I enjoy music as much as anyone, and there are countless Bluetooth-enabled devices out there that allow us to enjoy our favorite tunes wherever we go. Unfortunately, I see a lot of cyclists riding on the roads and trails with earbuds. I say “unfortunately” because it is incredibly dangerous to the cyclist, as well as other road and sidewalk users, including pedestrians. It is also illegal.
As a lawyer, I am acutely aware of the fact that there are always two sides to every argument – often more than two. But on this issue, I’m sorry. There is no legitimate justification for riding with earbuds under any circumstances, with the sole exception of using them on an indoor trainer or spin bike to break the monotony of training indoors. The reasons are simple, and straight forward.
First, when riding on the road, your brain has to absorb a vast amount of sensory data non-stop. Think about it. From avoiding cars that pass too closely, to watching for pot holes, broken glass and parked cars that are threatening to “door” you, your brain has to be focused 110% on the 360-degree environment around you to avoid a crash. That focus requires integrating all of your senses: sight, sound, and even smell. By wearing earbuds, you are significantly diminishing if not eliminating your ability to hear what is going on around you, thereby degrading your global sensory perception in a huge way.
Second, aside from the physical limitations on your hearing, listening to music (Podcast, or whatever) distracts your brain from its acute concentration on your riding. This is precisely why talking on your cellphone “on speaker” while driving is no less dangerous than holding it to your ear. It’s the mental distraction that poses the danger to you and those around you.
Don’t believe me? The next time you are behind the wheel, keep a look out for cyclists that are riding in an unpredictable manner – usually weaving back and forth in their path of travel. As you approach them, more often not, you will see they are riding with earbuds, and are completely oblivious to vehicles overtaking them. It is just as obvious as when you see someone talking on a cellphone exhibiting all the characteristics of a drunk driver: swerving back and forth in their lane, speeding up and slowing down, etc.
Lastly, riding with earbuds is illegal, and for good reason. If you should get into a crash - and your chances increase substantially if you ride with earbuds – you will give the insurance company for the driver the opportunity to argue that your illegal use of earbuds was negligent, and contributed to the crash. This could impair or even bar your ability to recover compensation for your injuries.
Please take my advice. No matter how good a bike handler you think you are, riding with earbuds is stupid. Don’t do it. Save them for the indoor trainer. You and everyone else on the road with you will be better off.