Listening while biking

posted: September 15, 2017

tl;dr: A long ride on a bike trail is a great time to catch up on the latest tech news...

I just this week passed my annual biking goal of 2,000 miles for the 2017 season and thought I’d share one of the reasons I enjoy biking so much: I often use it as an opportunity to listen to podcasts. This means I can enjoy the outdoors, get physical exercise, and exercise my mind, all simultaneously.

Approximately three quarters of the biking I do is on dedicated bike trails, and I will use my trail bike for those rides. At the start of the ride I’ll make sure I’ve downloaded the latest podcast episodes, then queue up enough episodes to last for the ride. I press “play” and I’m off, occasionally having to adjust the volume. So if I pass you on the bike path and don’t engage you in a conversation, it may be because my mind is otherwise occupied. Hopefully you'll notice my headphones and not think I’m rude.

On the trail bike I typically go between 12 and 14 miles per hour, which is not so fast as to require my entire concentration. I can avoid other people, animals, and obstacles and still pay attention to a podcast. If I run over a stick or stone, it’s usually no big deal. That isn’t the case when I’m riding my road (a.k.a. sports) bike. I ride that bike on well-paved, somewhat quiet streets, but there is always the danger of traffic. I’m going faster - usually between 17 and 20 miles per hour - and the consequences of hitting a stick or a rock are more severe. Riding that bike is like skiing: it requires my entire concentration. So I don’t listen to anything except the sounds of my immediate environment when I’m riding that bike: I need the additional auditory input to keep me safe.

Podcasts are a major improvement over broadcast radio. For the uninitiated you can think of them as radio show episodes that you download to your smartphone and then listen to whenever you want. Some of them actually are the same content played over the air on the radio, but typically with no or far fewer ads. You can listen to them on your schedule, whenever you want; pause, rewind, and fast forward; and play at a faster speed, to consume more content in less time. Because the equipment needed to produce a podcast isn’t too sophisticated (a laptop, a high quality microphone, and some audio editing software will do), there are a large number of podcasts, from both professionals and amateur hobbyists, covering a wide variety of topics, at widely varying quality levels, of course. Like much of the Internet, there’s lots of “long tail” content: podcasts on narrow specialty topics that wouldn’t draw a large enough audience to be commercially viable if distributed on traditional media outlets.

I also listen to podcasts while walking the dog, and walking during my commute. It’s one way I keep up-to-speed on the latest technology and other news. I enjoy learning more than I enjoy being entertained, which is why I am more likely to listen to a podcast than to music during these activities.

Here are the podcasts I’m listening to now:

I listen to every new episode of these podcasts (a few are weekly, most are less frequent):

I listen to most episodes of these podcasts:

I occasionally listen to an episode from these podcasts: