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Should You Bike With Earphones?

Cycling with headphones can keep you motivated to meet your fitness goals, but could you be putting your safety in peril? Most states allow you to make your own judgment call. The safety of riding with earbuds depends on your environment and your other senses. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of cycling with earphones. 

The Case for Earbuds While Cycling

A lot of cyclists swear by listening to music while biking. A custom playlist allows you to pace your ride and hit your go-to sprint song when you’re starting to feel low energy. Earbuds can also be used to listen to podcasts or live radio; in a busy world, your cycle time may be the only chance to catch up on the news or another cultural phenomenon. If listening to content via earbuds increases the number of rides you take each week, there are clear benefits to using them as a part of your fitness routine.

Risks of Biking while Distracted

While biking with earbuds is appealing, there are some potential disadvantages. The main concern is that earphones leave you distracted. You may not hear a car honking behind you or an emergency vehicle approaching in a timely fashion (if at all). In a Netherlands study from 2011, researchers found that earbuds affected cyclists’ ability to respond to auditory signals in 68% of cases. In other words: almost 70% of bikers can’t hear their surroundings very well when they have earphones in.

If you ride with earphones, you could run afoul of the law. Is it legal to wear headphones while riding a bike? That depends on where you live. In California, you can only use one earbud at a time while leaving the other ear free, and New York and Virginia have similar laws. Florida and Rhode Island have banned earphones for cyclists altogether.

Finding a Happy Middle

If you live in a state that permits earphones while cycling, leaving one earbud out is still a good idea. You may also want to switch to bone-conducting headphones. Unlike traditional earphones, which block out all ambient noise, these models bypass your temporal bone so you can hear music and the sounds of the road alike. Finally, you may want to change your leisure route from a city street to the local bike path to limit the number of obstacles and traffic along the way.

To use earphones or not to use earphones? Biking with earbuds is legal in most parts of the country, but risk factors exist regardless of local laws. To stay safe, remain especially diligent of your surroundings when you’re on a new route and consider hitting “pause” when you’re in heavy traffic. The most important part of any ride, after all, is arriving home safe and in one piece at the end of your day.

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