6 reasons you shouldn't ride with headphones

Music and bikes are amazing. But no need to mix them

Just like your first time riding a bike, I bet most of you can remember the first time you put on headphones or plugged in earbuds. The incessant drone of the outside world was muted and music that you had heard many times before sounded clearer, richer, perhaps even more interesting. Mixing those admirable traits with bike riding doesn't work, though. Here's why.

1. Safety

Hearing traffic keeps you aware of your surroundings. With very little practice it's easy to gauge if a small car or massive truck is about to overtake you. 

Let's be safe and courteous out there, headphones and riding don't mix
Let's be safe and courteous out there, headphones and riding don't mix

While certainly a bigger issue on the road than in the woods, hearing is also imperative on mountain bike rides. Listening to your bike can often allow you to catch small problems before they become large disasters. Plus, there's a lot of be said for deciphering how your tire knobbies are interacting with the ground. 

The safety part goes double if for some crazy reason your headphones aren’t earbuds, but rather over-the-ear style headphones instead of a helmet. Don't be that guy rolling around in full-coverage headphones and no helmet. Just don't.

2. Respect

Whether on a trail, multi-use path or road, a major part of respect is acknowledging others’ presence. When you remove one of your most important senses, respect goes right out the door. 

I can’t count the number of people that were innocently spooked simply because they had headphones in their ears and didn’t hear my bell. 

3. Decreased in-town riding performance

It boils down to focus. While you still have your eyes, research has shown that headphones can distract your brain, which is about the last thing you should want when sharing the road with metal monster that weigh 20X your weight or dodging trees through the forest.

4. Hearing loss

If you use headphones to drown out the outside world, chances are you have them cranked up decently loud. Research has found hearing damage begins around 85 decibels, and most media players hit that number at 75% volume. 

Single earbuds are available but is music really worth the risk?
Single earbuds are available but is music really worth the risk?

5. It might be against the law

Riding with headphones is regulated in seven US state. California, Delaware, Florida, Maryland, New York, Rhode Island and Virginia all specifically include bicyclists in their laws restricting or banning the use of headsets or earplugs.

In the UK, a BBC poll found that 9 out of 10 people support a ban on headphones while cycling.

6. It’s not really necessary

Water, air, food: these things are necessary. Music, news and audiobooks, not so much. Are your tunes or shutting out society so important that you want to remove what is arguably one of your most important senses?

So unless you’re riding on private roads or land and are absolute certain no one will be out there, take out the headphones when riding. Enjoy your ride first, then enjoy the music later. 

Russell Eich

Tech Writer, US
Russell fell head over heels in love with bikes in the '90s, and has been involved in the bike industry ever since. Between wrenching in bike shops, guiding professionally, and writing about bikes, Russell has honed an appreciation for what works, gained knowledge of what doesn't, and can barely contain his enthusiasm for what comes next. His two-wheeled passion continues in the Rocky Mountains high above Boulder, Colorado.
  • Discipline: Mountain, road, cyclocross
  • Preferred Terrain: High altitudes, forgotten singletracks, bike parks, roads without cars
  • Current Bikes: Custom Meriwether steel hardtail, Specialized S-Works Enduro 29, Kona Jake the Snake, Trek 69er, and a bunch more
  • Dream Bike: Yeti SB5c, Intense Tracer 275C, Black Cat custom road
  • Beer of Choice: Gin + Tonic
  • Location: Rollinsville, CO, USA

Related Articles

Back to top