The Cycling with Music Debate Continues

04
Dec
2013

Cycling with Earphones and Music

The topic of cycling with earphones and music always seems to cause a heated debate.  It’s been a while since I’ve voiced my opinion on this subject, so it’s time to unleash the beast once again.

Cycling with music is so taboo that it’s against the law in several States in the USA, as well as other places around the world.  This is one law that I just can’t bring myself to agree with.  But there are caveats to my belief, and I’ll get to those in a minute.

Yes, I ride with music.  Always.  No, it does not endanger myself or anyone around me.  Guaranteed.

Sony Headphones Cycling with MusicYou might not believe this, but I am so accustomed to it that I can sense the vehicles and everything else around me better when I have my earphones on.  Yeah, there are times when the power dies and I’m forced to finish off a ride without music.  It’s at these times where I don’t feel as connected with my environment.

I’ve always ridden with an iPod or something similar, but the wireless headset that Sony recently sent me totally rocks.  No more cord to worry about, and if I need to change a song its super simple.  But I’m not here to tell you about what I ride with, I’m here to once again explain why I feel it is totally safe and fine to ride with music if done right.

Open Road / Highways / Country Roads

Instead of arguing as to why I feel it’s totally okay to ride with music on these types or roads, I’d much rather hear those against me explain why it’s not okay.  As long as the music is low enough to still hear what’s going on around you, I’m saying it’s absolutely fine.  As I’ve said before, there are several times where the sound of the blowing wind in my ears is louder than my music.  So if riding with music is to be banned, I guess they need to ban riding in wind as well.

In the City

When cycling on city roads, I say that music is still okay as long as certain criteria are met.  Once again, the volume has to be low enough so that your surroundings can be heard.  If you’re able to sense when vehicles are coming up behind you, or approaching from other areas….all is good.

If part of your city riding involves pedestrian traffic, then I feel you should turn off your music during this section of the ride.  Even with the music turned down low, you’ll never hear a silent pedestrian stepping in front of you or coming near you in other directions.

Trails

If you’re off-roading, it really depends on the situation.  To be honest, I’m not much of a trail rider…so maybe you mountain bikers out there should tell me what you think.  But I’d say that If there’s no way it will mess up the riding of others in the area, it’s cool.  Being in nature with nothing but the sound of silence and the environment is awesome….but there’s also nothing wrong with adding your own soundtrack to the experience.

Sixth Sense

Here’s the kicker.  I honestly feel as though I have a sixth sense for traffic while out riding…..and I’ve heard many other cyclists say the same thing.  I think if you’ve done it long enough, you can sense when a vehicle is coming up behind….and can also tell how fast it’s going and how close it is to you.

This is what makes riding with music totally possible and safe.  If you have this special ability, then I say it’s a thumbs up to cycling with your tunes….keeping what I’ve said above in mind.  If you don’t feel you have it, maybe keep the earphones away from your ears when on the bike.

Okay, so let’s have it.  I know you have an opinion on cycling with music.  Good or bad, speak your mind below.

 

Enjoy Your Ride

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  • Julie Starling

    I just don’t get why anyone wants to wear earbuds and listen to music while they cycle. I want to be one with my environment when I’m out there. I want to hear the birds and the kids and the dogs and the wind and the train and most especially the dang cars as they approach too fast and too close. When I listen to music, I really listen to music, and when I ride, I ride. But I’m a musician, so perhaps I listen to music differently than you do.

    • http://lovingthebike.com Darryl is Loving the Bike

      Thanks Julie. Yeah, it really comes down to what you want and what works for you. I love music as well, and I love having it as the soundtrack to my rides. I personally still feel connected to my environment when I have the music, and for me it just adds to the experience.
      I’m sure you have your own personal soundtrack playing while you ride….even without the headphones on.

  • http://dchristianson.blogspot.com/ Daniel Christianson

    I’m late to the post here as usual but nice discussion going here.

    I ride with and without music. I also ride both urban and MTB. The key, for me anyway, is what was stated in the post; ‘the music is low enough to still hear what’s going on around you’. I can hear if a car honks, someone hollers at me, a dog barks, etc. I keep my volume level down to the point I can still hear my chain skipping across the teeth as I miss a gear. Its a balance of enjoying the music while riding and being safety conscience. On crowded sections of shared paths around town I will quite often pause the music until I am once again free of ‘ the pack’. This is not only for safety precautions but that odd chance a pretty lady cyclist was to say Hi to me. Hey, it could happen….

    Most of the cautions for riding on the roadways and shared paths are obvious. An additional element you have to be aware of while riding singletrack is that often the very skinny trail you are on is a two way route and quite often your line of site is a very short one due to terrain or foliage. Being able to hear an oncoming mountain biker, although hard to do at times, is an added level of safety protecting both of you.
    In the end its all common sense, if your constantly being threatened or having too many close calls, you may want to try riding without for a while. Or at least turn it down just a bit.

    • http://lovingthebike.com Darryl is Loving the Bike

      Thanks for joining in, Daniel….not late at all. Yeah, common sense is the key for sure. Hey, good luck with those pretty cyclist ladies.

