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This wouldn't apply to riding technical trails or anything challenging, but are there any reasons to eschew the tunes while riding? Noise canceling earbuds would probably be hazardous to myself and others, but provided I can hear what's going on around me, is there any reason not to?

edit - it almost seems wrong to edit and make some of the answers sound off, but FWIW, I was asking in reference to riding places without cars. Parks and such.

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closed as not constructive by freiheit Nov 1 '12 at 16:42

As it currently stands, this question is not a good fit for our Q&A format. We expect answers to be supported by facts, references, or expertise, but this question will likely solicit debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion. If you feel that this question can be improved and possibly reopened, visit the help center for guidance.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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@Kara: Subjective and argumentative, voted to close. –  Neil Fein Sep 2 '10 at 21:13
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@neilfein I don't think it's that subjective, I think that there will be agreement that it isn't a good idea safety-wise. –  Dana the Sane Sep 2 '10 at 21:19
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@Dana - You can't say yet that its not subjective - I don't think there will be agreement one way or the other. @Neilfein Having said that, I don't think this is subjective and argumentative because its possible to provide useful answers, backed up with reasonable points. Kara isn't asking what songs are best to listen to while cycling. –  Kevin Sep 2 '10 at 22:02
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This is the stuff of which flame wars are made: Too many well-made points on both sides of the issue of whether or not cycling while listening to music is a safety issue. (They generally come down to "It's okay for me to do, but those other people...") –  Neil Fein Sep 2 '10 at 22:53
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@neilfein - The new title helps a lot. It is potentially argumentative, but these questions should be given an opportunity to be answered instead of being automatically closed down. –  Kevin Sep 6 '10 at 14:24

21 Answers 21

It is worth noting that deaf people cycle perfectly well.

@Joe's excellent comment merit's adding into the answer...
Edit It should also be noted that deaf people are used to being deaf. They never rely on sounds like hearing-abled people do.

Its OK to listen to music as long as

  • a) you are aware that you don't have any audio clues to hazards
  • b) don't put yourself in a situation where you rely on audio clues
  • c) you compensate with very alert visual monitoring of your environment.

That said, I don't listen to music while cycling.

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Deaf people are used to being deaf. They never rely on sounds like hearing-abled people do –  Joe Philllips Sep 3 '10 at 15:57
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and deaf people, because they do not have one sense, are very proficient in another area, such as sight... –  studiohack Sep 14 '10 at 3:30
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I would add, as long as it's legal wher you are. Which is unlikely. Unless you are using something like this:kickstarter.com/projects/1294096266/…. –  zenbike Apr 17 '12 at 3:01
    
I have no affiliation with that product, btw. Just thought it was cool, and appropriate. –  zenbike Apr 17 '12 at 3:03
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It's not the lack of sound that's the problem, it's the sound that's irrelevant to the task at hand distracting your attention that's the problem. Deaf people usually do have some sense of hearing (complete deafness is rare) and can hear car horns and the like. Headphones not only drown out noises that could alert you to danger (kids, dogs, the noise of a car coming up behind far too close), they also mean not all your attention is on the task of cycling. You need your wits about you on a bike and any kind of possible distraction should be avoided at all costs. –  GordonM Sep 23 '12 at 7:29

As you gain more experience in biking, you will learn to rely on your hearing as a fairly important input in your ability to make decisions. This applies to various disciplines of biking in the following ways:

  • Urban: Cars starting up, parked cars cars with engine running, cars you can't yet see roaring up driveways or out of parking garages, and certain vehicles approaching from the rear to which you usually yield more room (buses, semis, etc.) are all things that you will be "blind" to if you are rockin' the tunes.
  • Road: Similar to urban, but not quite as stringent.
  • Mountain: Hearing only helps if you are on the same trail as motor vehicles, especially if they are going fast.

Also, biking is a way to get away from all that stuff, so why not try that for a change.

