Cycling Symphonic

Oct 18, 2011 | Just For Fun

Little-known fact: I was a pretty darn good musician in a former life. I attended Ithaca College on a full music scholarship. My major was the oboe, but I played all the woodwinds, French horn, mallets, keyboards, and sang. Music was my life — my everything. I had planned to be a professional oboist with a symphony orchestra. It was a crazy-risky career choice for a girl from a poor, working-class family. But somehow, my parents were very supportive of this goal.

By an odd twist of fate, coupled with a healthy dose of performance anxiety and a case of cold feet, I changed my degree program a couple of times and graduated with a BFA in Theatre Management. That was career #1 for me and I managed professional theatres for the first 13 years of my career. That was also the career that brought me to California back in 1997.

Music is still a HUGE part of my life. I have more than 12,000 songs of all genres in my iTunes library and that doesn’t include all the cassette tapes I’ve never converted or replaced. I listen to music from the moment I awake until the moment I go to sleep. I listen in my home, in my car, in my office, and while I’m sitting on my roof-top deck. It’s the soundtrack of my life. But the one place I DON’T listen to music is while I’m riding my bicycle.

When I ride my bike, I want to connect fully with my environment. I want to see, hear, and smell the world around me. I want to unplug from the technology that pervades every waking moment of my life. I want to take myself off the grid, without distractions of phone, text, email, or facebook. I want to immerse myself into the sensory experience of riding my bicycle in the great big wide open world.

The debate of whether or not cyclists should listen to music while riding is in the same league as the Campy/Shimano debate, the Hatfields and the McCoys, or Democrat versus Republican. Cyclists get pretty emotional and passionate in their opinion about this. I’ll just suffice to say that in California, the vehicle code (which also governs bicycles) states that you can wear one earbud when riding a bicycle.

When I listen to music, I listen with every part of my brain…..with every part of my being. It actually makes it challenging to focus on certain types of work (like reading and writing) so I have to be very careful how loudly I’m listening to my music and what types of music I listen to. I have a mix called “mindless music” that is comprised of jazz, classical, and other types of music that I won’t find myself really listening to (or trying to sing along with). But even then, I realize that I’m easily distracted by the music in the background.

I was listening to a new download tonight — Peter Gabriel’s New Blood (Special Edition) which is superb and you should check it out. I allowed myself the luxury (and distraction) of playing it on my Apple TV through the sound bar on my television (which has phenomenal sound quality). I felt myself being transported into a place of familiarity (with lyrics I remember from 20 years ago) and emotion (with the orchestral + operatic qualities). It was an all-encompassing experience and I wasn’t able to keep working.

And, in that moment, I realized that because I get so focused and involved with the music I listen to, it wouldn’t be prudent of me to ride while I listen. I can lose myself in music. When I ride I need to focus 100% of my attention on my environment. I need to think about other road users, the terrain, and my own state of physical being. When listening to music, using every bit of gray matter I’ve got, there’s nothing left to be alert and aware when I’m riding.

So yeah, I’ve always thought I just wanted to escape technology (and that’s true), but the reality is that music is such a complete sensory experience for me that there would be nothing left to pedal my bicycle safely.

How about you? Do you listen to music while you ride?

ps — this image has nothing to do with this blog post but I was searching for related images about music and cycling and the brain and happened upon this happy guy and wanted to share it!