British Columbia

Of boom bikes, Bon Jovi and the burgeoning trend of blasting tunes while cycling

As bike lanes become busier, we ask the question: is it OK to play loud music over your clip on speaker while pedalling? Or is it just plain rude?

As bike lanes become busier we ask: is it OK to play loud music while pedalling? Or is it just plain rude?

Bike paths fill with cyclists during rush hour in downtown Vancouver on Friday June 21, 2019. Some boom bikers think cycling with loud music is safer because other cyclists, cars and pedestrians hear you coming. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

If you cycle semi regularly in Vancouver, you've seen it.

Or more to the point, you've heard it.

Music — usually from an artist on your top 10 most-hated list — bleating from a "boom bike" for all to hear, damn the concept of courtesy in public spaces. 

Musical rides of this kind seem to be a growing trend on city cycle routes, fuelled undoubtedly by the growth in cycling and the increasing popularity of mountable bluetooth speakers.

But, the questions must be asked: just because you can  bike and blast Bon Jovi, should you?

Or has the time come for a discussion on sonic etiquette and a pedaler's right to peaceful enjoyment?

Hikers pass by one of the signs at the Grouse Grind urging people to use headphones for their music — not portable or cellphone speakers. (Dawn Hanna)

Paul Dragan, owner of three Reckless Bike Stores in Vancouver, is firmly for peaceful enjoyment.

"I think it's an invasion of people's privacy," Dragan said.

Banned on Grouse Grind

"There is a ton of music out there... that's not all pretty words. So when I hear that going down the seawall and the guy is riding next to a family with three kids, it's a little disconcerting," he said.

The Grouse Grind managed to turn down the volume on its portable speaker problem last year by banning them altogether.

A sign, posted at the trailhead showing a speaker icon with a red circle and slash through it, reads: "No amplified music allowed. If you listen to music use headphones."

Tom McComb, Metro Vancouver supervisor of regional parks, said the ban was in reaction to a flood of complaints lodged by regular users of the North Shore hiking trail.

"We actually have a bylaw that doesn't allow amplified music," McComb said. "So it's only since we put up those signs that people have actually really been [made] aware."

A matter of safety?

Full headphones might work for hikers, but not for bikers who who need to hear to stay safe. Plus, in many cities it's illegal to cycle while wearing full headphones or earbuds.  

Vancouver traffic bylaw 2849, section 60A states, "no person shall ride a bicycle upon a street while wearing headphones, or any other manufactured device capable of transmitting sound, over or in close proximity to both ears..." But some cyclists get around it by wearing only one earbud.

Has the time come for a discussion on sonic etiquette and a pedaler's right to peaceful enjoyment? (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

A completely unscientific Twitter call about boom bikes revealed that some cyclists believe the speaker alternative to be safer than one earbud or no music at all, because other cyclists, cars and pedestrians hear you coming.

"I would rather people not do this, but it's their bike," responded one cyclist. "I usually think they're doing it partly as a safety thing: 'Hey! Check me out over here on a bike! Don't you go hitting me with your car, yo!' and so on."

Dragan suggest there be a simple rule of thumb that every boom bike devotee embrace: "It should be no louder than a conversational voice, right? Because everyone expects to be able talk to each other."

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