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I would disagree with your mountain biking point. With headphones on you also might not be able to hear someone yelling either. It could be another cyclist telling you to watch out, or that they need help. Hearing isn't just useful for finding motor vehicles. –  Mike Two Sep 7 '10 at 15:23
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+1 for the suggestion of actually enjoying the sights (and sounds) and not isolating yourself from it all with headphones. –  Igor Klimer Jul 9 '13 at 10:59

The main reason that I can think of is avoiding collisions with other riders, cars, pedestrians, etc. If someone tries to get your attention, it's still going to be harder to hear them.

I'd say that if you want to listen to music, use only one earbud and keep the volume down.

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That's what I've used so far, but only on park routes, where speeds are low and visibility is good. –  Kara Marfia Sep 2 '10 at 21:33
    
New York (and I think Ohio) state law mandates that, if you are listening to music, you keep one ear uncovered. So if you want to stay legal, this is a good strategy. –  Paul Fisher Sep 10 '10 at 2:40

Wearing headphones while cycling is a bad idea even if only one ear-bud is in use. I do my best to devote complete attention to the road and my surroundings while I'm riding. For hearing folks, sound is a critical device to alert a rider to impending danger. During my daily commute I frequently am alerted to potential hazards by sound before I see a problem. Here are a few examples I have experienced:

  • Cars parked along the road are often innocuous, but occasionally a vehicle will be occupied while warming up. I've narrowly avoided being hit as the car prepared to enter the road by hearing the vehicle first and adjusting accordingly.
  • Most dogs bark loudly enough to be heard even over headphones, but one morning as I was riding through a neighborhood I heard a faint sound similar to leaves skittering across the road in the wind. Yet, there was no wind. I turned around and a dog had nearly run up to me from behind without making a sound except the slight patter of paws.

Too often cyclists are injured or killed on the road. Be safe!

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Tire noise is exactly the kind of detailed sound that will be drowned out by music. –  LanceH Sep 24 '10 at 13:53

I used to listen to an iPod while riding (commuting in a city) but decided it wasn't worth the chance of not hearing the monster trucks in time. Haven't listened to anything while riding for 3 years now. I don't really miss it, but my ride's only 30-40 minutes long. I do like hearing the sounds of the river valley along the ride, which I missed completely while the iPod was playing...

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+1 While I cycle I concentrate on cycling to fully experience it. While I listen to music I concentrate on music to fully experience it. Mindfulness is a straightforward way to enhance your quality of life. –  Tadeusz A. Kadłubowski Sep 21 '10 at 17:45

Some anecdotal evidence seems to suggest that riding while listening to music using headphones is not safe:

Bottom line is that when you ride a bicycle in traffic, you are already in a particularly vulnerable position and at high risk for sustaining serious injuries in a collision. It would seem wise to do everything possible to lower your risk of having an accident and I don't see how wearing headphones is consistent with lowering risk.

Add to that the possibility that it very well may be illegal to listen to headphones while riding (as cyclists are bound to the same rules as motorists in many jurisdictions) and it seems like listening to music while riding is probably not a smart thing to do.

Note that the above applies mostly to driving on public roads. When driving on trails, the laws in most places probably do not prohibit listening to headphones and the danger of a collision with another vehicle is obviously significantly reduced when you're not driving around speeding cars.

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The plural of anecdote is not data. Whilst your conclusions may or may not be correct, your starting point is no way to get there. –  Tom Hawtin - tackline Sep 9 '10 at 16:41
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@Tom: I agree. Note that I said "suggests", not "proves". However, I think the more important point is that clearly headphones don't lessen the risk. And there's only one other way you can go from there. –  Dan Moulding Sep 9 '10 at 16:43
    
While I wouldn't advise wearing headphones, 5 cyclists got plowed down by a van last year in my city. They were doing everything right. In a bike lane, single file, wearing helmets, no music. I wonder if there are any statistics, does wearing headphones make you more likely to get in an accident? I also read a story that a pedestrian got hit by a car while wearing headphones, and there was quite a few news articles devoted to the dangers of walking while listening to music. –  Kibbee Sep 30 '10 at 2:15
    
"The plural of anecdote is not data." what a great line. Thanks @Tom. –  Jay Bazuzi Oct 19 '10 at 17:05
    
Since 'teen anything' means permanently attached to an iPod you could equally have made those headlines = 'Teen wearing braces hit by car' and blame the dentist. –  mgb Oct 20 '10 at 16:21

It is illegal to wear headphones while riding in some locations. Such as here. But not Here (although I think it is illegal to wear them on Chicago's lakefront path, but I can't find the reference. Might be wrong).

