Adrienne pretty much nails it:
Just before I took this picture, this woman was passed by a frustrated bus driver. I am not convinced she heard the bus next to her as she flinched and swerved as it passed her. I am not sure how anyone would be comfortable not knowing a 60 foot long bus weighing 31,500 lbs (unloaded!!) with a frustrated driver who is late is coming up behind them.
When I first started riding I would often pop my earbuds in as part of my standard equipment and head out on the road. It seemed the natural thing to do. Then I stopped.
It wasn’t like I had a close call that I attributed to my not being able to hear. I just stopped, probably because I started riding with Sam and we would chat instead. What I noticed once I took out my earbuds was that I was a better cyclist. Riding on the American River Parkway I could actually hear other cyclists approaching or squirrels in the bushes preparing to attack.
Now I get pretty annoyed when I come up next to someone and say “hi” and they either have to remove an earbud to hear me or they only respond by “jumping” when I get too close to ignore. My absolute favorite is when I call out, “on your left,” and then get yelled at by an earbud wearing cyclist for not calling out before I passed – it’s not my fault you can’t hear me.
In addition to being more aware of dangers on the road, riding without headphones also makes you more aware of yourself. Without the music in my ears, I’m better able to assess how I feel and if my pedal stroke is fluid and gauge if I’ve been drinking enough water. Basically it’s better to be “there” when you ride.