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Can you carry a tune?

49 years ago today Dylan went electric. He was booed, notoriously, by folk aficionados who weren't quite ready to be yanked out of the accoustic age. It isn't clear if they were Luddites, or Peter Paul & Mary fans who had bought tickets to the wrong concert and were confused if that was his voice or the feedback.

It seems an appropriate day to do this short quiz:
When is music not a distraction?

A. When in control of any vehicle heavier than a bicycle

B. If a surgeon, performing an operation

C. Those times you have a baton in your hand and are quite dressed up

My point being, why are cyclists singled out? What makes us so uniquely unqualified at multitasking that we can't handle Handel and handlebars at the same time? Why should we be condemned to have to listen to the unlovely and often not particularly helpful sharps and flats of traffic?

I ride a bike. I listen to music. Frequently I do both at the same time. This makes me, in the eyes of many, mad, bad, and dangerous to know.

Am I? Are you? Answers on a postcard.

Road.cc doesn't do polls, so I've put one up here. You don't need to register to vote.

69 comments

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Ghedebrav [1100 posts] 2 years ago
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I don't (though on quiet mornings, I often do listen to podcasts in my left ear only).

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7thGalaxy [44 posts] 2 years ago
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I listen to music, not too loud as to drown out the traffic though - so I can hear cars coming up still.

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Northernbikeguy [43 posts] 2 years ago
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I wear them, but I keep it low and only use the ones with ear clips that sit outside the ear canal so I can still hear traffic.

In winter I wear them just to stop the wind from chilling the inside of my ears too.

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andyp [1473 posts] 2 years ago
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It is frowned upon by those cyclists who have the ability to levitate, as listening to music stops them being able to work out when someone is about to deliberately ram them from behind. If you can't tell if you're about to be purposefully driven into, you don't know when to start the levitation process to avoid this.

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truffy [653 posts] 2 years ago
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I don't, but if it doesn't impair your ability to hear what's going on around you I don't see that there's any harm in it.

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Ratfink [126 posts] 2 years ago
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I choose not to i did a couple of times but the whooshing sound of the wind got on my nerves and to be honest taking in the sounds around me is one of the pleasures of cycling.
Can't sit on public transport without them though.

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notfastenough [3716 posts] 2 years ago
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I don't. In both the forces, and martial arts training, you'll always be advised never to wear hoods due to the impairment of your hearing and the risk of attack from behind. The same applies to earphones. Whether that risk is from an individual intent on harming you, or as per this discussion a careless driver, makes little difference.

Maybe my background just makes me paranoid.

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mattbee [5 posts] 2 years ago
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I often listen to an audio book in my left ear - is that any different to chatting on a ride. OK, maybe a little - but you can listen to other things and still hear other traffic.

Loud music I would say no, since I want to hear cyclists if they want to warn me they are passing.

Not noise cancelling earphones, obviously, but I reckon I am more alert when I am not completely bored on a very long ride.

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kevinmorice [116 posts] 2 years ago
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Not particularly fair comparisons. Wearing headphones while driving is illegal. Wearing headphones while performing surgery would get your medical licence to practice revoked.

Having the radio on in the background of those activities is the equivalent of having your mobile phone in your pocket playing through the speakers, NOT headphones.

Back to the point: If you want to block out all the traffic information from behind you and most of the information coming from the sides then feel free, but don't then complain when you are hit from behind or from the side.

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J90 [367 posts] 2 years ago
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Just to hear team radio now and again.

Nah seriously, I like to hear nature. I think it's pretty sad if you really have to block that out. You're not as aware if you've got your music on really loud either, hearing is an important sense.

The only people I tend to see with headphones in whilst riding are kids riding their BMX or MTB, on the pavement one handed usually, or *shudder* the fluorescent commuter squad. Both I consider less skilled cyclists.

Headphones on the trainer and in the gym are essential though.

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mulebeatsdrums [35 posts] 2 years ago
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I'm personally not a fan of headphones while riding (see Rule #62), and I maintain it does make a difference to ability to ride safely. But equally I don't demonise those who do, unlike those who insist on using their phones while riding (or indeed driving)—they will always get a sharp reprimand from me.

Regarding some comments above, as someone with a degree in Sound Recording, whose dissertation was on spatial perception and localisation of sound sources, I feel the need to point out that having an earphone in one ear effectively makes your hearing one-dimensional in terms of ability to pinpoint sound sources (e.g. cars, pedestrians, fellow riders). This is because localisation relies almost entirely on your brain comparing the relative volume and time of arrival of sounds between your ears; if one of them is isolated (blocked, for instance by an earphone), the brain has no frame of reference.

