Ride On magazine of Australia has discovered that cyclists listening to music or podcasts while riding hear more ambient traffic noise than motorists listening to an in-car stereo or even listening to nothing at all. Cars – with windows up – are inherently sound-proof.
Equipped with a decibel meter ("and a synthetic model ear specifically created for us by our regular collaborator at RMIT Industrial Design, Dr Scott Mayson") Ride On magazine measured the traffic noises that could be heard by cyclists wearing ear buds and motorists listening to music or no music at all.
"With the ear-bud in our synthetic ear but not playing music, we measured the ambient traffic noise at 79dB. With the in-ear earphones, the traffic noise was 71dB," states Ride On.
"We quickly established that cars are remarkably soundproof. We measured the average peak of ambient traffic noise inside the car (with the motor running) to be 54dB, which is 26dB quieter than outside the car. We rang a bike bell right outside an open car window and measured it from in the car at 105dB. With the window closed, the same bell registered just 57dB."
The magazine stresses that for cyclists to hear ambient noise through their ear buds the music or podcast being played must be set at a "reasonable" volume.
"Using our own taste as a guide, we established that a reasonable volume for listening to music through our earphones while riding at our location was three clicks down from the maximum volume of our iPod, which turned out to be 87dB; greater than the average peak of the ambient noise."
Ride On measured what cyclists could hear and what motorists could hear, and discovered that motorists can hear very little outside of their cars. Ride On found this "startling."
"Our driver was unable to hear our tester, stationed 10 metres away, calling out “Passing”, or the bike bell. Without the car stereo on it was just possible to hear the call and bell; it registered at a similar level to having the in-ear headphones in."
The magazine concludes that "a bike rider with ear-bud earphones playing music at a reasonable volume hears much more outside noise than a car driver, even when that driver has no music playing."
Furthermore, "a bike rider with in-ear earphones playing music at a reasonable volume hears about the same outside noise as a car driver with no music playing, but more than a car driver playing music."
Contrary to the mainstream media myth that cyclists (and pedestrians) who listen to music on the go are "iPod wearing zombies", Ride On finds that "ear-bud earphones set at a reasonable volume still allow riders to clearly here the warning sounds of other riders."
In January, the AA issued a press release urging cyclists and pedestrians – and drivers – to pay attention to the road rather than be distracted by music.
Edmund King, AA President, said: “We can’t stop the march of technology but we need to halt the iPod pedestrian, cycle and driver zombies. Whether on two feet, two wheels or four, too many people are suffering from iPod oblivion.
“When on the move our brains have much to take in and using technological gadgets means that our brains can’t always concentrate on so many things at once. This is when we walk into traffic; don’t hear the truck or drive cocooned from the outside world.
”The US research suggests that this problem may be growing so we all need to use common sense to ensure that technological cocooning doesn’t endanger our lives or the lives of others.”