celebrating 40+ years of motorcycling

Saved by the music.

The debate about whether to listen to music while you are riding continues to bubble on, so I thought I’d add my 10c worth to the discussion.

I’ve been listening to music on the bike for years. Way back when I was touring on the first CBX550F2 (nearly 30 years ago) I used to have a portable cassette player in my tank bag and I sewed a set of foam headphones into my helmet. Real high-tech stuff. I remember that, at anything below 100km/h it worked well, but over that the wind noise cancelled out the music so it wasn’t exactly successful.

Now, with the advent of .mp3 players and good headphones, the whole deal is much easier. Couple this with my cheap headphone/earplug solution and it becomes a doddle.

I used my player extensively during the North Coast tour and was able to assess some things that might be helpful.

1. It’s difficult to listen to music when you’re travelling with a companion. Every time you stop, or if you have to ask about whether the person wants fuel, or the myriad of other communications situations that take place when you’re travelling together, you have to take off the helmet and remove the headphones, or reach into your pocket and fumble for the .mp3 player and turn it off so that you can hear what the other person/s is saying. So, for that reason alone, I recommend that you only listen to music when you’re travelling solo.

2. Music can be distracting when you’re concentrating on riding the “twisties”. I tried it a couple of times early in the run and it confirmed what I had found before. Concentration on the subtleties of the road can be diluted if you have music playing in your ears at the same time. Consequently, I turned the .mp3 player off for the entertaining parts of the ride and reserved its use for the “transport” stages. Bear in mind that I’m only reflecting my experience here. I have spoken to riders who find that it’s not a problem at all.

3. Music can be a real benefit when you’re just “tootling”. On boring highway sections it can definitely make the trip seem more bearable.

4. Music does not seem to me, as some have said, to have a soporific effect. Perhaps because the songs that are on my playlist are songs with which I can comfortably sing along, this has never been a problem.

5. Music enhances the riding experience. (at least it does for me). Since riding is an experience that engages so many of your senses, engaging your sense of hearing and incorporating it into the process seems entirely natural. Indeed, in times when I haven’ t had an .mp3 player, I regularly sing to myself anyway.

6. I do not use the .mp3 player when in the city or in highly trafficed situations, for obvious reasons.

So, saved by the music? Yes, I think so.


  1. Do you find listening to music hampers your road awareness? When on the highway I sometimes hear a car sneak up on one side of me before I see it. Would I have heard the car with music playing in my ear? I don’t know.

    • Phil Hall says

      Well, as I said in the article, I don’t use it when I’m in the city or in traffic, for exactly that reason. I don’t find it hampers my road awareness out on the open road, though.

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