There is a post here that makes the point that many localities apply the same laws to driving as cycling (I can't comment on the truth of that). So that might be a consideration.

Legal or not people will do it anyway. And now there's an app for that. The app says it will set a threshold of noise based on the ambient environmental noise and then pass anything above that threshold into your headphones. I don't listen to music while I cycle (not that I'm judging) but I might get this anyway.

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In most states, it is against the law to drive with headphones in. Bikes in most states are legally cars, with the same rights and responsibilities. Ergo, in most states, it could at least be argued that it is illegal to listen to music with headphones while cycling. –  zenbike Aug 3 '11 at 18:01

I learned the lesson to this the hard way, by crashing into the back of a car. I was not paying attention to my riding due to the music coming from my Sony Walkman. The people in the car were okay, however, it was embarrassing to peel myself off their boot and then take my headphones off.

That act of taking the headphones off was 'the game is up' for the situation, the lady who had by now got out of her car knew what a fool I had been and why I had not been paying attention. Even though it was a low speed crash I still buckled the top tube and down tube of the frame and my bike did not handle properly after that.

Just like how every driver thinks they are one of the better drivers and not like one of those 'idiots out there', so it is with cyclists. Some think they are that good at riding that they do not need to be fully devoted to the task in hand and can listen to some music.

Another thing is that the music you listen to whenever you crash is forever damaged. You are listening to your favourite artist and the next thing you know, every time you hear that artist it reminds you of that crash and the stupidity involved in listening to music whilst cycling.

Music on a bike lulls you into a false sense of security. It also lulls you into believing that you are riding better than you are. Just because there is a 'techno beat' (or whatever) to ride to doesn't mean you actually are performing well. Just because you are listening to 'chilled out' music does not mean you are riding less aggressively/assertively than you would do otherwise.

Another problem with listening to music through earphones is the wind noise created by the earphones/headphones/whatever. You need to crank up the volume to 11 just to get half of it. It is established medical fact that music at this volume damages the little hairs in your ears that you need for hearing. What do you want to do that for?

None of us are smart enough to always avoid causing accidents when interacting with other road users and the minute this happens to you then you have to have a pretty good reason for losing control or not anticipating a situation. WEARING HEADPHONES IS NOT A GOOD ENOUGH REASON! DON'T DO IT!!!

Do note that none of the other answers in this thread are written 'with the benefit of hindsight'. When it all goes wrong for you due to listening to some pointless music whilst riding your perspective on the subject will change in an instant and you will never go back to listening to music on headphones whilst you ride on the public roads. Life is short enough as it is, really. [Lecture over!]

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Thanks for sharing, nice to hear someone talk from actual experience and able to admit their own stupidity in the hopes someone else won't repeat their mistake. –  GordonM Sep 23 '12 at 7:45

I'd be lying if I said I didn't listen to music while cycling ... especially at night (probably the worst time). That said ...

I wouldn't really recommend it. Alot of the subtle drive train noises that could signify impending doom (for your bicycle) can be missed (ex. stick in derailleur, tyre deflating after running through a patch of glass...) when listening to music. The obvious would be not hearing approaching traffic and therefore being surprised and perhaps swerving/not holding your line etc... As well you miss the little things that can occur that make cycling so special. And I could go on ... but I won't. Haha.

Yes, I'm a hypocrite I guess but if i was to recommend either way I would say keep the music for off the bike.

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Ha, Tim what do you know? ;) –  Dana the Sane Sep 2 '10 at 21:18
    
thanks for the link dana ... this could be a problem down the road. ha. –  tplunket Sep 2 '10 at 21:26
    
Thanks! Missing the bike sounds is something that wouldn't have occurred to me, and exactly the kind of thing I was hoping to learn. :) –  Kara Marfia Sep 2 '10 at 21:34
    
Ei, yes these sites are addictive :-S –  Dana the Sane Sep 3 '10 at 18:33
    
I do it too. I'd never let my kids do it ;-) –  Jay Sep 7 '10 at 9:23

I cycle with one ear in (on the nearside), that way I can still hear the road-side.

