I know this topic has been hashed and rehashed all over the Internet, with each side claiming they know best. However, I don’t think there really is a debate… wearing headphones while riding your bicycle in a public space is dumb. Plain dumb.
I spent my Saturday morning riding a local rails-to-trails trail and encountered a higher number of trail users than normal. As a well-seasoned cyclist who knows “trail etiquette”, I always announce, “On your left!” before overtaking a slower pedestrian or cyclist. Being a holiday weekend as well, I reminded myself to be extra-patient with others using the trail because experience has told me that many people don’t know trail etiquette and if I assume they do, I’ll likely crash into them.
As I was approaching the end of my ride, I quickly approached another cyclist who didn’t have a very predicable line (I.e., he kept moving all over the trail). He had a decent bike and didn’t appear to be a novice cyclist, but he sure did ride like one. My first, “On your left!” warning seemed to be completely ignored. A little louder and a little closer, “On your LEFT!” Still nothing. It was at that point I noticed he had a rear-view mirror mounted on the left drop of his handlebar. “Surely this guy knows I’m coming and is just being a jerk?” I thought to myself since I assumed the rider had an audible (my warning) and visible (his mirror) notification of a quickly approaching rider. However, instead of moving right, he started moving left and right into my path.
I gave one final “ON YOUR LEFT!” within five feet of the rider and it was at that time I noticed he had ear buds in his ears and clearly still did not hear me. Knowing that there was no possible way I could give this guy advance warning (or any warning for that matter) of my approach from behind, I passed him on the left with what was only a few inches of trail left before I would’ve falling off the trails steep shoulder. As I squeezed-by the rider with only inches to spare, I obviously startled him as he exclaimed, “Whoa! Sorry!!!”
I’m sure this rider had no ill intentions, but he’s also not the first person I’ve encountered in my 25+ years of cycling who was completely oblivious to the world around himself. When I first started riding as a kid, portable headphones didn’t even exist so they weren’t an issue and perhaps that’s one reason I’ve never been tempted to ride with them.
Your ears are your first line of defense for encroaching danger that you cannot yet see. Disable that sense, and you’re opening yourself up to all sorts of dangers that will be less courteous than I am.