iPod Cycling

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This week, I got back on the road to fitness. Over the last five days, I’ve done five hours of tempo riding on the open roads east of New Jersey Turnpike Exit 8A. For those of you who are not familiar with the area, I’m talking about roads in East Windsor, Washington Township, and Hightstown, New Jersey.

One of the things I’ve wanted to try for a while is listening to music on an iPod while tempo riding. I saw Lance Armstrong do this repeatedly on training rides that were filmed for the TV series the The Lance Chronicles. I couldn’t attempt it myself because I needed to replace the wheels on my bike.

Before I discuss my findings, I want to offer this disclaimer: cycling while listening to a portable audio device is potentially dangerous. Do not attempt this unless you are a very experienced cyclist riding a familiar course with minimal traffic. Also, please note that riding a bicycle while wearing headphones is technically a moving violation in some jurisdictions.

I rode with my wife’s iPod for an hour on Thursday and Friday morning. On Thursday, I listened to the entire Tour De France Soundtracks album by Kraftwerk. Not only is this album appropriate at this time of year, it’s also 11 tracks of techno music with a relentless beat that’s often helped me maintain my cadence.

On Friday, I decided to pick a very different set of songs: The Soundtrack from the Movie “Black Dog”, which is a collection of country songs with several up-tempo and several somewhat slower songs. This did not work as well, because I had to concentrate during the slower songs in order to maintain my cycling cadence.

The iPod performed exceedingly well. Cycling on the road is not as physically jarring as running is, so I didn’t expect any song skipping or play hesitation that sometimes occurs when using a full-sized iPod during intense exercise.

I had to set the volume level and begin playing the music before I put the iPod in my jersey pocket at the beginning of the ride. Trying to adjust the iPod or select music while moving on a bicycle is just too dangerous. This says nothing of the danger associated with dropping it on to the road surface– probably a recipe for an early iPod death.

Now that I have ridden for a couple of hours while listening to an iPod, I’d like to ask Lance Armstrong a few questions:

  • What’s on the playlists that you listen to on your rides?
  • Do you have playlists of different sorts of music corresponding to different types of training rides?
  • Who builds your playlists, you or someone else?

I don’t think that I will be cycling while listening to the iPod very much. Beyond the safety concern, one major reason is that I don’t have use of this iPod all the time. Another slightly subtler issue is that I would want to build playlists with songs that have tempos that are compatible with each other, and that would help me maintain my cadence. Doing this is a matter of sitting down with iTunes and playing parts of songs to gauge their suitability.

Due to work and family demands, and my level of fitness, I would have to classify building new iPod playlists as a low priority activity for me at this time.