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The Music of Riding: What Do You Hear?

After a spat of rain earlier this week, which reminded me of the upcoming fender season (there are two seasons in the Pacific Northwest: fender and non-fender), I found myself thinking of the distinct hiss that slick road tires make while riding on wet roads. I know the sound well, and though it changes with speed, tires, etc., the underlying tune remains the same. This got me thinking about the larger symphony that comes with riding and the subtleties those sounds bring to the ride.



Even though the physics are the same—wind passing the ears—the roar of a headwind is somehow different than that of a fast descent. Different surfaces yield different sounds, from dirt to gravel to chip seal to cement to asphalt to grass to mud to snow. Then there are the audible differences between frame materials—carbon, steel and aluminum all sing different melodies. When riding in a group, there’s the chorus of chains whirring and tires humming, but there are also the sounds of breathing, cadence, periodic shifting and soft-pedaling—of quiet suffering and the muted calm of confidence.

Standing in the woods, surrounded by nature and a bird or two, the Doppler effect of a mountain bike approaching and passing is intoxicating. The sound of knobby tires on a trail and a chain rattling around, the sounds of shocks absorbing terrain and obstacles, all of it flies by in a clattering moment, then disappates and eventually returns to the quiet of the woods. The imprecise and fleeting silence of getting air on a jump—the usual trail riding sounds lead up to the act of becoming airborne, then an immediate absence of the sounds of riding, which almost becomes a sound unto itself… followed by the raucous landing.



For some, like me, an errant sound of some mechanical sort, somewhere on the bike, is the beginning of a Sisyphean feat to find and silence it. For others, it’s a non-issue. Either way, every part on a bike has at least one song of its own, from the ticking of a bottom bracket, to the cries of a dry chain; the dragging of imprecise shifting to the chirps of a derailleur pulley in need of attention; from the creak of a seatpost to cable housing rattling. Getting a flat even has its own sound, be it a sharp blowout, a seething hiss or a barely perceptible gasp. The sound of braking and the dragging, gritty protest before the pads truly bite when braking on wet, gritty rims. Perhaps most iconic is the sound of a coasting rear wheel—a song that changes with speed and each wheel, providing melodies ad infinitum.

I like a lot of the sounds I hear while riding. Some of them announce the need for maintenance, others let me know all is well. All of them enrich the act of riding… for me at least.

What are some of the sounds you notice?

Posted on at 3:52 PM

Tagged: Cycling, bicycle, music and sounds

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livnah

My favourite bike sounds are: 1. the day when the wind sounds more while a whisp than a woosh on that first cold cold morning ride to work, 2. an early morning group ride, before anyone's talking much, and you all round that first corner that leads to an ascent - all the gears shifting in a clicking mechanical cascade of sorts, 3. the silence when the wind shifts and is suddenly at your back

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