For years and years and years I have scorned and sniffed at people who listen to iPods. By “iPod,” I of course mean any audio device—I’ve never had any problem at all with the iPod device itself. IPod is now a generic term for any portable audio player, right? Like Xerox has become a generic term for photocopier? Am I digressing a lot? Yes, yes I am. As long as I’m digressing so much, I have an additional question: when you begin a sentence with the word “iPod,” should I capitalize the “I” like I did earlier in this paragraph? I’m sorry. My mind wanders sometimes.
I have a threefold problem with iPods while biking:
- They close you off to the people you’re riding with. When you’re with a group, putting on headphones just seems rude. And I include races in that blanket statement. And especially endurance races. One of the things I like best about the Leadville 100 is talking with people, learning their stories. Headphones isolate you from what makes endurance racing great.
- They reduce your awareness of the environment. If you’re listening to your iPod on a road bike, you can’t hear the car behind you or the guy on his bike saying, “on your left” as he goes by. I have startled iPodding cyclists into near-wrecks seventeen times in my life. How do I know it’s seventeen? Because I carve a little notch into my top tube whenever this happens.
- They don’t allow you to hear the music of your bike. I love the sound of the chain and the wheels and my breathing and—on a big ol’ climb—my heart.
So of course, I got an iPod for my birthday, and the first thing I did was take it out riding. Here are my thoughts, now that I’ve been on both sides of the audio fence.
I’ve been enjoying Neil Gaiman’s books lately, so the first thing I bought on iTunes was the audio version of Anansi Boys. I started listening while commuting, and I have to say: I love it. Having someone tell you a story—and the narrator for the audio version of this book has a great storytelling voice—while you’re riding really takes the edge off the pain of a long climb on the road.
But what about my objections to riding with an iPod? Well, I only put an earbud in one ear, leaving my left ear (the one closest to traffic) open to hear traffic and the environment. That probably sucks for listening to music, but I haven’t tried using my iPod for that while biking (yes, I am a middle-aged goober). I think the “one ear” defense may be a lame rationale anyway, because I tend to get pretty deeply absorbed in stories. Yesterday, for example, I rode the four mile/1500-foot climb that usually kills me without really noticing the ride, because I was at a good part in the story.
I would still never bring my iPod on a group ride, though. That’s just lame.
Oh yeah: One other big problem with listening to audiobooks while biking: wind noise. On the flats it’s not a problem and on the climbs it’s certainly not a problem, but on a descent where you’re going 45mph, you can’t hear anything but wind no matter how loud your iPod is playing. I’ve lost entire chapters that way. Or entire parts of chapters. Whatever.
Saturday, I wanted to get out on the mountain bike. I was on my own—and was really enjoying the audiobook—so decided I’d climb Grove while listening to a book on the iPod.
That was a singularly weird experience.
Instead of being totally absorbed in the ride like I usually am when mountain biking, I was only peripherally aware of the climb, in spite of the fact that Grove is mind-bendingly steep. I didn’t really think about it while riding, but afterward realized that my main memory of the ride was of the story, not the trail or the moves.
More than that, though, was the worry that one good fall would kill my $300 gizmo. So I rode tentatively. I mean, even more tentatively than usual.
I’m thinking: No more iPod on the mountain bike.
Let’s Do Something Good For a Change
OK. Quick change of pace here. Jim sends me email from time to time, feeding me terrific satire ideas (the “Lance Armstrong Comes Out of Retirement” piece was his brainchild). He’s a good guy, and he’s working on raising money to fight cancer by riding the Pan-Mass Challenge.
I think we should help him out.
Here’s a big snip from his blog on what he’s proposing:
I’m calling out the Fat Cyclist. I’m shamelessly attempting to use his miniscule celebrity as a lever for my microscopic celebrity, all in the name of cancer fundraising.
So, here’s what I propose:
1. I will match dollar-for-dollar, up to $1000, any donation from a Fat Cyclist blog reader or FC himself. Just put "Fatty Rules" in the comments when you donate.
2. If FC readers give me up to $1500 in donations, I’ll have the folks at Voler make me up a custom "Fatty Rules" jersey to wear on the second day. We are, ahem, encouraged to wear the official PMC jersey on the first day. In turn, I encourage anyone with embarrasing vector art or extremely high resoluton photos of FC to email me. One caveat here: I will need three weeks or so to get the jersey done, so don’t wait.
3. If FC readers shoot the moon and donate $2000 or more, I’ll do the whole route – 192 miles – on my fixed gear. While wearing the jersey.
4. Since this is, of course, all about the Fat Cyclist: If Fatty makes his goal weight for the Leadville 100 by the time I go to the start on the evening of August 4th, I’ll throw in another $500. Of course I will require suitable documentation of this achievement. And if he doesn’t make his goal, maybe I’ll do the ride on his fixie.
I’ll tell you what. I will also match, dollar-for-dollar, up to $1000, any donation from Fat Cyclist readers. It’ll be Jim’s job to let me know how much that winds up being. I figure this’ll help us get to that $1500 “Fatty Rules” jersey and the $2000 that will make him do the whole ride on his fixie quite a bit faster.
All I demand in return is that he write up the story of riding this thing on a fixie for my blog, and give me the “Fatty Rules” jersey after the race—which I will give away to a random donater.
Cancer’s now common enough that it’s going to affect practically everyone at some point, so how about donating a little to help fight this rotten disease? Thanks.