, they protect less so. They also aren't the most comfortable, and they don't have maximum coverage because of their generic shape. Not to mention the billions of disposed ear plugs floating in the ocean.
Earmold Australia is a company that creates custom fitted earplugs for motorcycle riders. They also extend their services to a suite of other industries (security guards, construction workers, etc). Because the earmold is injected into your ear, each one is different and can't be worn by anyone other than you. As a result, you've got full coverage, maximum comfort, and best of all, you can still hear your music (or traffic, if music isn't your thing).
I've owned 4 sets of earmolds, with the first set being eaten by a sneaky dog (and coming out the other end, I might add), and the 2nd set proving a bit too big for my ear after a while. Ears change shape slowly over time, so after 3 years of use, I needed new ones.
I decided to get 2 new sets, one that has an auxiliary cord inserted, and one that doesn't. The difference is one can plug straight into my Cardo headset, and the other would be used for dirtbike riding without a headset.
Louie Filis is the local Earmold Australia rep in Melbourne. He's also a Senior Coach at California Superbike School, so some might say he knows a bit about speed and bikes.
1) The process starts by Louie cleaning my ears. This part is obvious, but it's so the earmold material (called Insta-Mold) doesn't get stuck to any dirt or wax when it gets injected.
2) Louie carefully inserts a tiny piece of foam deep into my ear canal, which is attached to a bit of string. This prevents the Insta-Mold from getting injected too deep. It also helps him remove the whole earmold later.
3) The fun part - you get to choose your colours. You can even mix colours. I chose yellow/green for one set, and green/yellow for the other set.
4) Louie scoops an exact amount of the colours and mixes it with a hardening compound. This activates the ingredients which makes the soft Insta-Mold become solid. The material starts off as a loose, very pliable playdough and later becomes a slightly rubbery product. For example, if you drop it on hard ground, it'll bounce around a little bit.
5) The mixed up material is put into a plastic syringe (don't worry, it isn't the medical kind) and gets injected into your ear. It's a very strange feeling at first. You then can't hear anything, and you can't talk for about 12 minutes. When you talk, your jaw moves, which then moves the muscles near your ear. So, 12 minutes of meditation to help set the Insta-Mold.
6) After the time is up, Louie gave it a little poke to check if it's ready, then he carefully pulled the earmold out. It looks very sharp and weird like an amoeba.
7) Louie then shaves it down and gives it a bit of a polish to make them smooth. The polish also keeps moisture out (sweat, rain) and protects the material. I found that even with my nails digging into them every weekend, my last set lasted 3 years of very frequent riding, and that's with me not treating them properly at all!
8) You're ready to ride!
Different earmolds have different applications. I own 2 of their product range:
This is the standard one, which I used to use for years alongside my Scala intercom headset. The speakers in my helmet were a little too close to my ears, causing a bit of ear pain if I had a long day of riding (8+ hour day). I decided to reserve this set for my dirtbike helmet, which doesn't have speakers inside.
Earmold Wired Headset
This one is new to me. Basically, there's a hole in the earmold that brings sound straight into your ears. It's wired, so you'll have to connect it into your intercom or music player. At first, the beeping of my intercom felt loud. I'm used to it now, and kind of prefer the wired version because they stick together and don't get lost.
Why Earmold Australia?
There are some things you should just leave to the experts. These guys do earmolds day in and day out, and have seen every shape of ear under the sun. The ear canal is a delicate place, so best not to shove anything in there if you're not equipped to do so.
Aside from being the best at what they do, they also happen to have the only access to this particular earmold substance in Australia. The material is a little bit rubbery and squishy, and has the best noise-blocking rating of similar materials out there.
Finally, the customisable product and the awesome service. My partner also got earmolds done with Louie, and when they proved to be a slightly wrong shape, it was fixed for free and then hand delivered! Don't get your hopes up about the hand delivery, but I can vouch for their top service.
Would I go back? Yes. These are semi-consumable products depending on how often you ride, and well worth the price if you consider how frequently you need to replace them (~3 years vs every 4-5 uses with $1 plugs).
How do I get them?
About Author Amanda Phoenix
A life enthusiast addicted to two wheels, and owner/founder of Flying Solo Gear Co. Genuine customer of Earmold Australia. I was not paid for this blog post.