Headphones In or Headphones Out?

By Christopher Ashley

Pro cyclists wear radio when they’re in the peloton so – should you copy them? Let’s have a look at the arguments for wearing headphones as well as the arguments for giving them a miss.

Sound is part of the experience

It’s summer morning, 6 AM, and you’ve cycled into the sticks to enjoy some alone time. The sound of your breathing merges with the gentle whir of your freshly cleaned and re-lubed drive chain, punctuated by the occasional click of a gear change. You get to enjoy the morning chorus.

Arguably, Rapha’s video would have sounded better without the unnecessary piano motif running on loop – but they make a good point. Cycling sounds good and it’s worth a listen for those magical moments where you hear the rhythm of the ride almost as much as you feel it. Headphones out.

Listening keeps you safe

Another argument for keeping headphones out is that it keeps you safe. If you’re cycling in an urban area, you should probably keep an ear out for what’s happening around you – surely, it’s common sense to avoid listening to music? It’s not like you’re sat in the safe confines of a modern car, why risk it?

Pearl Izumi argue that listening to music while riding a bike can slow reaction times, as well as reduce awareness of cars approaching. They also argue that we should be just as concerned with “distracted riding” as we’ve become with “distracted driving” – which is difficult to argue against.

Keeping in touch

Personally, I can’t cycle and listen to music – I find myself trying to pedal in time to the music and while I accept that others may not get distracted by music, I definitely do. But I still like to wear headphones. If my wife calls, I might be inclined to answer and speak on my handsfree Bluetooth headset.

I accept that headphones may limit my awareness so I take extra care to be aware of my surroundings. Hearing isn’t the be all and end all of cycling. Consider this – it’s perfectly legal for someone who’s profoundly deaf to drive a car or cycle their bicycle.

Cycling is a risk to your hearing

Wind noise can increase proportionally with speed – and at just 15mph, you’re hit with a whopping 85 decibels of wind noise. Even more, if you’re cycling into a headwind. To put that volume in context, it’s about the same volume as a food blender or a Boeing 737 landing from a mile away.

But that’s only part of the problem – you’re going to be hearing that sound constantly, and sustained for as long as you’re on the bike. The decibels rise with the speed you’re cycling. Tour de France cyclists hear 120db on a 60mph descent. You can read more reasons to pop headphones in here.

So, whether you decide to pop your headphones in, or leave them out, stay safe – and look after your health.