I know that some disagree, but in my experience, this is enough to get me by. It's no more distracting than a car having its radio on - albeit we are more exposed.

I tend to listen to podcasts and I frequently realise that I haven't actually been paying attention to the content because of the road conditions, so while it could be distracting, my experience is that your brain knows what to prioritise.

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I have enjoyed years of cycling to music using speakers on my bike. Now that I have an iPhone with speakers, I mount it on my handlebars and go. Its loud enough to hear but as soon as a vehicle get near me, the music is drowned out - therefore no vehicle sneaks up on me. Also, not having headphones/earbuds on also makes me feel less restricted and I never had to take a hand of the handlebar to adjust an earbud.

Go with small battery powered speakers (rechargable batteries makes this cheap) or a device like an iPhone or iPod touch.

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I've been listening to music and podcasts while riding for 10+ years and never had the slightest problem hearing traffic or other cyclists. I definitely recommend podcasts or talk radio as music has to be much louder to be heard over the traffic noise (cars are really loud!)

I've never understood this debate, as if anyone would spend 4 hours in a car with no stereo to pass the time and since when do people insist car drivers can hear their surroundings?

Noise canceling headphones are clearly a dumb idea, but earbuds with foam around them work best to reduce wind noise.

Get a cheap mp3 player (so you're not scared of rain or dropping it) with an easily accessible pause button (in case someone wants to talk to you at a traffic light) and volume controls you can reach easily and operate one handed. Load it up with some good smart/funny/inspiring speakers and get outside and on your bike!

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I listen with only one iPod earbud for commuting, as California state law says you can. I think its no different than a car stereo.

As for different headsets, I think that the jogging type (that wrap around your ear) would be good. I wouldn't go with the squishy plastic in-ear kinds, because they seem to block out too much outside sound.

Hope this helps.

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I think it is somewhat different than a car stereo. In a car you are never relying on another driver verbally telling what they will do such as saying "on your left" to pass. In a car you have more tools to help use your eyes for that information (mirrors). –  Mike Two Sep 7 '10 at 19:51

There are products like these: http://www.iworld.co.uk/p/Slipstreamz_Cycling_Earwear_for_Headphones.htm?affiliatecode=gbase which move your earbuds outside of your ear and cut down on wind noise.

I remember seeing some specialist earbuds which appeared to be a hollow tube earlier this year, they were supposed to allow you to listen to your music and hear traffic noise but I can't seem to track them down on Google, if you can find them they might also be an option.

I wouldn't dream of riding whilst listening to music if I couldn't hear the traffic noise, and as other posters have mentioned it might be useful to hear the noises from your bike too.

EDIT: The BBC this morning were carrying a news item where a Road Safety organisation waa calling for a widespread campaign to inform the public of the dangers of walking/cycling whilst wearing earphones (there were two other suggestions for other campaigns too). As they were said to be a contributing factor in a large number of accidents.

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So far I've been happy just utilizing the stock external speakers built into my phone with it mounted on my handlebars. On my roadbike, I'm typically close enough to the handlebars to hear it fine and I can still hear the noise from the road perfectly well. It's been plenty loud for my needs. The only thing that may be an issue is being slightly embarrassed pulling up next to another cyclist with music playing.

If it'll help anyone, I've used this mount for several months now on both an iPhone 3G that I got rid of and my original Droid. It actually fits both, surprisingly (it's actually more snug on the Droid, believe it or not). It's quite nice to be able to stream music and track your ride while cycling as well. Obviously experiences will differ based on phone though.

Just my two cents.

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I typically listen to just the right side of my shuffle's headphones. That way I have a fighting chance of hearing anyone calling out to pass.

I've had this site bookmarked for quite some time now: http://www.scansound.com/xcart/home.php?cat=269 That's what I'm going to try next. All channels in one bud. Should help.

All that said, when I'm actually on a busy road I turn off the music. I want to hear everything around me!

Side note: I used to listen to podcasts but that took too much concentration. Now I just shuffle through random tunes.

