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The Sound of Cycling

By Christopher Ashley

Most gyms blare music when you’re working out. Some paying customers find the music motivates them to push harder, while others opt for ear plugs – does this habit extend to riding your bike?

Is music a distraction?

It didn’t matter if I was driving, cycling, running, or washing the dishes. If Slayer hit the playlist, my foot weighed heavier on the accelerator or, when cycling, I would attack every hill with needless aggression.  Consequently, I no longer listen to music for any of these pursuits. I was my own worst enemy.

Bat for Lashes’ video for What’s a Girl to Do should result in a more calming ride, but the choreographed BMX troupe have clearly inspired a generation of copycats intent on audio-synced routines. CNET offers advice on cycling safely when listening to music. Just keep your hand on the bars and don’t bunny hop to the beat.

Podcasts & audiobooks

I was so starved of pro cycling in 2020 that I actually cried when Eurosport featured Luca Paolini’s epic third stage win in 2013’s Giro. Just listening to the commentary when you’re out on the bike is enough to amp your wattage by 20%.

Or you could educate yourself about how great cyclists are forged in William Fotheringham’s excellent biography of The Badger. Enjoy soaking up every detail of Bernard Hinault and the Fall and Rise of French Cycling. Particularly inspiring when interval training on your local 20% gradients.

The environment

John Cage, the maverick 20th century composer, said that some of the best pieces of music he’d heard were when he was walking through the countryside. Cage says music is just paying attention to sound – check out all the sounds Frank Zappa gets from a bike in this video.

We’ve all been out on rides and heard something not quite right with our bikes. But how many of us have just listened to the music our bike makes when everything is good on a ride?

One of the best pieces of music I’ve ever heard is a ride with my father after he’d shown me how to clean and grease my bike’s drive chain. The soft whirr, and smooth clank of the gear change, the rhythmic panting and the wind in my ears. Turn the sound up and listen to this beautiful piece of music.