The Cheap Athlete’s guide to cycling headphones

So you’re looking for the best cycling headphones? And you don’t want to spend a lot of money?

How does $0 sound?

Yea, sorry for the misleading title. But if you were searching for them I want to nip this in the bud before you go any further.

Cycling is a dangerous sport

Riding a bicycle is not inherently dangerous. It should be one of the safest modes of transportation next to walking. If the world consisted only of open roads and bicycles there would a lot less dead cyclists.

But cars were invented.

And so were cell phones.

Tractor-trailer Bicycle overturns in fiery turnpike crash

Have you ever seen that headline on the news?

Each day I drive up the New Jersey turnpike and am witness to a number of distracted drivers. Maybe they’re texting, checking their Facebook or logging into Waze to seek a different pile of cars to sit in.

Whatever it is that they’re doing, they aren’t focusing on driving.

People drive way too fast and don’t pay nearly enough attention for someone who is operating a 2 ton piece of metal at 80 mph.

It’s illegal to bike on the turnpike, thank God, but these drivers don’t live on the turnpike. These are same people barreling down the county roads that we ride on.

Probably pissed from all the traffic they just sat through.

Oh, not a lot cars on this road! Lemme check that email.


What was that? 

It’s not worth it

As a cyclist we don’t have a whole of protection against cars.

That car versus my bike is about as unfair as a basketball game between the Golden State Warriors and my elementary school gym glass.

We have a piece of plastic and foam strapped to our head whereas drivers have seat belts, air bags and all sorts of other safety features. It’s not the lack of helmet that killed the cyclist but rather the Ford F-150 that drove over his face.

We ride with our backs to traffic and are completely exposed to a bunch of bad news: distracted drivers, drunk drivers, spilled coffee and jerks who deliberately run us off the road, just to name a few.

The cause of most cycling fatalities is either distracted drivers or cyclists and we cannot control for the first.

But we can control the second.

Why do you want to wear headphones?

Call me a hippie, whatever, but I like to be in nature and experience my surroundings. I can’t stand it when I’m on a hike in the woods and someone passes me blaring music. That’s a buzz kill.

There’s something special about being outside and I love my early morning rides and catching the sunrise while the rest of the world is asleep. It’s just me, my bike and a bunch of horses in that moment. Bob Dylan can wait.

Hippiness aside, I don’t know why you would want to deliberately introduce the potential for a distraction. Listening to music drowns out important signals like “on your left” from a fellow cyclist or the honking of an out-of-control car behind you.

It’s not always the drivers fault and let’s not kid ourselves. That moment you take your eyes off the road to skip the song you hate may be enough to miss something important. Or maybe you get so engrossed in a podcast that you run through a red light and get t-boned in an intersection.

I know there are “safe cycling headphones” out there and some people think that it’s not so unsafe. But I honestly think you’re playing with fire.

Yes, deaf people ride bikes just fine but they’re also not listening to music when riding. The deaf rider is likely more tuned into their surroundings than a headphone wearing cyclist.

Because you don’t need all that stuff

That’s one of the purposes of this blog. To differentiate between what is actually important and what is…well, stuff.

Cycling has existed a lot longer than headphones. I know some people think it helps with motivation but Eddie Merckx didn’t need to listen to Gaga to help him climb the Alps.

He also apparently didn’t need a helmet. There goes that logic. I’ll just say that sometimes innovation is good, as in the case of a helmet. Safer distractions, such as headphones, are still distractions.

They cost money

Lastly, remember this is an athletic frugality blog and buying unnecessary gear is not what we’re about here. And headphones are far from necessary for riding a bike.

So the cheapest cycling headphones out there are your own ears.

Instead of music let’s listen to mother earth. And to the cars we invented to destroy her.

Happy riding.