HAPPY TRAILS: RIDING WITH MUSIC – AN AWESOME IRRITATION

FEEL THE NOISE

By Ron Koch

love the interactions with nature that come while mountain biking, so one of my biggest pet peeves should come as no surprise. I absolutely despise hearing other people’s music out on the trail. The last thing I want to hear far from civilization is blaring music, but on occasion, that’s exactly what I get. This phenomenon seems to happen closer to trailheads and typically with hikers, not bikers, but I’ve heard it from both user groups (and surprisingly far out there). There seems to be no difference in my reaction if they happen to be playing one of my favorite tunes, either. My reaction is always negative. In fact, for some strange reason, I might be even more offended when it’s a song I like. It instantly takes me away from my happy place when the sounds of the wind whispering through the trees, the chirping of birds, and the soft crunch of the ground beneath my tires are harshly replaced with the sounds of civilization.

EVEN WORSE

On the flip side is my other irritation—earbuds. We’ve all ridden up on a hiker or rider who was plugged in and unaware of his or her surroundings. After a couple of pleasant hellos go unanswered, you instantly know what’s going on. The third time is usually a louder and slightly less kind “hello” that is almost always followed by them jumping in surprise and then giving you the stink eye like you are the one in the wrong. I always try to apologize for scaring them and do my best to do so without sounding condescending, although I’m pretty sure a little bit of sarcasm always sneaks out. Blocking your hearing like that is simply being rude to other trail users around you. Besides, don’t you want to hear that mountain lion trying to sneak up behind you?

Here is where I go into hypocrite mode. I am guilty of doing what I hate in others. For example, there was a time when I was logging big miles on the bike, often solo, and I would get incredibly bored. So, the answer was music or talk radio, since podcasts were not a thing yet. The difference is that I wanted to hear my surroundings and that creature or car sneaking up on me, so I’d only put in one earbud. Then, I discovered bone-conducting headphones. These wonderful devices bypass the eardrum and transmit sound through the bones to your inner ear. Not only do these allow you to hear your surroundings, but they also keep fellow trail users from hearing your tunes. These headphones are the only safe, responsible and polite way to be “plugged in” on the trail. My favorites are from the Shokz brand.

A LOOK IN THE MIRROR

Now, allow me to go into full-blown hypocrite mode. One of my most memorable rides happened on Moab’s Porcupine Rim Trail. I was there for some sort of product introduction, and as with most such intros, they had a few pro athletes along to show what they could do and make us feel mortal. The ride was supported by a local mountain bike touring outfit, so we had a few guides along as well. One of them had a JammyPack along on the ride. What’s a “JammyPack”? Well, it’s a fanny pack with built-in speakers. It was seemingly brought along as a joke, and everybody laughed or sang along with the blaring pop songs. It was funny and lightened the mood as we made our way across the rolling terrain of the LPS portion of the trail.

Things got slightly more serious when one of the pro-level athletes strapped on the JammyPack before we dropped in on the Porcupine Rim. Somehow, I ended up behind him. At first, I was annoyed, but before I knew it, I was riding pretty far beyond my abilities, following his lines and somehow keeping up with what was likely his half-speed pace, all while Guns N’ Roses’ “Welcome to the Jungle” blared in my face. I had a soundtrack to what was an incredible ride down one of my favorite trails in the world. Yes, I was that person, or at least part of it. As much as I hate to admit this, I loved it, too. It’s not my favorite band or song, but every time I hear it, I think of that ride. So, on some level, I get it. I get why people like to ride with music. But, if you do, please try my headphone recommendation, because nobody else wants to hear it. Really, please, do as I say, not as I do!  

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