La La La – I Can’t Hear You! (Updated)

Okay, it’s confession time: My name is Clive and I listen to my iPod while I ride my bike.

I’m sorry.

I’ve lost count of the number of friends whose faces have suddenly turned to looks of horror at the unexpected sight of me simultaneously wearing bike helmet and earphones.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m a good guy. Before you start wagging your finger at a delinquent cyclist, I stop at red lights, I wear a helmet, I even have a bell. But I like a little music on my way to work. Is that really so wrong? Bikes and music are two sensory experiences I really appreciate, so enjoying both at once is a great way to start the day.

Yet this simple pleasure earns stern disapproval from concerned individuals – most of whom will express this concern from behind the wheels of their cars. “Oh you really shouldn’t do that!” they say. “You won’t hear the big lorries!”

What? Have you thought this through?

If I ride sensibly, and the traffic on the road drives likewise, the odds are that my progress will be unhindered by incident. And if I, or my fellow road users, make any stupid manoeuvres, I am at risk. Will someone please explain to me how this situation changes as soon as I pop a pair of headphones in my ears? Listening to music does not suddenly cause cyclists to swerve erratically from side to side as they ride. So why am I more at risk with a spot of music in my ears?

A while ago, a senior police officer was heard in the media to warn cyclists against the perils of riding a-la-MP3, following the tragic death of a cyclist who disappeared beneath the wheels of a lorry. Of course, it was her own fault – she was listening to her iPod at the time. The lorry (or its driver) must have been unavoidably drawn towards the device, for reasons I can’t quite fathom. How awful.

If someone was stabbed to death while reading a book in the park, would police chiefs be lining up to warn of the connection between literature and knife crime? Would the assialant likely have left their victim alone if they weren’t engrossed in a Dan Brown on a park bench? Would the attacker get away with a reduced sentence in light of the circumstances? “The so-called victim is to blame m’lud, for he was reading a book when he died.”

If you’re really concerned about the safety of cyclists, don’t nag me about my iPod. Put down your mobile, turn down the Phil Collins, slow down and give me some space. That will enhance my odds of survival far more effectively than forcing me to ride to work without my favourite tunes.

UPDATE 03/10/07

Okay, it seems this post provoked a reaction from some of my friends (I guess the friends I mentioned earlier). I have had a few emails, comments and Facebookings arguing the other side of the argument. Which is right and good, because, frankly, I was being a bit one-sided when I wrote the above.

So let me straighten it out a little: I do acknowledge that part of safe cycling in cities is about adapting to the behaviour of others. And I acknowledge also that without high sensory awareness, I cannot be aware of all this behaviour. I should make it clear that the vast majority of my commute, luckily for me, takes place on cyclepaths or very quiet roads with low traffic levels. There is one short portion of my daily ride which does offer more danger, and at which the iPod gets switched off and the headphones are removed from ears to dangle from my helmet straps. Anyone who knows Brighton knows how dangerous is the Palace Pier roundabout for cyclists.
So what was I on about in my original post? I suppose what I object to is not so much the fact that anyone should question the wisdom of riding with music; more the assumption that a cyclist is actually in some way to blame for any accident that befalls them while listening to their tunes. Switching off the music may, in some situations, put them in a better position to react to situations created by others, yes. But to suggest that other road users can use a cyclist’s iPod as an excuse for their own dangerous driving (as virtually suggested by the aforementioned Australian policeman) is blatantly ridiculous.

So let’s set the record straight:

Cyclists – Remember that your sensory awareness may be hampered by music, so listen wisely, if at all.
Motorists/Police/Journalists – Stop pointing fingers at cyclists’ MP3 players or helmets. There is no substitute for good driving which avoids dangerous situations and the onus upon cyclists’ defensive behaviour.

About Clive Andrews

- digital and social - - training and consultancy -
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One Response to La La La – I Can’t Hear You! (Updated)

  1. kevin meredith says:

    i don’t see it as a problem but most of my friends don’t even wear helmets!

    i am shocked at the amount of people who use mobiles while driving.

    turn the mother f**ker up!

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