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  • Robert Farago

Ear Today, Gone Tomorrow!

It was 94 degrees the other day. Muggy AF. As I attempted to cope with the heat and humidity, I found myself on the horns of a dilemma. Actually, I found myself on a BMW K1600 GTL, facing a stark choice. Here’s the thing…

The BMW K1600 GTL comes complete with a 10.25” color TFT (Thin Film Transistor) display (above). Like a candidate for Viagra, the screen’s got some problematic functionality issues. But…

It’s brighter than a Nobel laureate. Even in direct sun. Even in the Texas heat. And the TFT maintains its brightness, clarity and performance over a lifetime of ownership. Or at least through the warranty period.

The screen looks cool but runs hot. So BMW equips its K-bikes with a big ass TFT-cooling fan. When spinning, the fan makes a sound RideNow Austin’s main man Mark likens to a jet fighter taking off. That gets louder as you go faster.

Mark’s spinning. The K’s display’s fan sounds like an eighteen-wheeler’s tire roar at 70mph – as heard from inside a car with its windows down driving RIGHT NEXT TO THE SEMI.

At speed, the cooling fan’s louder than the engine. Ear-ringing, hearing damage loud.

Schuberth S3

To combat hearing loss, I bought a Schuberth S3 full-face helmet. It’s a wind tunnel-tested lid that claims to reduce the noise inside the helmet to 85 dB(A) at 100kph on a naked bike (i.e., a motorcycle without a fairing).

Coincidentally (or not), the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration sets its permissible workplace noise exposure limit (for an eight-hour workday) at 85 dB(A).

As good as it is, Schuberth’s helmet does not meet OSHA’s noise regs above 62 mph. Unless… you block the wind with a windscreen.

If I raise the K1600 GTL’s windscreen and lower the visor, BA-BAM! I mean, ba-bam. TFT-fan noise problem solved and tolerable sound levels at 75mph. Only…

Feeling Hot, Hot, Hot!

Shutting the Schuberth’s visor and blocking the wind during what would be considered a mild Texas summer’s day created the world’s safest head sauna. More accurately, a “hell-met.”

D’uh. The S3’s vaunted ventilation depends on sufficient airflow hitting it head-on. With the screen up to keep helmet buffeting down, there isn’t enough air coming into the helmet to keep a coal mine canary alive.

And all that vaunted German noise reduction doesn’t mean a thing when the visors open and the screen’s down. Which is the best if not only way to avoid dehydration, heatstroke and death in the Lone Star State and other similar locales.

A Plug for Sanity

So that was my choice. As this isn’t my obituary, you can guess which way the cookie (and my eardrums) crumbled. The only answer going forward? Earplugs.

Cheap ear protectors don’t cut out enough sound or sufficiently limit the offensive frequency. Full-on custom earplugs cut out too much sound. So I’ve ordered less noise defeating custom plugs and some electronic alternatives. Watch this space.

Back in the day, Joni Mitchell warned us that sometimes we don’t know what we’ve got ‘til it’s gone. To any motorcyclist who hasn’t experienced my aural discomfort and distress, I recommend you address the issue now, before it’s too late. You hear me?



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