As I rode through the gate at the Sierra Fairgrounds in Quincy, California, site of the Annual Beemer Bash, I noticed Dave Hough, rider-skills guru, sitting under some shady trees at one of the vendors’ tables. I pulled up a chair and we talked a bit, while I noticed that the table had a bunch of clear jars with brightly colored goopish contents inside.
I realized that the vendor was sticking a syringe loaded with orange goop into somebody’s ear and pushing the plunger. That got my attention. The vendor, “Arizona” Al Schibi by name, was making custom ear plugs for the wife of one of the riders.
I’ve been riding for more than 50 years, and have never worn earplugs. Namely because they don’t fit—I can’t get them in, but I have always wondered what it would be like to ride with well-plugged ears. I told Schibi that my ears don’t accept the regular plugs, and he said my canals are probably a bit like corkscrews. He took his otoscope, the flashlight thingy the doc uses to inspect your ear, and had a look. Yep, that was my problem. Schibi said his Insta-Mold plugs could reduce the wind noise by up to 30 decibels.
How much for a pair? Sixty bucks. Go ahead. His otoscope allowed him to make sure my ears were in good shape, no build-up of wax, no infections. Then he took an otoblock, a little white foam cylinder with strings attached, and put it in my ear. That would prevent the Original Insta-Mold Instant Silicone, the key ingredient in this operation, from going places it shouldn’t. I had to choose colors—a different one for each ear so I would know which plug was which. He filled my ears with silicone, let it set for seven minutes, during which I could not hear much at all. Schibi pulled the plugs out, lopped off the otoblocks, tossed the string, trimmed away extra material and gave them two coatings of silicone sealant, letting each coat dry. He gave me two drops of olive oil to make the fitting easier and better, and put them back in my ears.
It was a strange sensation, as I could almost hear the blood circulating in my head. After a minute I pulled the plugs out and then practiced putting them back in. It was a bit tricky the first couple of times, sticking each one in and then rotating it a quarter turn, but Schibi told me that I would develop the knack.
As a helicopter pilot and motorcyclist he said he got interested in these plugs more than 10 years ago and went up to E.A.R. Inc. headquarters in Boulder, Colorado, where this Insta-Mold silicone is produced. They gave him a day-long course of instruction in how to make the plugs. Schibi is now an “independent provider,” lives near Phoenix, and shows up at a number of rallies in the southwest; his e-mail is customear firstname.lastname@example.org. He said he can also install tiny acoustic tubes in the plugs, wiring the rider up for music, cellphone, radar detector or whatever.
Back at the bike I put the plugs back in my ears, pushed the starter button—and I could barely hear the engine run. I went for a little 10-mile ride and it was a bit eerie, everything being so quiet. But quite pleasant, really. At a stop I wasn’t even sure the engine was working, but a little blip of the throttle convinced me it was.
Two days later I found that the best part of having the plugs is freeway time, where one can be traveling at 80 mph and wind noise is loud. I did find myself going a little faster than usual, just because it was so quiet. Now anytime I am going some distance on a highway in they go. Schibi said that within six months I will find myself putting them in to go to the post office. We’ll see.
For more information: Visit the E.A.R. Inc. website at E.A.R. Inc. or call (800) 525-2690 for the phone number of your nearest independent provider