TCI Friday

TCI Friday is a question and answer thing. We pose the question. You give the answers.

I tried to do research and couldn’t. Patrick had asked, on The Paceline, about riding with headphones, or earbuds more specifically, and I tried to open my mind to consider scenarios in which it would be ok for me. I even suggested to him, that if he was going to ride with earbuds in, he should try a pair with a “transparency” mode that lets external sound in as well. I have a pair of Klipsch T5 Sport wireless earbuds with this feature, but as I said, above, I couldn’t bring myself to ride with them in.

Before we go further, I want to make clear that I’m not telling you not to listen to music, or audio books, for that matter, while you ride your bike. You’re a grown up (probably), and you can make that call for yourself. I’m just saying that I don’t feel as though I can give bike riding what it deserves, in terms of attention, while I’ve got extraneous sounds playing in my ears.

And before we go even further, I’m going to admit that, if you are wearing the headphones it’s not for me to tell you not to wear, AND you do something stupid as a result, I probably will judge you for it. So to be clear, I’m not against the behavior, but if the behavior leads to bad outcomes I will not be surprised and I will likely think you’re dumb.

But before we go even further than we’ve been going up to this point, I’m dumb too. I make dumb mistakes on the bike and off. I understand fully the appeal of listening to some good music or catching up on a book or a podcast while you are also exercising. If and when you make the dumb mistake, I will think you’re dumb, but also likely identify with you on a deep, human level.

My basic feeling is this though: I don’t feel safe with headphones in/on. I don’t feel confident that I can adequately respect the needs of other riders/walkers/runners while I’m distracted by music or other. I’m not convinced that it’s a good idea to eschew the sounds of nature if they are available to me. I know we should be able to walk and chew gum at the same time, but I tend to enjoy the gum much more if I’m seated and chewing contemplatively.

That’s me. And gum.

So this week’s TCI Friday wonders if it is ok to ride with headphones in? Do you do it? Do you like it? Do you disapprove? Is there any situation, other than stationary, on a trainer, in a basement or other secondary living space, where it’s ok?

Join the conversation
  1. erikthebald says

    Nope. I don’t. And I judge those that do. A mild judgement if all it amounts to is talking loudly because you’re wearing them. A much more harsh judgement if you can’t hear my friendly greeting, or bell, or shout, or dirtbike (!) because you are wearing them and then get mad at me for startling you.

    I know of an incident of a road rider wearing headphones that pulled a U-turn on a road, wearing headphones, directly into a car going the posted speed of 65 mph. He didn’t live to experience the shame of judgement, but boy howdy do I feel bad for his family and the driver of that car that killed him.

    A couple of years ago I decided that I should come up with a bumper sticker on the subject. I was doing some moto riding in the Salida area, namely the Monarch Crest Trail, which is also a segment of the Colorado and Continental Divide Trails. Couldn’t believe how many hikers/backpackers/mtn bikers were wearing headphones. They couldn’t hear my dirtbike (let alone my voice), even when I got up close and gave some polite “howdy” revs. Granted, I ride the quietest bike I can in a quiet manner. But still. Then they would get mad when they would startle when I would get right up on them and have to rev loud or scream to get their attention. One guy coming head on staring at this phone too ran into my (stopped) front wheel. Good thing I wasn’t a mtn lion.


    1. Jeff vdD says

      Ha, love the bumper sticker!

  2. tcfrog says

    I’m ok with wearing headphones/earbuds, as long as whatever is playing is kept at a low level so you can also hear surrounding noise. If I know a solo ride I’m going to do is on undemanding terrain (usually a road or gravel ride), then I might throw some music on to zone out to, but you better believe I’m checking for cars more carefully whenever I need to move into the center of the lane. I agree with Erikthebald that having something playing so loud that you can’t hear warnings or approaching cars is a horrible idea, but I don’t have an issue with having something going to block out the drivetrain noise. This approval is only for solo rides on quieter roads and trails. If there are a lot of people or cars around, there’s no need to divide your attention further.

  3. hmlh33 says

    When I use them (solo rides), I use the ones that do not go into my ear but instead sit in front of my ear and send vibes through the bones in my skull (I think they are called “Shokz”). I don’t set them too loud, I can hear everything around me, I ride in the woods or quiet roads with few cars.

  4. rides in be says

    I never ride with earbuds. I simply don’t trust myself enough.

