Not long ago, I was riding along Valencia St. when I noticed the rider just ahead of me was a woman I know. She was about 50 feet ahead of me, so I sped up and called out to her. She didn't hear me, so I picked up the pace a bit and called again. Nothing. I gave her my New York taxi yell (it is quite impressive, you should hear it). Nothing. Finally I caught up to her and passed to the left and said "hi!". She just about jumped out of her skin and nearly crashed.
"Don't sneak up on people like that!' she yelled at me.
"I didn't! I have been yelling your name for half a block!"
"I have my earbuds in. I can't hear anything."
"Then why do you wear them?"
"Well I can hear stuff, just not you."
Not my friend. Just someone with earbuds.And there you have the issue that we will address in today's "How To Not Ride Really Badly" lesson. If you can't hear me hollering 50 feet away, you can't hear anything.
This guy above was a really nice guy I ran into one Bike To Work Day. His music was so loud I could hear it on my bicycle over the traffic of Market Street. He was quite startled by my presence, too. Entirely because he couldn't hear me next to him. I am pretty sure he was lip reading when I took this picture.
Just before I took this picture, this woman was passed by a frustrated bus driver. I am not convinced she heard the bus next to her as she flinched and swerved as it passed her. I am not sure how anyone would be comfortable not knowing a 60 foot long bus weighing 31,500 lbs (unloaded!!) with a frustrated driver who is late is coming up behind them.
In California, wearing headphones or earbuds in both ears, while driving or riding a bicycle is illegal (CVC 27400). Over an above that, it is stupid. When you can not hear anything other than Lady Gaga or This American Life it means you lose the one sense that can warn you ahead of time there is trouble. How many times have I not hit someone passing me on the right only because I heard their squeaky chain coming up behind?
People use the example of the deaf being able to do things without hearing. It is a silly example. Someone who is deaf has adapted to their lack of hearing and has found ways to make sure they know what is going on around them. Those who are totally into the Tupac blaring in their heads... not so much. They are distracted by the very engaging music and usually forget that the rest of the world is still out there. The woman above is a prime example- she didn't hear the car in cross traffic running the red light when it was time for us to go. It could have been really ugly.
While there is the argument that driver's should always assume that others can't hear them, or that they may hit a vulnerable road user, I don't think that absolves road users from paying attention to their own, and others safety. It is illegal to drive with headphones in Portugal, Spain, Germany, but I could not easily find information about its legality on a bicycle. The Dutch ask us not to when we ride there-
big, readable one here
James and I were talking about the issue of hearing while riding the other day. We have both taken up motorcycle riding again, after many years away. We had both noticed the same thing- we were each disturbed by our inability to hear the cars around us due to our full face helmets, road noise and wind. We have become so accustomed to being able to hear everything around us while bicycle riding that we were disturbed by our inability to do this on the motorcycle. Neither of us realized just how much we had come to depend on our hearing while riding around and neither of us felt safe when it was taken away.
So, if you want music on your ride, maybe you should just take the band along with you. Or sound up your bicycle and share the love! Hendrix is so much better when you can hear what is going on around you!
cross posted at Vélo Vogue