  • Larry Newman

    I find using a mirror alerts me much sooner to approaching hazards than my ears, with or without ‘phones. I prefer ear-buds, as they reduce most wind noise and enable listening at lower volumes. Now compare a cyclist with ear buds at a sane volume, and a vehicle driver in a sound-proof metal and glass box. No way the driver can hear anything, with or without their radio in use. Drivers can roll down their windows, but then the wind noise above about 40 mph drowns out other noise, so drivers rarely rely on sound to operate their vehicles. That leaves the most dangerous, research-verified distraction for cyclists and drivers (but mostly drivers), cell phones. And cell phone use while driving and riding are increasingly banned unless in a “hands-free” mode. When operator alertness while using a cell phone is equated in driving simulators to be equal to a 0.08 blood alcohol level, enough said. I won’t even start on texting.

    • http://lovingthebike.com Darryl is Loving the Bike

      Yes, you’re right Larry. Enough said. Don’t even get me started with cell phones.

  • http://www.texasmountainbiketrails.com/ Shawn McAfee

    Riding with music is pretty much a must for me unless I’m riding with a group. If I’m solo though I will pretty much always wear headphones no matter if I’m riding road, trail or anything else.

    My preferred method is to keep my left ear free and only listen in my right ear.

    As for the question of whether its acceptable on trails… I will simply say that it is best to always be alert to those that may be trying to pass behind you. So don’t let other people pass you and just ride faster. :)

    • http://lovingthebike.com Darryl is Loving the Bike

      Thanks Shawn, have you tried Far End Gear (www.farendgear.com)? They make a one earbud with both channels coming through the one side. You and I will ride trails together soon….no music, just good times between good friends.

      • http://www.texasmountainbiketrails.com/ Shawn McAfee

        Well… maybe a little Raegae music Mon’, you with your dreads and me with my beard dreads!! LOL!

        I’ve thought a few times about getting one of those handlebar boomboxes for times like that.

  • Rustypants

    See, this whole thing is funny to me. My hearing loss is in the 90-100db range – severe / profound. In a legal sense, I’m deaf.

    I cannot ride with my hearing aids in due to sweat and wind (it sounds like an unprotected microphone in a windstorm, rendering the aids useless). Without them in, I hear nothing but the very VERY loudest sounds (and I frequently can’t discriminate _what_ I’m actually hearing even when I do hear those sounds).

    Now, I am able to use headphones at high volume. I don’t always (in fact, I’ll say that I don’t usually), but I’m able to, and sometimes I choose to. The effect this has on my riding is the same as my not wearing my hearing aids: I still can’t hear environmental sounds.

    For those who say wearing headphones is unsafe or even stupid, what’s a deaf cyclist to do? And if there’s a solution for the deaf cyclist, does the same solution apply to someone who can hear “normal” and chooses to ride with headphones?

    Just curious. (and reposted from G+)

    • http://lovingthebike.com Darryl is Loving the Bike

      I think you just won the debate. Thanks for adding to the post and leaving your comments.

  • Chuck Huss

    I usually listen to audio books or podcasts (like Cycling 360) when I ride. Music is a constant sound that I think can impair your ability to hear what is around you unless you keep it low, like you do. Spoken audio is somewhat monotone and has gaps in the audio so hearing is not a problem

    • http://lovingthebike.com Darryl is Loving the Bike

      Awesome….nice to hear that you’re listening to our Cycling 360 podcasts on the road.

      • Chuck Huss

        Just to be clear, I don’t think listening to music is bad. In most cases safety is being visually and mentally alert. As an added precaution, I would turn the music off in a very busy environment, which is usually just a small percentage of the ride. I think the people who shouldn’t listen to music are pedestrians on trails, who tend to walk in zig zags and don’t hear you when you announce yourself coming up behind them.

  • Asher Taylor

    I’m of the opinion that if you can hear what’s going on around you and you don’t find it distracting, more power to you. I don’t think everyone should ride with music (including myself, because I am so horribly distractible that even when I drive, which is rare, I almost never turn on the radio).

    The weird part is that most drivers can’t hear what’s going on around them in the first place, and most drivers also seem to listen to music in the car, but somehow we don’t get all cranky about that. I think it’s partly a question of the way we look at the question — cyclists are the mintority, so we’re supposed to use all our senses to make sure we don’t get flattened; meanwhile, drivers are the majority, so whatever conveniences they enjoy go unquestioned until a critical mass of tragedies has been reached (q.v. texting, conversing on cell phones while driving, reading the newspaper while driving, etc.).

    If I had a long, straight stretch of road with very low traffic, I don’t think I’d mind some low-volume headphones. Curiously, that is exactly the kind of circumstance where I listen to music while driving (lots of it out west, very little here in the Ohio Valley!).

    As for music on bike trails — again, as long as you can hear, you behave responsibly, and it’s not killing someone else’s buzz, why not?

