When performing tedious tasks or trying to pass time, there is no greater tool than listening to music. Music can alter your energy levels and can help you get the job done with minimal amounts of stress. While most people would say that listening to music while jogging or lifting weights is safe, there’s a mini controversy over whether biking with headphones is safe as well.woman wearing headphones on a bike

Many people perceive biking with headphones as a serious danger to other cyclists, pedestrians, and especially to car traffic. Not to mention the cyclists themselves. If cyclists are unable to hear their surroundings, how can they keep themselves and those around them safe?

This debate has been going on internationally for years. One London driver coined the term “iPod zombie” in 2009 to describe these plugged-in cyclists. The fears about listening to music while cycling are that while listening to music, cyclists can’t be actively aware of their environment and become a danger to people’s daily commutes.

The use of headphones while biking is only regulated by the law in five states. In California, Delaware, and Maryland, the use of headphones in both ears is banned (one-ear use is still legal). Florida and Rhode Island are the only states that have completely outlawed the use of headsets while operating any vehicle. For more information regarding “Road Rights,” check out this site.

Now, since Utah doesn’t explicitly ban the use of headsets while riding, it’s important to look at both sides of the debate in order to decide whether riding with earbuds is right for you.

The Potential Dangers of Biking with a Headset

The most obvious danger facing cyclists who wear earbuds is their limited hearing. If both ears are plugged into your phone or MP3, you may not be able to hear warnings from other cyclists or alarms/sirens from cars. Additionally, fiddling around with your phone while cycling is no different from texting while driving, in fact, it’s generally even more dangerous. In any situation, driving distracted is very dangerous and must be avoided.

Although unlikely, you could potentially injure your ear severely if you were to be in a bike accident.

The Potential Benefits of Biking with a Headset

For anyone who has engaged in physical activity for extended periods of time, they know music can be a great motivator. The different rhythms can help you stay strong in any stage of a workout, whether it be the warm up, the actual activity, or the cool down.

In a study conducted by Dr. Stephen Cheung, he compared how cyclists performed a 10k while listening to music versus without. He found that the mean power output and race speed were both significantly higher with music. Furthermore, the time trial for the cyclists listening to music was faster.

Listening to music during physical activity doesn’t guarantee improved results, but it can help you stay mentally strong through your tougher exertions.

Listening to Music in a Safe and Smart Manner

While we do not condone or even recommend the use of headphones during cycling, it’s important to know how to stay safe while biking with music. If you MUST listen to music, here are some tips on how to be a conscientious cyclist while rocking out to your favorite tunes:

  • Bike with only one earbud in: Leave the ear closest to the road exposed. That way you can hear sirens, horns, road noise, and warnings from oncoming traffic and other cyclists.
  • Make a playlist before your ride: By having a pre-made playlist, you won’t have to look at your phone and become a distracted driver. If you do have to look at the screen, ALWAYS pull over to the side so as not to endanger those around you.
  • Mount speakers on your handlebars: While this option requires a certain level of confidence in your taste of music, speakers give a hands-free option for listening to music while riding. This option could also be especially beneficial if you and your cycling group enjoy the same music.
  • For more tips on being safe on the road, check out this link.

While this debate isn’t going to be settled by this post or by any other article in the near future, one study gives a fair and compromising opinion on the safety of biking while listening to music. Men playing instruments on a bike

In 2013, Katrina Jungnickel of the University of London and Rachel Aldred of the University of Westminster released the results of their study entitled “Cycling’s Sensory Strategies: How Cyclists Mediate their Exposure to the Urban Environment.” The main finding of their study was that the safety of biking while listening to music depends on the person and context. Even if you aren’t listening to music, you can still be distracted.

When it comes to operating any kind of vehicle on a road, non-distracted driving is your safest bet. The danger of music inhibiting your awareness of the road may just outweigh any potential exercise benefits. If you don’t think you can pay attention to your surroundings while jamming to the classics, then don’t wear headphones. You know yourself better than anyone else; however, always remember that it’s not just your own personal safety, but the safety of everyone else around you that is in question.

Images courtesy of Kurt Bauschardt via Flickr and Takver via Flickr