A way to test this is to block one ear with a finger, and you'll have less ability to tell where a sound is coming from. Within reason, obviously.

Anyway, regardless of your headphone-related decisions, ride safe out there.

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Sam Walker [69 posts] 2 years ago
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kevinmorice wrote:

Not particularly fair comparisons…

Although my point had more to do with the common supposition that music is necessarily distracting than the precise delivery system, I was listening with open ears until it came to

Quote:

don't then complain when you are hit from behind or from the side.

Why so ominous? Is there evidence that earphones cause a statistically significant (or even any) portion of cyclist injuries? And why the implication that I might evade personal responsibility in such an event? Strikes me as a bit, well, unfair.

Granted the only evidence I have that it's safe is anecdotal – my own as yet unclaimed life, through many years and many thousands of miles plugged in, much of it in the unforgiving environment of London.

mulebeatsdrums wrote:

(see (Rule #62)

I'm glad you mentioned the Velominati, as I have a few rules of my own (well, handed down to me, of course). Comparing the two sets of rules, the schism starts at the very beginning…

Wearing earphones falls somwhere between "Make a joyful noise" and "Don't make it joyless, Oi!"

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andyp [1473 posts] 2 years ago
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'Quote:
don't then complain when you are hit from behind or from the side.'

Because being able to hear someone about to hit you from behind enables you to....what?

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bencolem [51 posts] 2 years ago
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As someone who hit the deck hard whilst wearing in-ear earphones having been hit by a car (not music / earphone related - driver jumped a red and t-boned me) I can attest to the pain that ramming an earphone into your inner ear does. I've never worn earphones since.

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Orbystry [1 post] 2 years ago
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I used to ride with one headphone tucked in to my left ear. I stopped because I ride for all the pleasures that cycling brings, including enjoying the sounds around me. Whether or not it's safer isn't the question needed here. What we ought to ask is why reduce the effectiveness of one of our senses when all we really have to protect us on our bikes is our wits? Ultimately, the choice is ours to make, just like wearing helmets, fluoro jackets/ jerseys and bike lights.

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Jimih73 [30 posts] 2 years ago
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I ride with my left headphone in as personally I find I'm more aware of my surroundings!
When I've ridden without I find my mind wandering and then sometimes the bike wanders across the road a bit!!!  24

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Argos74 [416 posts] 2 years ago
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For me, nay. I'm already riding a mobile entertainment device. Adding another one would only confuse me. But I am a simple man.

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downfader [203 posts] 2 years ago
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I personally wont do it as I feel it disorientated me when I did try it. However...

..yesterday when riding home from work I did pass a young rider (I'd say about 17) with full cups over the ears. Yes he was listening to music. BUT when I slowed behind to make sure it was safe to pass he was looking around, observing and acknowledged my presence. He accounted for the idiot pedestrian who rambled into the road like a drunk on a mobile, he went wide of the taxi door and didnt try to go down the left of the lorry at the lights.

I think it depends on the rider. I've seen plenty of riders over the years without 'phones in who ride like idiots. Like the salmon lad 15 minutes later yesterday...

EDIT - I will say. A guy at work used to put his phone/mp3 on a "speaker phone" setting when he rode. OK its a bit noisy for others but its an option to look into

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Sit at the back... [17 posts] 2 years ago
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It's not an offence but a Dutch study showed that young drivers (car drivers) tend to make more mistakes / bad calls when listening to music - not even using headphones.
IMHO anything that distract you or limits your ability to be aware of whats happening around you is a bad idea.
Be safe out there.

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levermonkey [680 posts] 2 years ago
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Contrast and compare.

a) Cyclist privately listening to their choice of music through headphones.
b) W**k*r in car inflicting his choice of Drum & Base on the world at a volume that is causing his eardrums to meet in the middle as there is bugger all in the way to stop them.

a) Cyclist privately listening to their choice of music through headphones whilst still being aware of their surroundings.
b) W**k*r in car inflicting his choice of Drum & Base on the world at a volume ... with the windows wound up and completely oblivious to the world at large or the screams of his victims.

Personally I don't wear headphones, not because of safety concerns but for the simple reason I don't find in-ear phones or 'cans' comfortable when riding. If you chose to wear them that's up to you; just so long as your aware of my presence. That's all I ask. Be safe!

