James Daley: Cyclotherapy
Thursday 21 February 2008
People always seem horrified when I talk about the delights of cycling with my iPod on. Surely riding a bike in London is already dangerous enough, they say. How can you possibly hear the traffic over the top of the music you're listening to? Some have even gone so far as to suggest it should be made illegal, arguing that a cyclist who is not fully armed with all their five senses is a danger to themselves and other road users. But to my mind, this is all so much nonsense.
I've been riding around the streets of London with headphones on for more than three years and, while I've had the odd accident, none has been caused by my impaired hearing. Although I actually don't have my music so loud that I can't hear any of the noise from the road, I can honestly say that if I was rendered permanently deaf tomorrow, I'd be no worse a cyclist.
In fact, I'd go so far as to argue that not being able to hear the noise of the road makes me a safer rider – forcing me to check what's coming from behind when I pull out, never letting myself rely on just my hearing. Other bikes and electric cars can creep up on you all too quietly, especially if there's already noise from other vehicles.
As I've written before in this column, my golden rule of city cycling is to try to get eye contact with every driver so that I know they've seen me, and I know that they're not going to knock me off. When eye contact's not possible, the next rule is to assume that every driver is about to make the worst possible manoeuvre they could.
If I'm approaching a left turn, for example, I assume that any car on my right is most likely to cut across me without indicating. While this may happen only once every 10 times, the only way to ensure you don't unseated is to prepare for the worst.
Likewise, if I'm riding down the inside of a line of traffic, I'll assume that the cars are about to edge in towards the kerb. Hence, unless the traffic is stationary, I'll switch to overtaking down the outside, or I'll take up a position in the middle of the road.
None of this requires me to use my ears – and that's great, as I'm not sure how I'd manage without my music on my way to work and back. Getting yourself going on a cold morning can be pretty hard – but a few rousing tracks from my iPod go a long way towards putting me in the right mood. Similarly, if it's hammering down with rain, the one saving grace that stops my commute being a complete misery is my music.
I'm sure some of you will know people who have had accidents while wearing their headphones, but I doubt that in most cases the incident was caused by their impaired hearing. Riding in Britain's cities is dangerous – but as long as you follow a few simple rules, it's easy enough to stay alive, even with an iPod on.
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