Ask Anna: Can I enjoy cycling with a hearing loss?
Ask Anna is a weekly advice column for the hearing loss community.
This week, we have a special “Ask Anna” column, based on some questions we received during #HearingLossHour – a monthly, live chat on Twitter. During July’s session, we discussed sports, and the challenges we face when wearing hearing aids and being an athlete. One activity that dominated a lot of the conversation was about cycling. In my ignorance, I didn’t realize how scary the prospect of cycling on roads with a hearing loss can be. In some cases, people said they had given up this sport that they loved because of their hearing loss. After the hour had finished, I went straight to one of my colleagues, Solange, who is also an audiologist and has a severe to profound hearing loss and wears Phonak Naida V hearing aids.
Together we came up with some answers to: “How can I enjoy cycling with a hearing loss?”
Anna: Solange, please tell us a bit yourself and what you do as sports and hobbies outside of work?
Solange: I enjoy being outside and like hiking, snow shoe walking and am an avid cyclist. I do road cycling, not mountain biking, which I got into because my husband used to race and we used to ride with the cycling team.My biggest accomplishment was doing 120-150 km a day (100 miles). This was before kids came along! I still ride, but only around 40 km in a day.
Anna: What kind of challenges do you face as a cyclist with a hearing loss?
Solange: There are challenges with group rides (team or friends). During the warm up or cool down time people are communicating and chatting, and it is easier to hear because you are not going too fast, but as speed picks up it gets more difficult to hear because of wind noise. It becomes really difficult above 20 km per hour, which is similar for normal hearing cyclists. So, conversation tends to stop. Hand signals become really important. I also use wind protection over my hearing aids, which I find very helpful. I don’t hear cars or other environmental sounds unless they are very loud or close. It is possible, however, to hear traffic and environmental sounds when your are cycling alone, but only if you stay below certain speeds. In traffic on the road I have to be focused and aware and I tend to go slower. A strong head wind can be a problem, however, even if I am going slow.
Anna: What would be your message to other people with a hearing loss who want to get out on their bikes?
Solange: First, I would like to say just because you have a hearing loss doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy cycling. Cyclists who have normal hearing and those with hearing loss will technically face the same issue of not being able to hear anything, once they reach a certain speed.
However, before you start cycling, it is important to define your goals and decide what do you want to get out of it. Is it for general fitness or exercise, with less focus on communication? Or do you want to cycle to enjoy the ride with family or friends as a social activity?
Anna: Great message Solange! Do you have a list of tips and tricks that people can use when cycling with a hearing loss?
Solange’s 11 Tips and Tricks for Cycling with a Hearing Loss:
- When you are cycling alone, make sure you do everything you can to be as aware as possible of the environment
- If you are cycling in a group, communication is key. Make sure everyone uses hand signals that the whole group recognizes.
- To improve hearing of environmental sounds and speech, ask your audiologist to create a single program that you use for cycling that directly addresses these challenges. This will ensure your hearing aids aren’t changing constantly and trying to adapt to the environment. In most cases this is a benefit, but cycling has unique sound characteristics, such as a constant low-pitched noise due to wind, which can mask speech and environment cues. Plus, you also have the added challenge of a helmet.
- Reduce wind noise by wearing a headband or head sweat cap cover over the hearing aids and under the helmet. There are also specially designed additions to the helmet that help reduce wind noise, such as cat-ears.com www.windblox.com.
- If your hearing aids have a built in wind noise and or noise canceler, make sure your audiologist sets these to strongest setting in your cycling program.
- Make sure the cycling program is in what is called an Omni microphone setting. This means that you have the best chance of picking up sounds and cues from all around you. Normally, you want the hearing aid microphones to focus on the direction of one sound signal like speech, but for cycling you want to pick up environmental sounds coming up behind and to the side of you.
- Choose your cycle helmet carefully. Try different helmets to get the best fit and make sure there is space for your hearing aids so they sit comfortably and don’t push the hearing aids into the side of your head.
- Always wear your hearing aids when you are trying on and buying a cycling helmet.
- Don’t assume the fit will be the same if you wear a head band or head sweat cover. Some manufacturers offer spacers and foam and these might need to be added or removed depending on the fit.
- Add a small mirror to your handle bar or helmet for recreational riding. This is great for city cycling.
- Keep up to date with technology. Cycle helmet technology and hearing aid technology are constantly changing, so it is good to check if you can replace or update anything every couple of years.
Anna: Thanks, Solange for your great, expert advice! I hope this encourages others with hearing loss to enjoy cycling.
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