I Eye iPod

For years and years and years I have scorned and sniffed at people who listen to iPods. By “iPod,” I of course mean any audio device—I’ve never had any problem at all with the iPod device itself. IPod is now a generic term for any portable audio player, right? Like Xerox has become a generic term for photocopier? Am I digressing a lot? Yes, yes I am. As long as I’m digressing so much, I have an additional question: when you begin a sentence with the word “iPod,” should I capitalize the “I” like I did earlier in this paragraph? I’m sorry. My mind wanders sometimes.


I have a threefold problem with iPods while biking:

  1. They close you off to the people you’re riding with. When you’re with a group, putting on headphones just seems rude. And I include races in that blanket statement. And especially endurance races. One of the things I like best about the Leadville 100 is talking with people, learning their stories. Headphones isolate you from what makes endurance racing great.
  2. They reduce your awareness of the environment. If you’re listening to your iPod on a road bike, you can’t hear the car behind you or the guy on his bike saying, “on your left” as he goes by. I have startled iPodding cyclists into near-wrecks seventeen times in my life. How do I know it’s seventeen? Because I carve a little notch into my top tube whenever this happens.
  3. They don’t allow you to hear the music of your bike. I love the sound of the chain and the wheels and my breathing and—on a big ol’ climb—my heart.

So of course, I got an iPod for my birthday, and the first thing I did was take it out riding. Here are my thoughts, now that I’ve been on both sides of the audio fence.


Road Riding

I’ve been enjoying Neil Gaiman’s books lately, so the first thing I bought on iTunes was the audio version of Anansi Boys. I started listening while commuting, and I have to say: I love it. Having someone tell you a story—and the narrator for the audio version of this book has a great storytelling voice—while you’re riding really takes the edge off the pain of a long climb on the road.

But what about my objections to riding with an iPod? Well, I only put an earbud in one ear, leaving my left ear (the one closest to traffic) open to hear traffic and the environment. That probably sucks for listening to music, but I haven’t tried using my iPod for that while biking (yes, I am a middle-aged goober). I think the “one ear” defense may be a lame rationale anyway, because I tend to get pretty deeply absorbed in stories. Yesterday, for example, I rode the four mile/1500-foot climb that usually kills me without really noticing the ride, because I was at a good part in the story.

I would still never bring my iPod on a group ride, though. That’s just lame.

Oh yeah: One other big problem with listening to audiobooks while biking: wind noise. On the flats it’s not a problem and on the climbs it’s certainly not a problem, but on a descent where you’re going 45mph, you can’t hear anything but wind no matter how loud your iPod is playing. I’ve lost entire chapters that way. Or entire parts of chapters. Whatever.


Mountain Biking

Saturday, I wanted to get out on the mountain bike. I was on my own—and was really enjoying the audiobook—so decided I’d climb Grove while listening to a book on the iPod.

That was a singularly weird experience.

Instead of being totally absorbed in the ride like I usually am when mountain biking, I was only peripherally aware of the climb, in spite of the fact that Grove is mind-bendingly steep. I didn’t really think about it while riding, but afterward realized that my main memory of the ride was of the story, not the trail or the moves.

More than that, though, was the worry that one good fall would kill my $300 gizmo. So I rode tentatively. I mean, even more tentatively than usual.

I’m thinking: No more iPod on the mountain bike.


Let’s Do Something Good For a Change

OK. Quick change of pace here. Jim sends me email from time to time, feeding me terrific satire ideas (the “Lance Armstrong Comes Out of Retirement” piece was his brainchild). He’s a good guy, and he’s working on raising money to fight cancer by riding the Pan-Mass Challenge.

I think we should help him out.

Here’s a big snip from his blog on what he’s proposing:

I’m calling out the Fat Cyclist. I’m shamelessly attempting to use his miniscule celebrity as a lever for my microscopic celebrity, all in the name of cancer fundraising.

So, here’s what I propose:

1.      I will match dollar-for-dollar, up to $1000, any donation from a Fat Cyclist blog reader or FC himself. Just put "Fatty Rules" in the comments when you donate.

2.      If FC readers give me up to $1500 in donations, I’ll have the folks at Voler make me up a custom "Fatty Rules" jersey to wear on the second day. We are, ahem, encouraged to wear the official PMC jersey on the first day. In turn, I encourage anyone with embarrasing vector art or extremely high resoluton photos of FC to email me. One caveat here: I will need three weeks or so to get the jersey done, so don’t wait.

3.      If FC readers shoot the moon and donate $2000 or more, I’ll do the whole route – 192 miles – on my fixed gear. While wearing the jersey.

4.      Since this is, of course, all about the Fat Cyclist: If Fatty makes his goal weight for the Leadville 100 by the time I go to the start on the evening of August 4th, I’ll throw in another $500. Of course I will require suitable documentation of this achievement. And if he doesn’t make his goal, maybe I’ll do the ride on his fixie.


I’ll tell you what. I will also match, dollar-for-dollar, up to $1000, any donation from Fat Cyclist readers. It’ll be Jim’s job to let me know how much that winds up being. I figure this’ll help us get to that $1500 “Fatty Rules” jersey and the $2000 that will make him do the whole ride on his fixie quite a bit faster.