    • http://lovingthebike.com Darryl is Loving the Bike

      Thanks for your input, Asher. It’s definitely a debatable subject….I appreciate your input.

  • gswbike

    Honestly, as a rule I don’t ride with music except while indoors on the trainer. I agree it is a matter of situational awareness. I think it would be interesting for a for a future post to understand what others are actually listening. What favorite playlists do riders have. Might even be a way to find some new music to listen to. Just a thought.

    • http://lovingthebike.com Darryl is Loving the Bike

      Good idea……I’ll look at doing a post like that in the future.

  • Bob Burpee

    I wore ear buds on my morning commute (5:30AM) a few times. The traffic was almost nonexistent and the headlights from the cars behind also helped alert me to their presence (I use a mirror too). I was never really comfortable with it. I have a pair of speakers (see photo) that my iPod fits in and it is powered by two AA batteries (15-20hrs). I don’t ride with them that often, usually for special events (MS150) or touring. They work great but I’ve never tested them in wet weather.

    • http://lovingthebike.com Darryl is Loving the Bike

      Yep, you have to do what works for you. Thanks for your comments, Bob.

  • MagicPercy

    I almost always ride with something playing, for me it is sometimes music, but mostly podcast’s i listen to, like Cycling360. When I am in areas with potential hazardous car traffic, or a lot of pedestrians I normally only have the right ear bud in. When in other low hazard riding I put in both. I have a good set of buds that seem to not have a lot of wind noise distraction (I have experimented and I have one pair that amplify wind noise rushing by the buds, they are great indoors but horrible on the bike.) I also agree with others it is an awareness thing, sometimes I have to shut it all off as i am in a congested area and need to have all my senses. This goes for any vehicular travel, there are times in the car when it is great to rock out, and other times we need to turn it down, or off completely. It really boils down to common sense.

    • http://lovingthebike.com Darryl is Loving the Bike

      Haha, great to know that you’re riding with our Cycling 360 playing. Awesome. Thanks for your comments….it sounds to me like you’re a very respective cyclist.

    • MagicPercy

      Also when I am on group rides, I do not have the headphones in.

  • exchefinma

    I don’t think music is the issue, nor are ear buds. The issue is lack of situational awareness. When you ride outdoors, you always have wind noise, that can be as distracting and prevent hearing a car coming up behind you.

    If we are going to comment on listening to music while riding a bike, what about while driving a car? How many times have you pulled up next to a car and their music was loud enough to hear over your own, I bet frequently.

    Don’t blame the listening to music on the lack of situaional awareness.

    ExChef

    • http://lovingthebike.com Darryl is Loving the Bike

      I totally agree with you ExChef. Awareness is really the issue…..music just seems to get blamed.

  • helene_tris

    When I ride alone I like to have some tunes to help with a pace, and yes to sing along with at times. Makes me smile, however, I always have one ear piece off and the one on the right with music. I never have it loud, but just enough to enjoy. If I ride in a group or with a friend I won’t have my music. The type of music I use depends on the environment. Like when riding back roads I love relaxing music that matches the mood, all in order to enhance the experience.
    While commuting in traffic, no music for me. I don’t trust vehicles and even if I can sense them approaching, there is little I can do without all of my senses on point.

    I think it is all of our responsibility to be safe on the roads we share. There are times I’ve been next to a vehicle, and know they can’t possibly hear themselves think with how loud they have music blaring.

    • http://lovingthebike.com Darryl is Loving the Bike

      Yep, agreed. The downtown / in traffic part of commuting with music is not something I would recommend. Safe cycling can totally be done with music as long as you are still able to stay aware of what’s around you….while being safe and considerate.

  • Collin Stringer

    I am about 50/50 on the road and on trails — and I always have a rockin’ playlist going while I ride. For me, the music has become an integral part of my riding experience. A great tune is sure to enhance all that my ride is.
    Regarding the specific topic, I ride in traffic often and have never been surprised by a vehicle or pedestrian. As you, Darryl, I have a constant awareness of what is around me, sensing all approaching objects on the streets and in the woods. I feel safe and believe I am not endangering anyone else. I sure hope my right to rock and ride is never denied me.

    • http://lovingthebike.com Darryl is Loving the Bike

      Thanks Collin, I hear you. Keep on rocking and riding.

  • Vsx1

    If not riding in traffic (pedestrian or vehicle) then music is fine, aka trails, mountain biking etc. The odds of someone being seriously injured on a trail is much lower than on a road (falling off the bike vs hit by a car). If you’re on the road then no. I’ve tried to ride w/ an iPod but with the wind rushing past the ears, I have to turn up the volume to ear damaging levels (louder for long periods) and that means I can’t hear what’s going on around me. And now with electric vehicles being so quiet (thank god for that) and other cyclists, you’re not hearing those coming near you. Just like a car/truck driver you have a responsibility to those around you.

    • http://lovingthebike.com Darryl is Loving the Bike

      Thanks for your comment. Riding with music is not for everyone or for every riding condition. I feel responsible cycling is totally achievable with music…as long as it’s done right.

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