Music while cycling - what's verboten and what's not

It's not illegal to listen to music or make phone calls while biking. Some safety tips.

Wearing headphones while cycling is not verboten.
Wearing headphones while cycling is not verboten.dpa/Robert Günther

Berlin-Driving is twice as much fun to a good beat. The same goes for cycling. Phone calls, audio books and podcasts are also a popular way to spice up your commute. But is it safe? And what's actually allowed in Germany and what should be avoided?

Georg Zeppin at the cycling magazine Karl advises against listening to music or talking on the phone while cycling with headphones: "It's very distracting and increases the risk of an accident, as the perception of one's surroundings is compromised". Only when cycling slowly on country paths without significant traffic does he consider wearing headphones to be harmless. Here, he suggest cyclists use in-ear headphones with a Bluetooth connection because they don't completely cover the ears and there is no cable to get tangled up.

Smartphone on the handlebars

Another way to engage in a short chat during a ride: special holders or trays on the handlebars to securely mount your phone. Cyclists can then use the hands-free function to make calls. A disadvantage is that everyone can listen in. And listening to music over your phone's speakers is more of a stopgap solution.

Small Bluetooth speakers mounted on the handbars or simply placed in the bottle cage, provide more sound and volume. Here, too, people in your surroundings are exposed to the sound and controlling your phone while riding is often problematic. Riding one-handed is generally permitted if you have full control of the bike. However, riding hands-free is prohibited by Germany's Road Traffic Act (StVO), and can result in a fine.

Wearing headphones while cycling is permitted. According to the StVO, cyclists are allowed to wear headphones while making phone calls and listening to music, audio books or podcasts. However, they must ensure that they can perceive traffic and hear warning signals clearly.

Artificial hearing impairment

"Loud music from headphones creates artificial hearing loss in cyclists and impairs road safety for themselves and for other road users," says Uwe Lenhart, a lawyer specialised in traffic law. Loud music can impede the perception of sounds and signals, both important for assessing the flow of traffic.

Violations - such as when perception is impaired by loud music - can result in a €10 fine. Failure of cyclists to yield to emergency vehicles like police cars and ambulances because they couldn't hear them leads to a €20 "warning fine", Lenhart explains. If the cyclist's distraction results in an accident in which others are injured, it could be a case of negligent bodily injury - and end up being much more expensive.

It is illegal to make calls with your phone in your hand. The fine is €55. Cyclists are permitted to use the hands-free function on devices like smartwatches.

Just pull over to make your call

Hartmut Gieselmann of the trade magazine c't also advises against wearing headphones while cycling. "Regardless of whether they're headphones or earbuds, they seal off the ear and obstruct the perception of ambient noise." This is true even for models that offer an acoustic transparency mode, he says. And if you want to make a phone call, it is best to just pull over and have the conversation while standing still.

Multimedia helmets

Bike helmets with integrated speakers and a microphone offer an interesting alternative to headphones . "Even if the sound quality doesn't come close to that of headphones, it is usually good enough for making phone calls or listening to podcasts," explains Gieselmann. However, he advises choosing a helmet first based on its fit and not only according to its multimedia functions: "A secure fit is more important than music in the helmet."