All I demand in return is that he write up the story of riding this thing on a fixie for my blog, and give me the “Fatty Rules” jersey after the race—which I will give away to a random donater.

Cancer’s now common enough that it’s going to affect practically everyone at some point, so how about donating a little to help fight this rotten disease? Thanks.


  1. Random Reviewer

    you are waay past middle age, apparently.
    first, ipod is NOT a generic name like kleenex or xeerox. no way. ipod is ipod.
    second, you can wear ipods on group rides. just turn it down, or off during conversational times. but every ride, at least every ride we go on, has a long nasty climbing section where we do nothing but suffer. i don’t want to hear your breathing or heart or the "music" of your bike (you’re a geek). i want to hear social distortion while i go past mutual dell on a 12% grade.
    third, you’ve lost "chapters" on descents? how long is the lonest road descent you’ve done with an ipod on? 3 minutes? 5 minutes? two problems: 1. you seem to not be able to find the pause button. 2. you’re reading children’s books, with 1 page chapters. please fix both of those problems.
    fourth, i found the cure for cancer last night. i’ll email it to you. which address should i use?

  2. Unknown

    Books on CD?  That makes a bike ride seem more like exercise then fun.  With music, especially upbeat music it can be the soundtrack for your ride.  I find I don’t pay any less attention with music and it often helps me up the climbs.  The weird thing is you hear a song later and it reminds you of a part of your ride.  BTW make sure your iPod is protected from sweat, it kills them very quickly.  I have mine in a case and a waterproof bag.

  3. Unknown

    Damn, Dug.  That’s a lot of very finely expressed hostility in a little place.  You been munching on the Espresso Love Gu shots at work or something?  I mean that as a compliment.  I’m wayyy into hostility, especially the caffeine-fueled type of hostility.  Nothin’ like it.  Except bourbon-fueld hostility.  That’s nice too.
    On the merits, I like riding with an MP3 player on long solo aerobic rides on the weekends.  Since we’re getting into mid-season, I’m bored to tears on these slow training rides, I’ve seen the same roads a hundred times, and I need some distractions.  Motorpacing behind a car full of strippers would liven things up, but it would be expensive, and besides, the training plan calls for footspeed and other skill work on Fridays, not on the weekends.  Plus I’d have to buy bigger bibs and use *a lot* of chamois cream.  Riding the fixie backwards would provide the excitement, but I stink so badly riding backwards that I couldn’t go aerobic doing it unless if I fell, broke my patella, and hyperventilated.  And for a third thing… Ahhh, I got nothin.  Any chance you could pinch hit Barry, and suggest an inferior method of livening up a 4 hour zone 2 ride?

  4. James

    Fellow readers, this post should give you some kind of insight as to what kind of person Elden is. I’m just some random Internet kook who emailed him with an idea, and he made good (I mean that as a compliment, of course). I thank him, and I thank you for helping me raise money for cancer research and treatment. By the way, 99% of your donation will go to the cancer fight. PMC is funded by rider registration fees and corporate sponsorship, not pledges. Thanks to those of you who have already responded – it’s working!James

  5. Unknown

    I gotta agree with dug, iPod is no an eponym for mp3 player.
    P.S. Currently I "donate" about 60 hours/week fighting cancer. How much is that worth? I’ll tell you: nothing. But I’m not bitter.

  6. Ariane

    dug is correct. iPod is iPod. There is only one iPod and his name is iPod. Never compare iPod to lesser, mortal mp3 players again. Furthermore, we must never speak of killing iPod, even if by accident on a mountain biking excursion.

    I got a back pack that comes with a little protected, waterproof zipper pocket in the top. Inside the pocket there’s an audio jack to plug into the pod. You plug your earbuds into an audio out jack on the right shoulder strap. It works, but I get nervous about not being able to hear things.

  7. BIg Mike In Oz

    There’s nothing wrong with an MP3 player on the highway.  Plug both ears – it helps to stop you tensing up when a semi-trailer goes screaming past.  I’m with you on the group rides, it’s bad manners to ignore the other guests.  Get some music into that thing though – it reminds me of when I was a real bike rider, rather than a fat middleaged wannabe.
    When my father was in the final stages of lung/liver cancer and the doctors had told him to get his affairs in order, get comfortable and say goodbye, he tried so many different things to "fix" himself.  When I was cleaning out his fridge I’m sure I probably threw out 10 cures for cancer, maybe more.  These weren’t random month old dinners in clingwrap.  They were clearly marked experiments in plastic containers growing all kinds of moulds and fungi.  I can only assume that he was actually eating some of this amazing rainbow.  Maybe that’s why he lived 11 months after the doctors told him he had less than 4 weeks to go.