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davebinks [152 posts] 2 years ago
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So, being stone deaf means you can't safely ride your bike, or drive, or walk along the street?

Just how much can the driver of an articulated lorry hear when he is sitting in his cab, 3m up in the air, with the engine noise and radio one with the windows up, or a car driver with the radio on?

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levermonkey [680 posts] 2 years ago
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I think the most important thing is not what you can hear but what you are aware of. And that's a whole different matter.

It's like the difference between a car driver looking in their mirror and observing what they can see in their mirror.

It's the difference between looking ahead and reading the road ahead.

As human beings we are very good at sensing threats and in order to do this we use all our senses so deafness is not a factor.

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RuthF28 [101 posts] 2 years ago
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I wear earphones on my commute - I listen to Radio 4 (it's the only chance I get to catch up on the news). The reception isn't great and often it's set to a low mutter that I can tune out if necessary or turn up if interested. I find my commute quite boring having done it for several years and welcome having something to listen to. I can still hear traffic coming behind me and have a volume control widget under my chin which means I can silence radio for courtesy (when talking to other cyclists for example).

When I did my LeJog and the East-West (St David's-Lowestoft) I took my i-pod but didn't use it; just being somewhere different and doing such an amazing trip was enough. I didn't need music and didn't want the news.

I agree that you shouldn't deafen yourself and should be aware of surroundings. But when in the car I have music or radio on; why not on the bike?

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Sit at the back... [17 posts] 2 years ago
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Forget what lorry drivers, car drivers, deaf drivers/ riders are doing. It's up to each of us to take responsibility for our own safety. I would recommend not using headphones (see my earlier post), if there is a cycle path / lane - use it, make sure you can be easily seen (lights, reflective gear etc) wear as much protective gear as you can cope with and most importantly don't rely on other road users common sense - they often don't have any. Your safety is your responsibility don't rely on other peoples fast reactions or anticipation. Remember in the Highway Code it tells us to observe, indicate THEN manoeuvre. It really is that obvious, but the number of 2 and 4 + wheeled road users that I see doing stupid things that put themselves or others in danger defies belief.

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Mr Agreeable [178 posts] 2 years ago
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NO, NO, NO. ABSOLUTELY NOT. When riding a bike you are in charge of a DANGEROUS VEHICLE that weighs 10 kilograms and can easily achieve speeds of 20 mph (if wind/gravity are favourable).

Anyone using headphones or mobile phones on a bike is putting themselves at risk, and everyone else who cycles too, as it makes car, lorry and bus drivers respect us less.

Etc, etc...

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Leeroy_Silk [138 posts] 2 years ago
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J90 wrote:

The only people I tend to see with headphones in whilst riding are kids riding their BMX or MTB, on the pavement one handed usually, or *shudder* the fluorescent commuter squad. Both I consider less skilled cyclists.

Quite a condescending remark, what does skill level have to do with earphones? Most of the most skilled riders you'll ever see on two wheels started out on BMX and MTB.

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gazza_d [468 posts] 2 years ago
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It's all a "dead cat" diversion tactic by the politicians and driving lobby designed to throw blame and risk onto the person riding a bike & make cyclists seem reckless.

Wearing earphones are a lot less of an issue than listening to tunes in a hermetically sealed steel and glass box, but that is the social normal and therefore acceptable.

I rarely wear them btw as I find the wind noise irritating, and enjoy listening to the countryside, unless I'm alongside a busy road & then I can't hear myself think anyways. They only come out when I am followinf directions on cyclestreets or google

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zanf [869 posts] 2 years ago
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Cyclists who are deaf find their ability to cycle not impaired by their hearing loss, neither is mine when I wear headphones. I choose not to most of the time because most of my journeys are quite short and I love fully immersing myself in music.

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DrSport [12 posts] 2 years ago
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I always wear them. On a four hour ride I can take in a whole audiobook, or gym music keeps me going on a sportive.

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movingtarget [144 posts] 2 years ago
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As quite a few above have stated, I don't wear earphones because I like to enjoy my time outdoors and hear the sounds of the city. I do note that when I'm walking with earphones that it is significantly more difficult to locate the distance and location of sounds even though I have the sound low enough that I can hear conversations around me. In terms of other riders wearing earphones, many times (especially during commuting times when it's busy) I'll be overtaking another cyclist who is wearing earphones who can't hear me warning them that I'm passing (ie "Passing left") and have had to swing wide to avoid them weaving out in front of me. By all means enjoy yourself but don't be oblivious.

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