The debate on whether or not it is appropriate for cyclists to wear earphones while riding is old, but it also remains heated. It is not uncommon to see cyclists riding around the city with earphones on, and you might even chance upon a biker bobbing his head to a beat.
For many of us who ride, our awareness of our surroundings depends heavily on our sense of sight and our sense of hearing. This is probably why a lot of us are appalled by the idea of purposely lowering our ability to hear by wearing earphones.
But let’s consider a few things before we assume the worst in our fellow cyclists and criticize without context.
Some cyclists have earphones on for other purposes than music (or podcasts)
On top of this list is that some cyclists actually have earphones on but are not actively listening to anything. For some, the earphones are just a way to get notifications while on the road. This is particularly practical for those who ride long distances and occasionally get calls from loved ones who are just checking in to get updates. Those of us who have ridden very long distances know how our loved ones feel better when they’re not in the dark about where we are, and can reach us when they want to.
Some cyclists also use earphones for navigation, getting cues from GPS apps so they don’t have to stop at every corner to look at their mobile phone screens for directions.
Riding with no sense of hearing can be safe if done properly
The fact is, cyclists with impaired or no hearing can ride safely when they adopt practices that make up for the lack of audio cues. Organizations like the US Deaf Cycling Association (USDCA), clubs like the California Deaf Wheelers, and cyclists like Shane Prendergast have made it clear that the lack of hearing is not an obstacle to safe and responsible riding.
No one is arguing that our sense of hearing helps many of us become more aware of our surroundings when riding a bike. It’s pretty common for many to hear an oncoming car before we even glance around to spot it.
But just because it works for many of us doesn’t mean that we should be quick to criticize and judge those who opt to wear earphones. For all we know, they have very good reasons for it and have taken the necessary steps to making their use of earphones safe and responsible.