Can Cyclists Wear Headphones? Is It Illegal? (Laws Explained)

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The Short Answer

Using earphones or headphones may be allowed, but it can hinder wearing a helmet. Alternatives like bone-conducting headphones, smart helmets with speakers, or cycling boomboxes offer safer options for enjoying music while cycling. Safety considerations include the ability to hear surrounding sounds and being aware of potential hazards on the road.

The open road and your favourite tune blasting. For car drivers there’s a plethora of entertainment options when it comes to travelling and listening to some music, but what about cyclists?

Cycling into town with the latest indie release in your airpods. Enjoying the most recent podcast episode on the commute to work. Pedalling to a beat or getting lost in the voiceover – sound can definitely add something to a bike ride. 

But, can you ride and listen to music with headphones? If you can, from a legal point of view, are there other considerations? Are there some alternative options that make cycling and listening to music, safer? 

This is Discerning Cyclist’s guide to listening to music whilst riding a bike.

Are Cyclists Allowed to Listen to Music? 

Depending on which country the cyclist is riding in and how they’re listening to music, it’s likely that one way or another, cyclists can ride and listen to music. 

The easiest way to listen to music when riding is through a set of earphones, airpods or headphones. But there are other options to allow cyclists to listen to music when riding. 

Smart helmets with integrated speakers, bone-conducting headphones or a simple speaker – there is a multitude of ways to allow cyclists to listen to music.  

Cycling with Headphones: Is it Illegal? 

In some countries, there are specific laws that mention cycling and listening to music. In others, laws will mention riding with both ears covered. The laws in some countries talk about the volume of music being emitted from headphones. And to confuse matters further, some laws will refer to the riding behaviour of cyclists in relation to other users. 

A common retort from people who ride with headphones is that it isn’t illegal for deaf people to ride a bike, so why should it be illegal to ride a bike with earphones?

Ultimately, when it comes to understanding whether it’s legal to cycle with headphones it’s important to check (and adhere) to the wording of the law in your country. 

Can Cyclists Wear Headphones? 

Headphones sit on the outside of the ear. Most examples today include a band that connects the two headphones forming a piece that sits comfortably on the user’s head. Headphones are known to have good audio quality and excellent noise cancellation. If they’re the wireless type they usually have better battery life than earphones. 

Because headphones are worn over both ears, they may fall foul of riding laws. If the law does permit riding with headphones, they might not necessarily be a wise choice as it’s almost impossible to wear them and a helmet together. 

If you do choose to ride without a helmet, wearing all-encompassing headphones may induce a sweaty feeling, especially if you’re pushing hard on the pedals or riding in warmer climes. Headphones can also be heavy.

Can Cyclists Wear Earphones?

If cyclists choose to wear earphones whilst cycling, their individual fitting for each ear makes it easier for them to meet the legal requirements in their country. 

Compared to headphones, earphones are a lighter, more svelte option for listening to audio. Sitting in the ear, earphones can still provide decent sound quality and the design of the best cycling earbuds makes them more friendly to those living an active lifestyle. 

Can Cyclists Wear Noise-Cancelling Earphones?

Noise-cancelling earphones are appealing to those looking to screen out the everyday and focus on their favourite tunes. Because of that, noise-cancelling earphones aren’t the safest choice for cyclists who want to listen to music and ride. 

However, by the letter of law in most countries, standard earphones, headphones, bone-conducting headphones and noise-cancelling earphones aren’t distinguished – so if cyclists choose to, they may wear noise-cancelling earphones. 

Cyclist Headphones Laws by Country 

As we’ve seen the laws for wearing headphones whilst cycling can vary from country to country. Our summary table gives an overview, although it’s best to check the exact law in the country or area you’re riding in.

UKLegal or not explicitly mentionedRiders can be prosecuted for riding “without due care and attention.”
USANot regulated in most states7 states regulate use: Florida, Rhode Island, California, Delaware, New York, Virginia and Maryland
EuropeVaries by country. Outlawed in France and SpainSome countries, like Germany, include rules for the level of sound emitted
Australia Legal or not specifically mentioned in Queensland, Victoria, Western Australia, South Australia and New South WalesAll road laws that apply to vehicles apply to cyclists as well.

Is Cycling with Headphones Dangerous? 

Safety is an important consideration for all cyclists, let alone those cycling with headphones. When listening to audio, it’s hard to argue that the sound of music can drown out other, more potentially important sounds like oncoming cars, sirens from emergency vehicles or other approaching pedestrians or cyclists.

These days, even the cheapest set of headphones will provide a decent level of sound. And those marketed as ‘noise-cancelling’ can quickly leave the listener lost in a banging ballad or terrific trance track.

Cycling in busy areas, such as towns and cities or at busy times like rush hour, it’s hard to argue that wearing headphones when cycling is a risky business. 

Leaving your ears clear from noise can also help diagnose a fault with your bike before it becomes worse. If you set off with headphones in you might never hear a rubbing wheel or grinding gears, niggling issues that can on a bike quickly worsen its performance, or worst became a safety risk.

That being said, cycling with headphones is a very personal decision. Some cyclists argue that audio, in different forms, can help them concentrate on the road ahead, negotiate potential obstacles, understand the movements of other road users and evaluate risk.

How to Safely Listen to Music While Cycling [TIPS]

Today there are a variety of options when it comes to listening to music while cycling, with new technology making it possible to listen to a club classic and cycle to work safely. In our experience, there are four options to safely listen to music while cycling. 

1. Leave Traffic-Side Ear Free 

The first option for listening to music safely while cycling is to leave one ear free – in most cases, it’s a good idea to leave the traffic-side ear free. Obviously, this isn’t an option for over-the-head headphones, so if you’re an owner of those this option is out.

Leaving one ear free should enable you to hear approaching traffic or understand whether it’s safe to negotiate that oncoming pothole. 

That said, having music pumping out of one ear can easily be disconcerting. Plus, if you’re riding on busy roads or during congested hours of the day it’s likely other road users will approach from the side which your earphone is in. Intersecting roads and junctions are a hotspot for incidents so for some cyclists, this option won’t be the most palatable. 

2. Bone Conduction Headphones

In recent years, technology has advanced enough to make headphones that leave your ears clear but still allow you to listen to music, radio, audiobooks or podcasts. This technology is called bone conduction and it works by transmitting sound waves via cheekbones or the head as opposed to through the air and the ear drum. 

Bypassing the ear leaves the wearer free to hear other sounds, potentially making it safer to cycle.

There are some earphones on the market with ambient sound features, effectively a version of bone conducting that enables the wearer to listen to audio and hear the sounds around them.

3. Helmets with Speakers 

A third option for listening to music safely whilst cycling is a helmet with a set of integrated speakers. There is all manner of ‘smart helmets’ on the market today, some with integrated lights, customised displays, turn signals and even helmets with Bluetooth speakers.

In our experience, the sound is quickly drowned out at speeds over 15mph as the wind rushes past your ears. Plus if you don’t currently ride with a helmet, this option probably isn’t for you as all the extra electrical gubbins needed to power the sound, plus the speakers themselves can add extra weight. 

4. Cycling Boombox

The fourth and final option might prick your ears or even those of the person riding next to you. Speakers these days are small enough and more importantly powerful enough to bring with you for the ride. 

Pumping out your new favourite album via a smartphone and Bluetooth speaker might put a smile on your face but it may leave those around you looking a tad glummer. Whether you think it’s antisocial is a matter for you to decide, but a boombox can put some pep in your pedal stroke whilst leaving ears free too.

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