Keeping your ears warm when cycling can be a major issue. Most of us cycle slower in the cold and for many of us – particularly in the northern hemisphere – the ears are a real problem area. The cold temperature combined with the wind chill factor makes it feel like you have two icicles attached to the side of your face.
Often your ears are the first place you’ll feel cold. That has to do with two factors – the first is that as your ears are on the outside of the body, so they are exposed to the cold temperatures as well as the wind. The second is that because your ears are mainly made of cartilage, they have no layer of fat, which helps insulate the rest of your body.
Winter riding is totally different from riding in the summer. It isn’t about intervals or long rides – it is simply about being out on the road and keeping your legs turning. The famous phrase ‘winter miles, summer smiles’ is famous for a reason. Winter is the time to tune up your base, but being out there and staying warm requires many layers.
When it comes to keeping your ears warm, the best idea is to layer up – or stay indoors!
Why Is It Important to Keep Your Ears Warm?
Keeping the ears warm is hugely important because spending extended periods of time in cold conditions can cause hearing loss. That’s because when ears are regularly exposed to the cold, the body has to do something to protect them. What it does is increase bone growth inside the ear canal, as the protrusion helps protect the canal from the cold by blocking it. It’s called exostosis. It’s often referred to as a surfer’s ear but affects many winter sports athletes as well. (Source)
Exostosis constricts the ear canal and makes it difficult to drain fluid, dirt, and wax from it – this can lead to continuous ear infections, and then to hearing loss.
You should start thinking about your ears and keeping them warm when the temperature hits 59 degrees Fahrenheit, or 15 degrees Celsius. It’s at around this temperature most people’s blood vessels constrict in order to keep warm. (Source)
How Do You Protect Your Ears when Cycling?
There are many garments out there on the market designed to protect your ears. You can choose from a wide range of headbands, skull caps, or balaclavas.
Balaclavas have the benefit of covering your whole face, leaving only a slit for your eyes. Cycling balaclavas are the best option for when it’s very cold because they are usually long enough to sit underneath the top of a cycling jersey, helping protect your neck from the cold too.
This can make them incredibly warm, but they can also be too warm, and you might struggle to breathe properly if you’re pushing hard.
Headbands are available in a range of different thicknesses and materials. Some are fleece-lined for deep winter riding, others are a simple layer of neoprene. As well as protecting your ears, headbands cover your forehead, so both soak up sweat and protect your forehead from windchill.
Skull caps cover your entire head, as well as your ears. These are perfect for when the temperature starts to really drop – they don’t just protect your ears, and help retain the warmth that can be lost through your head.
How Do I Keep My Head Warm While Wearing a Helmet?
Wearing a helmet of course precludes the usual ways – like beanies or caps – of keeping our heads warm. But there are cycling-specific hats, and these are the best way.
Many cyclists struggle in colder conditions and having a cold head can exacerbate or trigger a loss of performance because of discomfort. If you’re just looking to keep your head warm, then the best – and most stylish – option may be a cycling cap. These sit comfortably under your helmet and provide a layer of buffering from the wind, rain, or cold across your head.
However, cycling caps won’t keep your ears warm. That’s because they sit on the top of your head. Many cyclists turn to items like skull caps, balaclavas, or headbands.
In addition, many cycling brands will have special winter clothing collections. These will be designed to keep you warm and feature more layering or warmer construction. If you’re looking to keep your entire head warm, it may be worth investing in some winter-specific kit, especially if you are faced with bad conditions.
Does Cycling Damage Your Ears?
There is some evidence that cycling can damage hearing. A recent study has shown, depending on speed and wind direction, cyclists can be exposed to wind noise of up to 120dB. At 10mph, the wind is heard at 85dB. At 15mph, that is increased to 90dB. (Source)
Long and repeated exposure to sounds above 85dB can cause hearing loss, so the wind noise is high enough to cause significant hearing loss – especially if you are riding at high speeds every day.
Should You Wear Earplugs when Cycling?
One absolutely should not wear earplugs when cycling. They won’t keep the rider warm and will dull the sense of hearing – meaning they won’t be able to hear oncoming traffic.
Not only so that you can tell what is coming over blind corners and blind rises, but also behind you. Many drivers aren’t as aware of cyclists as they should be and often don’t leave enough space. Knowing what is behind you means you are better able to guess when drivers are going to pass, making you a lot safer.
How Do You Stop Wind Noise when Cycling?
A thin headband can keep the wind off the ears whilst avoiding overheating. There is also a range of cycling wind noise reducers available – these are deceptively simple and take the form of a small strip that is attached to the bike helmet straps and sits in front of the ears. Using basic aerodynamics, they buffer the wind and then direct it around your ears. Despite their small size, some manufacturers claim they can reduce wind noise by up to 80%,
If you’re struggling with wind noise, you may want to invest in a thin headband, a wind noise reducer – or a pair of headphones.
However many cyclists frown on wearing headphones as they reduce your situational awareness. A suitable alternative maybe a pair of bone-conducting headphones. This will mean you can still hear traffic – and wind noise – but at least you will be able to listen to something else!
Why Do My Ears Feel Clogged After Biking?
A particularly heavy training session increases the pressure inside the skull – known as inter-cranial pressure. This can lead to pressure in the ears. That’s perfectly normal, but it shouldn’t happen every single ride.
If it is happening every ride, it may be a sign of something else. It may be that your ears are simply clogged with earwax. However, it might also be a sign of an allergy or an upper-respiratory infection – finally, it may even be something is amiss with your temporomandibular joint, which connects your jaw. (Source)