  8. barry1021

    A pitch for the Pan Mass-there are fundraisers and there are FUNDRAISERS. My charity is diabetes, but i support three folks that ride the PMC. If you didn’t check the link and aren’t familiar, the goal this year is $24 Million. That’s two four millyun dolares. In two days. The Jimmy Fund is leading the way in cancer research and the PMC is the largest single portion of their budget. It gets tremendous following in the media here in Massachusetts, and is an incredible event. And the full route is 192 miles in two days, which ain’t the TDF or maybe even Al M’s training regimen, but it ain’t ’round the block neither.
    Hey Al, the stripper idea is a good one. It’s actually not that expensive, ask for the group rate for cyclists. I think the USAC worked a deal with them in exchange for drugs. Me, I am waiting for the head mounted, virtual 3D reality goggles. I figure I can watch porn or the latest movie with my left eye, and the road with my right.  After three days of that, I will be a dead ringer for Mad Eye Moody from Harry Potter.

  9. Unknown

    What a grand project! Bravos for both of you! I’m going to go over there and donate. Did you get my email re. sending something to Susan? I’m waaaaaaaaiting! LOL!

  10. brendan

    Fatty,  sorry mate, but you are in no way qualified to write about using your iPod on a ride if you haven’t even used it for music.
    Get some hard rock, techno, punk – anything with a good beat – and go out and ride.  That is what we’re enjoying when you see us go past with the headphones in.  
    I agree that it’s rude to use the headphones in a group ride – and personally, I’d never do that.  Its for the solo training rides and it’s quite a revelation.  Good for running and kayaking too.
    For those who want a sweat proof case for their Nano, can I humbly suggest you check out "Soft Armor" from Capdase.

  11. Dodger

    it totaly bugs me when I see some kid out with his/her family and they are plugged into the iPod.  Come On!!! unplug kid, and get to know your family.

  12. Zed

    I haven’t tried the iPod thing yet and probably never will. I have a couple of ride buddies who swear by it, though. Like Tokyo said, they all tell me to put in some high-tempo tunes during rides. Music gets stuck in your head with or without the mp3 player–why not take the less-expensive route and just let it run through your head?

  13. cawddup

    Jim, on the subject of the custom jersey, don’t forget the bleeding nipples/inverted teardrop motif on the front.

  14. Unknown

    I realized as I was riding through Richmond, Va the other day, looking at the numerous hipsters and students with the signature white cords dangling from their ears, that iPod is actually an acronym – it stands for International Personal Oblivion Device.
    I don’t even jog with the thing. I use one in the car, and sometimes, at the gym, but on the bike? No thanks. Even riding alone I like the sound of the environment – I can listen to music elsewhere.
    Since you commute a good distance, Mr. FC, you are okay with the audio-books, just be careful what you listen to. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy sessions from BBC, for example, might make one laugh hard enough to fall off the bike.
    There’s no such thing as middle age. You are either alive or dead.

  15. Unknown

    I just stopped laughing.
    I donated my first iPod to my daughter. it got stolen in 10th grade.
    I bought her a new one. It got stolen in 11th grade.
    High school kids (especially those in SoCal) are mean little schmucks.
    She got a nano for xmas. She still has it. (Miracle). But, she is cycling in France with her mom right now, so she will undoubtedly lose it.
    I will email her and remind her to only use it when riding by herself.
    What are the chances that she will listen to that sage bit of advice?

    re: PMC and Jim’s request for assistance. It seems to be a hard site to donate to on this Mac I use….but all of the FC readers should dig in for this effort. Count me in for a hundred bones.

  16. Jsun

    My International Personal Oblivion Device (credit to Tim, nice but not dim) comes along on all my rides and is very handy when trying to tune out those anti-ipod people.  And if they weren’t so expensive I might even use it as a weapon.
    FC, too bad you didn’t get it before your birthday, when you were still young, you may have actually been able to put music in the thing.
    Dug, that’s so cute of you, mentioning Social-D to sound younger than your true age.  oh wait, that is what old people listen to now, when the F did that happen?  That was music I used to play on my walkman to tune my parents out.

  17. Random Reviewer

    Tips for enjoying audiobooks on a bike:
    * Use the pause button when the wind or traffic is blocking out the noise. I know that dug already mentioned this, but no one really follows dug’s advice. In this case, he’s right.
    * Stop that nonsense about listening with only one ear. Put both earbuds in and ride. With audiobooks, you can still hear important noises just fine. The same is not true of listening to music, but you’re wearing a helmet, for crying out loud.
    * I get tired of listening to the same audiobook the whole trip, so I mix and match, usually combining short stories, humor sketches, and novels. Beware of odd combinations. I listened to Anne of Green Gables and Lolita during the same ride home.

  18. James

    Bucky, I have my limits. I’m already going to have to explain to the other 3,000 people on the ride who Fatty is, and why I’m wearing the jersey, etc. If whomever wins the jersey wants to ultra-customize it with some drawn-on blood drops, fine. But that’s gonna be the winner’s problem.Quick update: So far the "fatty rules" drive has resulted in $240 donated, $340 with DPCowboy’s pledge (I sent ya mail!) but not counting Elden’s and my matching funds. So keep ’em coming, folks. Remember, this is a chance to triple your money – Elden and I are going to kick in equal amounts. How often does that come along?JLS

  19. Willy Schwartz

    Ok, but are you not going to lose some weight so he can trow in $500 ???
    You never sad anything about that

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