Top 5 cycling debates that just won't die

We might have cycling in common but that doesn't mean we can all agree all of the time

5 cycling debates that still rage on

There are certain arguments in the world of cycling that refuse to go away. Here are five issues we just can’t seem to agree on.

1. Riding with headphones

Maintaining awareness on the bike is one of the best ways to stay safe, so blocking your hearing with headphones is not without its risks.

If you’re riding off-road, your sick beats might mean you can’t hear approaching riders or wildlife, and loud music will drown out the sound of car engines.

Having said that, if someone decides to run you over on the road, hearing them coming may not help much at all, because you’re still relying on them to avoid you.

If you’re sensible about volume levels and don’t use earbuds, which completely block ambient sound, the impact can be minimal. You’ll still be a lot more aware than a driver with their radio turned up and the windows closed. Better yet, there are bone conduction headphones that don’t cover your ears at all.

2. Waving at other cyclists

Picture the scene: you spot a cyclist coming the other way, you raise your hand in a cheery wave, perhaps even supplementing it with a winning smile, but the scoundrel doesn’t acknowledge you at all!

The thing is, no one owes you a wave. While it’s natural and human to want to greet those with whom you appear to share a common interest, it’s entirely possible that strangers on the road have other things on their minds.

The cyclist who so callously spurns your friendly advances might be focusing on their workout. Or might be thinking about the delicious frittata waiting for them at home, or even remembering the feel of their lover’s warm breath on their neck, before that faulty vending machine so tragically ended their life.

Wave at other cyclists if it feels right, but don’t take it personally when it’s not reciprocated.

3. Shimano vs. SRAM vs. Campagnolo

Groupsets get people very hot under the collar, and everyone has their favourites. Depending on who you ask, Shimano is either the king of engineering excellence or a third-rate fishing reel manufacturer.

SRAM may be an all-American hero or a purveyor of fragile horse excrement. While Campagnolo is either functional art or just too weird and Euro.

The reality is, all three brands make some very cool products that perform well with proper care. Whether you’re on-road or off, your groupset will have an impact on the riding experience, but it’s hardly the defining feature.

What really matters is that you’ve got the range of gears you need for your riding, and that everything is set up correctly. Everything else comes down to budget and personal preference.

4. Are e-bikes cheating?

E-bikes suddenly seem to be everywhere, and a lot of you don’t seem to be very happy about it. There’s a popular idea that electric assistance is a kind of dirty, no-good cheating, a bit like injecting EPO or hanging an IV bag of fresh blood.

They certainly aren’t suitable for direct competition with non-assisted bikes, and there remain issues about trail access to be resolved for e-MTBs in some countries. They do make fantastic commuters however, and they’re also brilliant for riders whose fitness or health is a barrier to enjoying cycling on a regular bike.

We don’t think e-bikes will ever replace standard bicycles, but they can be damned useful and a lot of fun, so we’re glad they exist.

5. Wearing helmets

Ah yes, the big one. Did you hear about that cyclist who was crushed by a lorry? [sarcastic voice] Oh, they weren’t wearing a helmet? I guess that’s their fault then.

Unless you live somewhere with truly Draconian laws — like Australia — wearing a helmet is not compulsory. You may feel it’s a good idea — we certainly do for fast road riding and mountain biking — but it’s none of your business if others choose not to.

While helmets are certainly beneficial for some types of crashes, they aren’t a magical force field that prevents you from being run over. They won’t protect anything other than your head, and they’re far less important in keeping you safe than, say, well designed cycling infrastructure. Admonishing other cyclists for not wearing helmets contributes to a false perception that cycling is inherently dangerous, when it’s not.

What grinds your gears in cycling? Let us know in the comments and don’t forget to subscribe to our YouTube channel.

Matthew Allen

Senior Technical Writer, UK
Former bike mechanic, builder of wheels, hub fetishist and lover of shiny things. Likes climbing a lot, but not as good at it as he looks.
  • Discipline: Road, with occasional MTB dalliances
  • Preferred Terrain: Long mountain climbs followed by high-speed descents (that he doesn't get to do nearly often enough), plus scaring himself off-road when he outruns his skill set.
  • Current Bikes: Scott Addict R3 2014, Focus Cayo Disc 2015, Niner RLT 9
  • Dream Bike: Something hideously expensive and custom with external cables and a threaded bottom bracket because screw you bike industry.
  • Beer of Choice: Cider, please. Thistly Cross from Scotland
  • Location: Bristol, UK

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