As a city dweller, escaping the city limits for a mountain bike ride in the woods is one of my greatest pleasures. There’s nothing quite as soothing as leaves rustling, birds singing, and brooks babbling, all against the backdrop of voluminous knobby tires rolling over singletrack. Granted, most of my off-road exploits still take place within commuting distance of Manhattan, but were it not for the faint thrumming of automobile traffic on some distant expressway, it would be easy to convince myself I was 100 miles away from civilization.
Apparently, not all my fellow cyclists share my affinity for the ambient delights of the great outdoors. In fact, a fair number of them seem to feel that a mountain bike ride is not complete without some sort of musical accompaniment. To that end, they score their outings by means of a playlist and any one of the various Bluetooth handlebar-mounted speakers currently available on the market.
Of course, I understand that not all cyclists are enchanted by nature, and that for some, the infinite verdant delights of the forest are merely incidental. You can see such riders making videos of one another “sessioning” the same obstacle over and over again whilst bellowing déclassé exclamations of delight such as “Woo-hoo!”
While it may not be my style, I can certainly understand this impulse—after all, you never outgrow wanting to go outside and play with your toys with your friends, and trying to clean that trickly line is no different than shooting hoops or pitching horseshoes or working on any other methodical physical pursuit.
But the music thing is different. You may want to pretend your ride is that sick-ass YouTube edit you’ve been watching in your cubicle all week, but that doesn’t necessarily apply to everyone else within earshot. And while you’re certainly under no obligation to appreciate the blissful sounds of nature, that doesn’t mean you get to fuck it up for everyone else. Hey, I’m not religious, but I can assure you I at least have the decency to refrain from audibly farting in your house of worship.
The flatulence analogy is particularly apt because the musical tastes of the typical Bluetooth speaker user are predictably toxic. Certainly there exists music that draws inspiration from nature and can therefore serve as a complement it, but nobody’s firing up Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune, or a morning raga, or whichever of The Four Seasons is most appropriate that month in order to imbue their ride with some added mysticism. Instead it’s invariably some strain of douchetastic brö-metal that sounds like what would happen if four cans of Monster Energy started a band and added a DJ for some reason.
None of this is to say that I’m above putting on unsophisticated music in order to psyche myself up for a ride; in fact, I was listening to Carcass while wrangling myself into a pair of bib shorts as recently as two weeks ago. And while you may now not be able to unsee that horrendous image, at least I had the decency to do it in the privacy of my own home.
Furthermore, consider that the sort of person who plays a Bluetooth speaker while mountain biking has almost certainly driven to the ride, which means they’ve had all that time at home getting ready, plus the drive itself, to pump themselves up by listening to some band that sounds like every member has a braided goatee. Given this, it doesn’t seem like such a big deal for them to take a break from it while they ride their bikes and then fire it back up on the sound-system in the Chevy Avalanche for the drive home. I mean: Why not at least try listening to the sounds of nature while you ride? Taking a shitty bike speaker into the woods with you is like bringing one of those small cans of Pringles to a Michelin-starred restaurant.
None of this is to say there isn’t a time and a place for listening to music out loud on your bike. For example, if you ride around the city with a speaker on your bike, you’re part a noble tradition of kooks going back at least as far as the days of carrying a boombox while roller skating. Also, the entire soundscape in the city consists of human-generated noise so all you’re doing is adding to its texture. Anyway, you’ll never be able to complete with the sheer obnoxiousness of a driver having a loud conversation about their colonoscopy results on their hands-free car audio system, so it’s not like you’re actually annoying anybody.
Look at it this way: Would you go to a Slipknot show and set up a stationary trainer so you can ride while you rock out? No, you wouldn’t. So why listen to them on a crappy little speaker while you’re riding in the forest? And hey, guess what? They actually do have places you can go to ride hard while listening to music at top volume and they’re called spin classes. Ain’t nothing wrong with that.
Or, if you simply must hear music while riding on trails, perhaps someone will invent some sort of high-fidelity apparatus that allows you to play your favorite band as loud as you’d like without anybody else around you being able to hear it.
Hey, we can dream...