  5. khal spencer says

    Emlyn, I share your concern with having yet one more complication/distraction to get in the way of ending a ride upright. If you wear earbuds and end up riding out in front of a bus, well, instant karma may prevail. So do as you will, but be prepared to accept the outcome rather than blaming the earbuds or the driver of the bus.

    Me? I have my hands full warding off evil with normal distractions. Took my eyes off the the guy in front of me in a fast paceline once and ended up in the hospital with a broken collarbone after overlapping wheels. Another time I was fiddling with a cable on a canyon ride up in Los Alamos and looked up just in time to notice I was about a second or so from riding off a cliff, Wile E Coyote style. Add earbuds and I probably would not be here to write this. Then there was the time I ran out the garage door about to mount the bike cyclecross style and forgot the workers had been sawing flagstone the day before and it had rained lightly. Guess how that ended?

    I saw the video a few years back of a lady in Santa Fe who rode across a busy intersection and directly into the path of the Rail Runner commuter train at its crossing, with the ghastly results one would expect. I don’t know how that lady, may she rest in peace, did that unless distracted. She paid the ultimate price.

    But hey, if that music is that good, maybe it is worth the risk? For all we know, the riding is better on The Other Shore…

  6. Jeff vdD says

    I never wear listen to audio when I ride with others, both for safety, perceived safety, and being sociable reasons. When I’m riding solo, I frequently wear an earpiece in my right ear. That’s in my less-good ear and away from any traffic, although there’s rarely traffic because I primarily ride dirt.

    When solo, whether it’s a podcast (most of the time) or music (long climbs), I’m never listening so loudly that I can’t hear ambient sounds.

  7. Pat Navin says

    Nope. Never. Just too much going on for me to have some other stimulus/distraction. What HAS happened to me is that I had a runner wearing earbuds suddenly turn and cut right in front of me causing a collision on the lakefront path in Chicago. No checking over her shoulder, no pulling her plugs to take a listen, just a veer left directly into my path. And then she yelled at ME for hitting her when I was going in a perfectly straight line. I did say, “Pull your head out of your ass,” which didn’t go over well. Neither of us was seriously harmed, though I was frosted for a bit.

  8. alanm9 says

    Nope. I do listen to music through the phone speaker in my pocket during my commute. Sure it sounds like crap and I usually can’t hear it at all which is when I should be paying attention to traffic anyway, but during quieter moments it helps pass the time to hum along.

  9. trabri says

    One earbud, right ear when bike path commuting. (usually “Revolting”) Otherwise none at all.

  10. John Rezell says

    I feel like hearing is my major first alert alarm. I want to know when that logging truck is coming up from behind. In the woods I want to hear that WOOT WOOT WOOT! warning from a bear.

    If ya gotta have music, try a helmet with speakers. I tested a Sena. Aside from being able to carry on conversations with others with the same type helmets without shouting, you can listen to tunes or whatever but still hear traffic. They are the coolest bike accessory I’ve ever owned

  11. dr sweets says

    I posted this in response to yr discussion on Paceline 315, but it fits here so have another cup: I always like having a musical soundtrack to rides as well as most activities and have forever. I’ve done everything from carrying Walkmans with me on skateboarding adventures decades ago to random wireless earbuds of today. Current options with transparency abilities or stereo to mono make it safer than ever to not only enjoy your music without bugging everyone else, but the ability to hear ones surroundings. That said, the most recent option I’ve turned to is a real game changer. Bone conduction earphones (they are not earbuds as they don’t go in your ear) have been around for a number of years, but early ones I tried were clunky, glitch-prone and most importantly did not fit well with a helmet on. The current OpenRun Pro from Shokz however jettisons all of those issues. They sound great, are barely noticeable while wearing them, don’t interfere with glasses/helmets, have more than nine hours of playback time, are nearly waterproof, are dumb simple to use and once again…they don’t go in your ear. Additionally, they are easy to turn on/off, adjust and manage all functions as they are not touch sensitive instead using actual buttons. You can hear everything around you and whatever you’re listening to will not cause any hearing damage. My only knock against Shokz (besides their silly name) is that their cost is more than most earbuds, but not excessively so and IMHO are worth it to keep your ears open. I give them four-point five out of five flaming pentagrams.

  12. jcs2317 says

    No earbuds or headphones when riding. I am out on my bike to escape from all of trappings of society. I want to hear spring peepers or song birds or that babbling brook. I am trying to leave modern technology behind.

Leave A Reply

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read More