Using your ears

May 28, 2014
joe commuter
Bringing you tips on bike commuting from one dedicated rider in Portland.

Using your ears

Photo Credit: fabi42 via flickr  –  Looking cool, but how well will you hear that random right turn vehicle?

The car zoomed up from behind, cut across a lane of traffic, and then without signaling made a sudden, mid-block right turn into a parking lot. It missed hitting my bicycle by a few feet.


I’m still not sure what alerted me to slow down before the car cut across the bike lane. At the time, it felt like Spidey sense.  But I think it really must have been the sound of the car’s engine as the speeding driver eased off the gas pedal to make the turn.

That’s one reason why I no longer wear earphones to listen to music while cycling. I think it’s best to keep both ears wide open.

The case against headphones is not clear-cut. In most states it’s not illegal to wear earbuds or a headphones while riding, according to cycling lawyer Bob Mionske. He says most headsets for portable music players “are designed in a way that does not inhibit outside sounds from reaching the ear.”  That’s not true of ear-smothering studio monitor headphones you’ll see some cyclists wearing. And those don’t fit under a helmet, either.

Personally, I feel more secure having the audio channel clear to monitor approaching cars and fellow cyclists.  And one of the joys of getting around on a bike is experiencing the outside world with every one of the senses.

Pro cyclist Neil Bezdek notes another reason to eschew headphones: protecting your hearing. Your ears become susceptible to permanent damage at around the 85 decibel level. “Busy streets already reach that level on their own, so it’s reasonable to assume that a cyclist’s headphones would have to be far louder to overcome the sound of traffic and the constant buzz of wind in our ears,” Bezdek says.

One alternative is to mount speakers on your bike’s handlebars. I’ve never tried them, but there are dozens of models to choose from.
The handlebar mounted Turtle Shell bluetooth speaker

Where do you stand in the headphone debate?