As many people learn how to cycle when they’re young, it often continues to be a popular outdoor activity into adulthood. Cycling is not only an enjoyable pastime but can be a good way to get around as well. Since many of us listen to music on our commute whether it be through our car’s radio or our headphones when we’re on the bus, cyclists have been wondering: Can I wear headphones while cycling?
The answer to this question depends on where you are. In the province of Quebec in Canada, it is illegal to wear headphones while you cycle. It is also illegal to wear headphones over both ears in Florida, Rhode Island, California, Delaware, New York, Virginia and Maryland in the United States. So, if you’re not in one of these areas, you can wear headphones while you cycle, you just need to be cautious.
If you want to wear headphones on your next cycling trip, keep reading to learn how to do it safely.
Ride Your Bike on Bike Paths or Unpopulated Areas
Many people argue that wearing headphones while cycling is unsafe as you cannot hear things such as cars coming near you or sirens from ambulances or police cars.
Since these are typically loud noises, you will likely still hear them regardless of your headphones. But, if you want to be cautious, you can wear your headphones while you cycle in less populated areas.
Most cities or towns have trails or dedicated bike paths for cyclists to safely enjoy without having to worry about automobile traffic.
If you cycle to work on busy streets, however, this may not be an option for you. Try to instead listen to your music or podcasts at a lower volume to ensure you are still aware of what is going on around you.
Listen To Music or Podcasts at a Lower Volume
As previously mentioned, listening to your music or podcasts at a lower volume can be another good way to wear headphones safely while you cycle.
Most headphones have a maximum sound capacity of 105 decibels. To put that into perspective, normal talking volume is typically between 40 to 60 decibels.
This means that you should try to keep your headphones to a maximum of 60% of their sound capabilities. If you’re wearing them for longer than an hour, however, it is recommended to lower the volume even more.
60 decibels is about the same volume as someone talking really loudly, imagine having that in your ear for over an hour. Your ear will likely start to hurt.
So, listening to your music or podcasts at a lower volume can keep both you and your ears safer.
Use Bone Conduction Headphones
Since safety concerns started to arise with regards to wearing headphones while cycling, cyclists started to wear bone conduction headphones instead.
Bone conduction headphones work by playing soundwave vibrations from your music or podcasts on top of your temporal bone. The soundwaves will then be conducted to your brain and translated into music or voices, bypassing the eardrum.
This essentially means that you can listen to music but still also hear everything that is going on around you through your eardrums.
Bone conduction headphones loop over your ears to rest on the temporal bone, leaving the inside of your ear free. This can make them more comfortable than in-ear headphones that press against your eardrums.
Bone conduction headphones are thus popular among cyclists as they can get the best of both worlds: listen to music while still being able to listen to their surroundings.
Only Put One Headphone In
Of the states we mentioned earlier that banned wearing headphones on both ears while cycling, some allow cyclists to wear only one headphone. In California, Delaware and Maryland allow cyclists to wear one headphone in so they can listen to their surroundings with the other ear.
If you do wear only one headphone, keep the ear that faces traffic free to listen to what’s going on around you.
Since some types of music utilize separate headphones for separate sounds, wearing only one headphone may make you miss out on this.
The good news is that some companies sell single earbuds that will mix audio from both headphones into one to ensure you don’t miss any beat.
Just make sure you don’t turn your volume up over 60 decibels to try to compensate for the missing ear bud.
Wear Wireless Headphones
If you’ve ever cycled with wired headphones, especially ones that have a long wire, you may have gotten the wire caught on something.
There are so many things that a wire can get caught on while you cycle: your handlebar, your jacket or clothes, other people if the wire is long or they may just fall out.
This can create a serious safety hazard as you may try to catch or untangle your headphones in the middle of cycling.
To prevent this, wear Bluetooth wireless headphones. There are plenty of great options of wireless headphones on the market now so you won’t have to look too hard for a pair.
Use a Bluetooth Speaker Instead
Bluetooth technology is not only good for headphones, but for speakers as well. Many companies make small Bluetooth speaker that can be clipped to clothing or gear to listen to music.
You can clip your Bluetooth speaker to your backpack, shirt, or even handles to safely listen to music or podcasts.
As the sound won’t be directly in your ear, you can listen to both the speaker and your surroundings.
Don’t Adjust Your Volume or Playback Settings While Riding
If a song comes on in your playlist or a podcast gets boring, it can be tempting to try to change it with one hand while you cycle.
Even if you’re an experienced cyclist, this can be a safety hazard. Instead of taking your hands off the handlebar, pull off to the side of the road to adjust your music or podcast.
Similarly, if you need to take a call, it’s best to stop fully in a safe spot to do so before proceeding.
Invest In a Bluetooth Helmet
Another great type of Bluetooth technology is a Bluetooth helmet. Many motorcyclists use Bluetooth helmets to either listen to music safely or to talk on the phone.
Bluetooth helmets are also available in a cycling helmet. These smart bike helmets are not only protective, but technologically advanced.
They often contain not only speakers, but can connect to an app to gather data about your heart rate, speed and to track your path to look at later.
As the helmet uses Bluetooth technology and connects to your device, it can also be used to safely talk on the phone while you cycle.
Pay Attention to Wind Speeds
If you cycle often, you know that a good ride largely depends on the weather. If it is too hot and sunny, the ride may not be enjoyable. If it is raining, you are completely unprotected.
Another type of weather that can be irritating and sometimes unsafe for cyclists is wind. If it is really windy, you may get blown off course.
Similarly, stronger wind will affect your hearing. You in turn, may turn up the volume of your headphones to compensate, blocking out your surroundings.
To prevent this, try checking the wind speeds on a weather app beforehand. If it is going to be too windy, leave the headphones at home.
Don’t Use Noise-cancelling Headphones or Earbuds
While noise-cancelling headphones can be great to block out noise while you work or commute on the bus or train, they may not be the best option for cyclists.
Noise-cancelling technology has become quite advanced and can often block out most background noise. This means you may not hear what is going on around you.
The good thing about most noise-cancelling headphones and earbuds is that you have the option to turn the technology on or off.
So, you can still use your favorite pair of noise canceling headphones, just turn the setting off while you cycle.
Stay Aware of Your Surroundings
The last tip is one that has been reiterated throughout this article: stay aware of your surroundings.
Even if you follow all of these tips to listen to music or podcasts safely, it is still your responsibility to be aware of your surroundings.
People driving cars, trucks or buses may not be as vigilant and may not see you. If you are staying aware and vigilant, you will be able to avoid them.
Installing mirrors on your bike is a great way to be able to pay more attention to what’s going on around you.
Similarly, if you’re riding at night, make sure your bike has lights or reflectors and also try to wear something reflective. This will ensure that cars and other cyclists can see you to avoid you if necessary.
Stay safe, but have fun! Listening to music can boost your energy levels and increase endurance to keep cycling, so as long as you do it safely, you can have an enjoyable ride.