Just for Fun: The Sounds of Cycling

The Sounds of Cycling

Hi, my name is Caitlin, and some of you may (or may not) know me as the Administrative and Outreach assistant at Cycle Toronto. But before I started at Cycle Toronto, I was studying at Concordia where I did my Master’s research on sound and cycling.

As cyclists, we use our ears to listen for the sounds of cars, pedestrians and even fellow cyclists. But is that all we use our ears for while we cycle?

In my research, I theorized about the concept of a cycling ear, which basically suggests that as cyclists, we listen to the world in a way that is unique to us - different from a pedestrian, car driver, or other road users. 

So how does a cyclist listen to space? I theorize that cyclists implicitly sort sounds into three general categories.


Level 1: Self-Produced Sounds

These are sounds that the cyclist creates and contributes to the soundscape. 

(Example of Level 1 sounds)

Every cyclist makes sounds - from general human sounds like breathing, sneezing, coughing, talking, singing, playing music, to sounds that only happen because you're on a bike like the sound of peddling and ringing your bell or even swishing your arm up to signal that you're turning right, as cyclists we however fleeting contribute sonically to every neighborhood we pass through.

Level 2: Navigational Sounds

These safety and utilitarian sounds are aural cues that are utilized by cyclists to determine how to navigate our immediate vicinity safely. 

(Example of Level 2 sounds)

This level includes the sounds of pedestrians walking past, the whizzing sound of other cyclists passing by, or most commonly, the roar of cars as they blaze past corners.

Level 3: Ambient Sounds

These sounds are heard in the landscape but are not necessarily used. This is the most expansive category and contains the widest variety of sounds.

(Example of Level 3 sounds)

This level not only includes all the sounds and Level 1 and 2, but can also include the sounds of people chatting on the streets, children playing in playgrounds or on the basketball court, dogs running around, birds chirping, people wining and dining. This is the level in which the totality of a neighborhood can truly be heard. 

When cycling, you are processing these three levels at the same time - the cyclist ear is inherently a multitasker! When you tune in closely to the neighborhoods that you cycle by, and really hone in on these Level 3 sounds, you really notice a slowly changing and shifting neighbourhood ambience..

So next time you are cycling, if you have time to slow down and listen, you might be surprised by what you hear. 

If you are interested in learning more about my research, an interactive map, a link to the sound mixes, the theoretical inspiration, or my experiences recording and cycling in Southwest Montreal, you can learn more on my website.


Latest posts

Take action

Unlock a better cycling future today
Sign up to Volunteer
Subscribe to Updates
Join Cycle Toronto