Friday, October 13, 2006

iHeart iPod

Date: Oct. 12&13
Total mileage: 45.3
October mileage: 168.3
Temperature upon departure: 41

I had a decent Friday the 13th with some unlucky twists. On the bright side, I got out for a road bike ride and a separate mountain bike ride. On the unlucky side, I skidded out on a metal-lined bridge on my mountain bike and slammed into a railing at about 15 mph. I also bonked pretty hard on the way home (I've been out of milk for three days and apparently am not eating enough for breakfast.) And it rained the whole day. And the Mets lost. Other than that, it was a good day.

I was thinking about the controversial issue of iPod use and bicycles after Tim posted an anti-bikePod article the other day. I am an unrepentant iPod user, and while I respect the arguments against it, I don't think it's fair to make blanket judgments that all bikePod is bad all the time.

I own a little iPod shuffle. I bought it solely for use in bicycling. I bought it with gratitude after a little FM radio literally saved my sanity during the late night hours of the Susitna 100 race. I've used it on roads and trails, in training and in a couple of races I've done. I don't feel it's adversely affected my safety in all this time, and am skeptical that it would ever make a real difference as long as it's used responsibly (i.e. at a reasonable volume.)

Case in point: I do understand why commuters in busy urban areas would not want to use iPod. In cities, you have all sorts of things that require uber-alertness - things that don't make a lot of noise, such as pedestrians and dogs and little old ladies on Rascals. But I live in what is for these practical purposes a rural area. I do most of my riding on long, unbroken roadways with wide shoulders and cars that go by at an average rate of about one every two or three minutes. And say what you will about cars, but they make a lot of noise. Even with iPod, I have never failed to hear one go by, and usually first hear it when it's still two or three seconds behind me. At 18 mph, iPod mostly becomes soft, ambient sound anyway. This doesn't bother me. I'm not inclined to turn it up because I don't like loud noises blasting through my head. I think it's safe to say that most iPod users older than 25 feel this way.

I also use iPod trail riding. My iPod use mountain biking is a lot less frequent, because usually mountain biking is exciting enough on its own, or I'm on a short ride, or I'm mountain biking with another person, and tuning them out would be rude. But I have used iPod on longer trail rides, an I have used it in races. I have never had a run-in because of iPod. I hear riders coming up behind me. I hear them say "On your left." And I move to the right. I have never been surprised, nor have I had an angry rider swerve around me because I didn't hear them coming. Alaska also has the wildlife issue. But if you're moving along at trail at 8-15 mph, chances are pretty good that you're going to see a bear before you ever hear it - or you're going to neither see nor hear it - regardless of what's stuffed in your ears.

As to the argument that cyclists shouldn't need iPod to enjoy themselves, I completely agree. I don't need iPod. I was perfectly happy for all those years before I became an iPod user. But I do like the way iPod breaks up the inevitable routine of riding the same routes week after week. It livens up frustrating experiences and also enhances already enjoyable experiences. Because I have an iPod shuffle, which switches songs at random, I'm sometimes pleasantly surprised with the way music completely beyond my control can match the mood of the moment. When I'm rounding a heavily wooded corner of Douglas Island road into the liquid gray infinity of an open ocean view, and suddenly Modest Mouse starts chanting with increasing intensity "The universe is shaped exactly like the earth, if you go in a straight line you'll finally end up where you were" ... well, the non-iPod experience just can't beat that. Sorry.

In closing, I'm sorry if those little white earbuds offend you. If you feel the need to rip them out of my head as you're passing me on the road so you can tell me that I'd be going a heckuva lot faster if I wasn't so self-absorbed, I wouldn't disagree with you. And then, I'd probably stick them right back in.