Hearing Protection, Avoiding Scams and Motorcycle Brakes | Answers

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Say What?
I ride a lot in Wisconsin. I put 107,000 miles on my last bike, and my current 2010 BMW F800ST already has more than 18,000 miles on it. When I get older I don't what to be saying "Huh?" to everyone as they talk to me because of hearing loss, so I wear earplugs in addition to my full-face helmet. Has Motorcyclist ever done a test to see if this is the right thing to do? It almost seems like earplugs actually transfer sound and vibration more directly to my ears than when I'm not wearing them.
Randy Hartl
**Ripon, WI **

Wind noise at freeway speeds can easily top 100 decibels inside a full-face helmet—enough to cause permanent hearing loss after prolonged exposure. Since we all like our Lyle Lovett, Led Zeppelin and Lady Gaga, we all ride with some sort of hearing protection. According to Glenn Hood, CEO of Big Ear Hearing Health Technologies, Inc. (www.bigearinc.com), there are at least a couple things to remember when it comes to preserving your auditory senses on a bike.

“First,” Hood says, “no matter what the application, the quality of the plugs is crucial to prevent added amplification of noises you intend to block. The occluded length of an earplug from your eardrum is what signifies whether this noise is increased or decreased. The closer an earplug is to your eardrum, the less added or amplified noises you’ll have. The best way to get them closer is with custom-fitted earplugs that match the shape of your ears exactly, and which can be worn deeper than any generic style.

“Studies show that helmets alone only reduce noise levels by about 4 dB. Tolerance to different frequency levels differs from person to person, but some helmets can shift the damaging frequencies of wind noise and other sounds to unsafe levels.” If basic earplugs block too much sound, Hood suggests models that reduce ambient sound to more comfortable levels while filtering out damaging frequencies.

Caveat Emptor
Through a case of temporary insanity, I was scammed into purchasing a wrecked '05 Suzuki GSX-R600 for $1000. The person I got it from told me he was waiting for the title to come in the mail, and I was so excited that I didn't go to the DMV and research the serial number to verify ownership—I started rebuilding it instead. After six weeks I contacted him and he told me his wife had accidentally thrown away the title and he would reapply for it. During this time I spent more than $1500 on parts, plus countless hours repairing damaged bodywork and doing a show-class paint job.

After completing the project, I went to the DMV and was sold a temporary tag. It was not listed as stolen, but there was a lien on it assigned to the original owner. I ended up with two temporary tags during one of the coldest winters on record in Alabama. After another six weeks I confronted the seller, who admitted the GSX-R didn't belong to him. I tried to get a warrant for theft by fraud, but the local sheriff's department wasn't interested. I have talked to lawyers and local motorcycle shops, but can't get a solid answer on what to legally do to keep the bike. Now I'm told the lien-holder can confiscate the bike, which means I'll lose everything!
Michael Vice
Haleyville, AL

Since the rightful lien-holder is the legal owner of record, you could indeed lose everything. You should have demanded to see a valid title, registration and a lien-satisfied title release before writing that check. Some careful DMV homework might have avoided this whole mess, but at this point, your best bet would be to unbolt as many of the new parts you bolted on as possible to cut your losses; or find an attorney willing to help you recoup as much of your investment as possible if/when said lien-holder comes knocking.

New In The Crate
I am looking to buy a new 2009 Yamaha YZF-R6, still in its original factory crate. Should I have any concerns about parts sticking and drying up? Engine internals, for instance? Are motorcycles usually shipped with engine oil? Are they started at the factory?
Shawn Leger
Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada

Fear not: An R6 all cozy in its factory crate should be in better shape than an ’09 that’s been sitting on the showroom floor. Assuming said crate has been in an equally cozy warehouse for the duration, with no signs of external damage, everything inside should be fine. It was started, run through the gears and otherwise inspected at the factory to make sure all systems were go. The factory engine oil should be fine for initial break-in, but draining and refilling the crankcase with fresh stuff couldn’t hurt. Make sure it’s set-up by the book and you should be good to go.

Give Me A Brake
How can I tell if my brake pads are worn out? There are three fairly wide grooves cut into the pad material, stopping just short of the backing plate. My bike spent most of last winter in the garage, so I haven't worn through them yet, but brake power and feel isn't what it used to be.

Inspecting the front and rear as per your owner’s manual recommendations is excellent pro-phylactic policy. Check for scored rotors or fluid leaks while you’re there. Riding around with less than 3mm of pad material can damage expensive rotors and calipers, along with more expensive mechanical parts and irreplaceable human ones if you can’t stop quickly enough.

The wear indicator is usually a narrow groove. No groove means you need new pads. Those broad ones are primarily there to let heat, dirt, brake dust and water out of the friction zone. They also provide more leading and trailing edges to improve bite against the rotor. Assuming those grooves are still visible and the rest of the equation—brake fluid, calipers, lines and such—checks out, a few careful passes against 400-grit sandpaper on a flat surface can remove enough gunk to restore power and feel. If it doesn’t, replace the pads.