How to assess the benefits and risks of wearing headphones while cycling
Yesterday, while out on my daily exercise, which today was a blast up and down the beautiful Northumberland coastline near my house (sticking to my own advice on cycling during the Covid-19 breakout) I had to pass a cyclist on the road (this is an unusual occurrence for me – normally it’s me as a MAMIL who is being passed!). Anyway, the point is, I shouted out “passing on your right mate” – however, the cyclist, who looked pretty experienced, (either that one of the all ‘all the gear, no idea’ crowd!) started to stray across to the right, into my path where I was trying to create some socially-distanced safe space to pass. As there was a car coming from the other direction, I had to fall in behind this guy once again, and try again a few seconds later.
Again, I loudly hailed by fellow road warrior but got no indication or acknowledgement. So, when clear, I pushed past him and saw he was wearing those Apple Air Pods – you know those white antennae like headphones that are all the rage right now. So it got me thinking – if this guy couldn’t hear me (and as a former gunnery officer in the a Navy, I can tell you I have a voice that carries haha!), how on earth could he hear traffic noise or be aware of any other hazards that have audible indications (‘fore’ ‘lookout below’ ‘pothole’ etc.)
Turns out, wearing headphones while cycling is not illegal, though according to a bbc poll 9 out of 10 people thought the practice should be banned – yet about 1 in 6 cyclists admitted to having worn them at some stage. But what’s the safety case? Less than 1% of accidents seen at hospital involve cyclists who were wearing headphones, and there is some evidence that cyclists wearing them hear more ambient traffic noise than car drivers with their windows up and not listening to any music at all, let alone with their stereos on. So to ban cyclists from wearing them on grounds of noise awareness would seem unfair, or we’d have to rip out car stereos and windows (personally, I’m in favour of ripping out the stereos and forcing up the windows of the young Corsa drivers who tear up my road blaring out their music!!! – rant over!)
On the flip side, wearing headphones can make a long ride much more bearable, and even enhance performance, but I think we’d all agree that we should still be able to hear road noise, and other audible indications that will help keep us safe.
Furthermore, banning headphones will have implications for deaf, or hard of hearing, cyclists. I for one suffer from impaired hearing, probably as a result of my Naval service, but am not yet profoundly deaf, thankfully. If my hearing loss does progress, I would like to think I wouldn’t be prevented from doing the things I love, like cycling. There is also evidence that the loss of one sense is often compensated for by another. I expect my sense of smell will evolve to the point of picking up the cake and latte laden breath of my fellow cyclists at a great range, rendering my hearing redundant!
So, my verdict? Wear headphones if you must – but please make sure the volume is at a level where you can still hear traffic noise, pedestrian crossing beeps, bells, warnings and instructions from other cyclists and the chimes of an ice-cream truck!
Later on this year, I will be doing a test between in-ear ‘bud’ type headphones and bone-conduction sets, which appear to offer a more safety-conscious approach, while still giving all the psychological benefits of music on the go!
Ride safe – stay healthy!
Should I cycle during the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) outbreak?
I’m often asked whether cycling should be permitted as a form of exercise during these unprecedented times. Well, I guess my answer is, it depends. Cycling is an excellent form of exercise and if done while observing social distancing guidelines then you should be ok.
However, there are risks, both to you and to others around you. Risks include:
- Having an accident
- No-one likes to think about having an accident but it is a risk we all accept when out on the road. If you do, you will not only put yourself in hospital and at risk of contracting the virus or other illness, but also divert healthcare resources at a time when they are at an absolute premium.
- Causing frustration to road users
- People on the road should be there on essential business only, often for the public good. Delaying ambulances, delivery vehicles, utility and other key services is to be avoided at this time.
So, my advice is: yes, go for a ride, but:
- Be considerate – other people, drivers, dog-walkers, cyclists, runners etc. are anxious and under stress so they may not be as accommodating as normal.
- Wherever possible, ride off road, on cycle tracks or trails (see image of me on my CX on a bridleway in the lake district.)
- Stay local and keep a form of communication with you at all times
- Keep the length of your ride within govt. guidelines. Yes, I know we all want to be Strava heroes but no-one, other than you, will be impressed that you broke all the rules – I’m not a rule-follower by nature but at this time we must all do our bit!
- Wear a helmet and carry a basic first aid kit.
- If possible – why not use an indoor bike (zwift, wattbike or Peloton?). It’s not the same as being outdoors but it does have the advantage of keeping you and everyone else safe and sound
This site is dedicated to all those who came late to cycling, as I did! The open road, fresh air, new places and meeting like-minded people are all part of the joy of cycling. It’s something we can all do, regardless of dodgy knees or backs, often from too much running or impact exercise when younger.
Whether you become a dedicated pedal-pusher, or a more relaxed ‘weekend in the park’ kind of rider, there is something for you on this site. I started cycling in May 2018 – after 30 years in the military, running was no longer an option, and my weight was creeping up. My friend, Marc, introduced me to cycling and helped get me set up with my first ‘real’ bike – a Cannondale CAADX cyclocross, which was good for road riding and some light gravel work. It started my journey and love affair with all things cycling! Thanks, Marc!
It’s great fun, and gets you amazingly fit really quickly – word of warning – it can become addictive! But there are way worse things to become dependent on!
This site will be a largely irreverent look at the world of cycling from the eyes of a deeply respectful proponent. If you’re offended, please don’t be – the ability to laugh at oneself is a treasured and valued characteristic of that magnificent beast, the MAMIL Enjoy!
Happy cycling – ride safe – be considerate – obey traffic rules!