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I think that a distinction needs to be made between a Podcast and music.

I think that listening to talk is ok while riding, and will do that. Or I will talk on the phone, since my 'music' device is my Blackberry.

Music however is different than talk. Talk is usually quieter, not as continuous, and easy to hear car and traffic noises over it as background noises.

After reading the comments, I guess I need to say, that the above works for me. Others may experience talk vs music differently than I do.

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Counter-argument: talk requires more of your brain than music. With (certain kinds of) music, you can enjoy the beat and the sound without really having to think about it. Talk podcasts (audiobooks, etc) involve using a much larger portion of your brain, much like having a conversation with somebody on a cellphone is very distracting. –  freiheit Sep 2 '10 at 22:03
    
More realistically: which is "worse" or "better" probably depends on the person. I know I find music with a heavy beat and minimal lyrics (or foreign language lyrics) pleasant to listen to in one ear, but would find talking voices much to distracting. I definitely believe you that it's the opposite for you. –  freiheit Sep 2 '10 at 22:05
    
omg, you're one of THOSE people! ;) I see tons of people talking on their phones while biking. Seriously, what are you thinking? Is it really worth the risk to life and limb just to have a windy phone call that can't wait 20 minutes until you get to the office? –  Nik Reiman Sep 14 '10 at 7:48
    
I thought I was clear I use a headset. I use the BB standard one, all the time. Hands free, just talking as I ride. Does not affect my biking performance as far as I can tell. My phone sits in the bento box just behind the stem. –  geoffc Sep 14 '10 at 18:33

I have listened to my radio using ear buds for over 20 years while riding. I don't have the volume loud, just enough to hear the music or talk radio station. To me, it's very similar to listening to a radio in a vehicle. I've always pretty much depended on my two rear view mirrors to pick up a vehicle approaching from the rear much further back than I could ever hear it anyway. Some states have a law against doing this. There's arguments that for a vehicle driver, no you shouldn't wear ear buds, but they claim a bicycle isn't exactly enclosed, so therefore, you can hear outside noise better than in a vehicle. Not sure what would happen if a police officer would take acception to that theory. Even on days when I don't wear the ear buds, it's easy to just be enjoying a beautiful sunny day and be jolted back to reality by an approaching vehicle not too far behind you! I guess this is up to the individual or the local laws as to whether or not you listen to the radio as you cycle down the road. As for the volume, it shouldn't be so loud as to injure your hearing anyway. For parks and other off-road riding, it should be no problem at all.

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Tune into Traphic has just got news headlines (about halfway down the page) in the UK talking about the risk of listening to music while cycling/walking.

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Of course it is a little more dangerous since you are blocking some of your sense(s). But I think relying on hearing is a very bad idea, anyway. You might hear cars in time to react, but fast bikes are difficult to hear. It is a good idea to train yourself to look around every corner and turn your head to look behind you when changing direction or going into a narrow passage.

I think using only one earbud does in my experience make not much sense, since you'll need to turn it up much louder to understand e.g. a podcast, and it will impair your spatial hearing.

Personally, I refuse to give up the comfort every car driver has. Even with headphones turned to a sensible volume you'll hear much better than any car driver, so I don't care about the litte additional danger.

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Somebody wrote "...talk requires more of your brain than music. With (certain kinds of) music, you can enjoy the beat and the sound without really having to think about it."

In general, I couldn't disagree more and certainly would NEVER listen to music whilst cycling. There is a natural tendency of the body to imitate rhythmical sounds and the limbs, often without any thought, can begin to move in line with the beat. Therefore, the music you are listening to is effectly determining how you are cycling, NOT the road conditions or others users. And that is dangerous.

The only time I used headphones on a bike is on my bike trainer in the garage. I put on stuff that is active, lively, and 'in your face' because it gets me going. If anyone knows who Buddy Rich was you will immediately understand what I mean. The power of his drumming literally kicks you into action. If is was JS Bach, I start concentrating on the counterpoint (and certainly not the garage). And if you like the pop songs, I suppose you'll listen to the lyrics.

So don't do it...unless you want to end you life listening to your favourite tune.

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