Riding in Europe: Learn to Sing

I’m just working through this humorous article on the unwritten rules of being a cyclist and his bit on iPods made me ponder this little phenomenon. His point is that they are not cool, but you’re going to do it anyway. Really?


iPod ear warmers

I’ve been riding in France for over 6 years now and I would guess that I’ve seen oh, maybe, ZERO French riders with ear buds. The only ones I’ve ever seen have been North American (or maybe Australian) friends and clients who come over here to riding paradise.

I usually don’t have opinions on these sorts of things…no, that’s not true – I have an opinion on just about everything – anyway, I shall pose my opinion in the form of a question:

Why do you need to listen to music to ride a bike outside? 

Okay, I’ll answer that. Music makes the time go by quicker, for one. It can also encourage you to push harder, if you choose the right playlist, I guess. There must be a third reason. Educate me, please.

I can only speak for myself, but riding my bike is one of the few times during the day that I’m actually unconnected to the virtual world, so those precious hours on the road are a breath of fresh air. I also get tons of inspiration on the bike, not to mention a fair few good ideas (or ‘ideas’, at least). I might be wrong on this, but I bet that this wouldn’t happen as much if I had that next guitar solo to think about. I’m guessing, too, that having music blaring into your brain inhibits your ability to hear, lets say, a car coming up behind you?

I’d be interested to hear what you have to say about this, especially if this sort of behavior occurs where you’re living. I’ve only got France as a reference at the moment.

31 thoughts on “Riding in Europe: Learn to Sing

  1. Gerry, do not understand it either. Why would you want to listen to blaring music when you can listen to Mother Nature? Up here in Bretagne never seen a French cyclist with ear phones on yet! I thought that the purpose of cycling was to get away from it all and enjoy the ride for what it is. Home training (aka turbo training) is excluded!!

  2. Road riding for me requires all my senses for safety. The proximity and speed of other road users and my own vulnerability makes this vital. Off road riding is about immersion in the countryside and if never occurs to me to cut that sense off.

    I feel the same about skiing and boarding, cutting off my hearing is depriving myself of a vital means of hearing what’s going on around me that I cannot see, and sharing the slopes with others it is my responsibility to be aware of those around me.
    I understand the use of music to help isolate from external distractions or control one’s mood or thought processes. I use music often for tai chi practice to accelerate the transition into a more meditative or focused place, precisely because it separates me from the present and influences my thoughts, but I don’t feel that need when cycling at all, asides from the aforementioned traffic awareness issues.

    • Well said. I suppose I don’t really have a strong feeling one way or another on the subject, but I found it interesting that this kind of behavior is totally absent in Europe, or so it seems.

  3. If I see a muppet of this sort, it’s usually a teenager just going from A to B rather than a roadie. It’s a really stupid thing to do, on so many levels.

      • It sounds like it’s a very frequent sight in N America… What is probably more universal and equally retarded is running with earphones. I see it all the time. They are on car-free paths, in the middle, (or on roads shared with motorists but without a pavement) and not being able to hear bells. There is something Darwinian about this phenomenon…

  4. ‘… no arm warmers with a sleeveless jersey!’ I’ve seen a few runners over here in such a getup. Every time I see one, I get a warm and fuzzy feeling, knowing that there are people who look even worse than a typical Lycra-clad cyclist…

  5. I too am amazed at cyclists (and joggers) who use MP3 players. Apart from spoiling the whole point of being out in the country, it seems suicidally dangerous too.

    As far as the amusing rules for cyclists go, there is only one: get a bike and ride it. The rest seem to all about discouraging anyone from cycling in case they break some of these unwritten laws. I realise from the sullen faces of ‘serious cyclists’ clad in the now fashionable black kit who pass me without acknowledging my cheery greetings that wearing a yellow jacket and having a wing mirror (can’t turn my head any more) are unforgivable sins but it doesn’t make cycling any more pleasant for being given the cold shoulder.

  6. I don’t think I’ve seen someone wearing ear pods out in the countryside but in town there are people doing it which is surprising with all the trams and traffic. I like hearing traffic approaching. I was on a Sunday club ride once where one lad had one of those secret agent Bluetooth phone thingamajig sticking out of his ear. Uh why?? I don’t think there is a place for one of those things anywhere let alone a bike.

  7. Absolutely HATE ear buds on a cyclist. Won’t go anywhere near them. Call me aloof if you must, my self-preserving id can take it… And my ego laughs, forcing me to slap my knee. I love the sling blade lookin’ dude in the photo. Mm hmm. Great post.

  8. I confess that I’ve committed this sin – ridden with earbuds, listening to tunes while pedaling. And I agree it’s a sad, dangerous and ‘missing the whole point of riding’ thing to do – certainly on a commute, or a spin through the countryside. But I think there is a time and place for many otherwise crazy things, and I found this one on my bike tour back in 2008. Initially, I only ever used the iPod in the tent, at the end of the day, on the odd occasion that I wanted some kind of mood music to jazz things up a little – or more often to mellow things out. But that changed when I was about a week through crossing the Taklamakan desert in west China, and I was starting to go a little mad. I’d been talking, debating and arguing with myself for a few weeks by this point (and usually losing) – so I decided it was time for a change of ‘mental scenery’. I couldn’t recall being passed by a truck in days, so I figured the traffic risk was low. Besides, the whole notion of ‘risk’ had taken on a fairly abstract shape, so I just went ahead and put the earbuds in. The effect was remarkable – hours passed far less painfully, the incessant headwind was suddenly (almost) bearable, and the mood lift allowed me to enjoy the view of the Tien Shan mountains and sand dunes far more than I had been. Overall, listening to my iPod was a big plus, I think.
    Plus now, whenever I hear any of those tunes, I’m transported back to the desert, which is nice.
    But I would certainly never recommend using earbuds in the city, or on busy roads. That’s a great way to shorten your riding career…

    • I was thinking about touring as I wrote this, Nige, although I’m not even sure I listened to music on the few trips I did. I remember incessantly singing Waltzing Mathilda on my ride across Australia, which wasn’t very pretty. I am sure a good tune or two would have been quite welcome. I like your comment about ‘risk’, too. After what you’d been through by that point, I imagine the odd truck coming up behind you would have been child’s play.

  9. I see riders plugged in here (Western New England, US) sometimes. To me it just looks stupidly dangerous, dependent on electronics and non-present to the world around us … umm, yes, opinionated old fogey that I am.

  10. Clearly, I belong in France (did I just write that?). Riding with ear buds is absolutely an epidemic in the US and practitioners are passionate about it. It is not as common a practice as it is with joggers, which has almost 100% adherence. When safety issues are raised, they often ask if I’m against deaf people cycling. I don’t have much a response to that argument.

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