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The debate around using headphones whilst cycling can be…noisy.
On one side there are those that would argue that cycling with headphones dulls the sense of your surroundings and is ultimately dangerous.
On the other side there are those that feel that if it is ok for drivers to speed around inside a metal box listening to the radio and talking then it is fine to listen to headphones when cycling.
Listening to music or a podcast when out on your bike is a great way to pass the time on quiet country lanes and take your attention off the screaming pain in your legs.
In this article we look at the best cycling headphones to help you decide if it something that is right for you when out on the bike.
Top 7 Best Headphones For Cyclists
1. AfterShokz Aeropex (best overall)
The AfterShokz Aeropex use bone conduction technology so that your ears can still be alert to the sounds around you as you ride.
Although the technology is lifted from the hearing aid industry, it is gaining popularity among cyclists since they offer a great balance between sound quality and safety.
You really can hear everything that is going on around you.
Whilst the sound quality cannot compete with proper in-ear headphones it is perfectly acceptable especially if you prefer to listen to podcasts or audiobooks to pass the miles on the bike.
The AfterShokz sit comfortably and stable on the ear. You can mould them to the shape of your ear and at only 26g they do not feel as if they will fall-off on your ride.
With eight hours of battery life it is one of the best on the market.
- Bone conduction technology allows you to hear everything going on around you.
- IP7 rating.
- 8 hours of use on a full charge.
2. Apple AirPods Pro (best extra features)
It wouldn’t be a proper review of headphones if it did not include the now ubiquitous and striking Apple Airpods Pro.
The dangling style might not be to everyone’s taste but their popularity is well deserved. The transparency mode feature also makes them ideal headphones for cycling.
In this mode, microphones pump in the environmental noise so that you can hear everything that is going on around you whilst listening. The active noise cancelling technology makes them hugely versatile off the bike also.
You get around 5 hours of playback with the Apple Airpods Pro but the quick charging features (15 minutes for an extra 3 hours of playback) go some way to compensate for the relatively low battery life.
The unique ear tip design makes them extremely comfortable to wear. They are unobtrusive and you can easily forget they are actually in your ear. Great for long days in the saddle.
Crucially they also stay secure in the ear.
The Airpods Pro uses a force sensor to manipulate the controls. Although the controls can be customised to an extent through the app, you cannot change the volume on the pods.
- Transparency mode makes them ideal for cycling.
- Quick charging – 15 mins for an extra 3 hours of playback.
- Excellent active noise cancellation for use off the bike.
3. Bose SoundSport (best sound quality)
Bose are a name synonymous with quality audio and they have managed to retain that track record in the Bose SoundSport wireless earbuds. The sound quality is excellent, especially in the mid-range where it really counts.
For cyclists, the fact that the earbuds don’t go fully into the ear canal means that you can still hear some passive noise.
The design means that they do tend to stick out from the ear more than some other earbuds and this may mean more wind noise.
A neat feature with these earbuds is that you can use the app to instruct them to emit a high pitched tone. This is great for cyclists who struggle to get out of the door trying to find all their equipment.
The app will also show you the GPS location when the buds were last connected to the phone. This is a great feature in case one of the buds comes out of your ear on a ride or you miss your back jersey pocket when trying to put them away.
The buttons on the earphones can be a little tricky to press, a problem that is likely to be exacerbated on the bike or wearing gloves.
The battery life of five hours is not the best out there but you do get a full charge in only two hours.
- IPX 4 rated – protection from water splashes and rain.
- Battery life = 5 hours.
- Great sound quality as expected from Bose.
4. Jaybird Vista (most comfortable)
Anyone who has used earbuds on a long ride will know that they can get a little uncomfortable after a while.
The new silicone design of the Jaybird Vista’s is really comfortable in the ear, great for cyclists on a long ride.
The earbuds sit in the outer part of the ear and rest on the bottom of the ear rather than in the ear canal.
Not so good for cyclists is the very good passive noise control of the Jaybird Vista’s. There is less environmental pass-through and so less situation awareness in the saddle.
Since the earphones work independently of each other, one can be removed to let in more road noise.
The Jaybird Vista’s give you the confidence of an IP7 rating. They are more than a match for any sudden rainstorm you encounter on your ride.
For audiophiles the accompanying app allows listeners to generate a personal EQ (Equalisation). It is a very intuitive system that actively tests your ears with different frequencies to customise the sound.
- Customised EQ settings.
- The IP7 rating can withstand rain whilst out on the bike.
- Fast charge feature will give one hour of playback for only five minutes of charging.
5. Powerbeats Pro (best battery life)
The PowerBeats Pro sit flush in the ear and will stay in place even when doing vigorous out-of-the saddle efforts. The ear hooks are adjustable and retain their shape for extra stability.
They are water and sweat resistant but there is no IPX rating on the Powerbeats Pro unfortunately. These may appeal to very casual cyclists.
The nine hour battery life is class leading and you get an extra 15 hours with the carry-case.
For cyclists, there is no way to turn on the internal microphone when listening to music to be able to hear surrounding ambient noise. To get around this you can leave just one headphone in and let in some ambient noise.
A really neat feature, especially for cyclists, is that taking off the headphones pauses the audio so no need to fumble trying to find buttons.
- Class leading battery life of 9 hours.
- Great stability on the ear.
- Headphones automatically pause when taken out the ears.
6. Jabra Elite Active 65t (most discreet)
The Jabra Elite earbuds are small and discrete and don’t stick out of the ears like some other true wireless headphones. They are comfortable and stay in the ear without issue once you have found the right ear bud (three supplied) for your ear.
The passive noise cancellation is excellent and perhaps even too good for cyclists. For safety, in busier environments it may be better to just listen through one earbud.
The five hour battery life is about average and the fast charge feature will give you an extra one hour of playback for 10 minutes of charge. The carry case will give two full charges.
The Jabra Elite’s are water resistant to IPX55 meaning that they will hold-up to light water jet sprays. They will have no problem in some rain.
They are also one of the few true wireless headphones that use Bluetooth 5.0 technology. This translates to better connectivity and long range.
The sound quality excels in the mid-range with extremely clean audio.
- Extremely discrete true wireless earphones.
- Excellent sound quality that emphasizes the mid-range.
- IPX55 rated for safe use in the rain.
7. Anker Soundcore Spirit Dot 2 (best budget option)
The Anker Soundcore Spirit Dot 2 are great true wireless earbuds for those looking for great value for money.
Despite the low price tag, the Spirit Dot 2’s are discreet and secure in the ear.
The audio competes admirably with more expensive earphones with a great bass sound. Their noise isolation works well and blocks out a lot of the ambient noise. For cyclists, the noise isolation might actually be too good and it will ultimately be safer to listen in one ear only.
There are no volume controls on the ear buds themselves which means having to control the volume from your phone whilst out on the bike.
As expected at this budget, the battery life is sufficient at 5 to 6 hours without being ground-breaking.
- Excellent value true wireless earbuds.
- Great bass sound.
- IPX7 rating for protection against rain and sweat.
Before You Buy: Cycling Headphone Features To Look Out For
Ambient Sound and Safety
Safety should always be the first consideration when it comes to cycling headphones. For most riders this means being able to enjoy listening to headphones whilst still being able to hear the environment around them.
Bone conduction headphones offer a distinct advantage in this area. Here the headphones rests on the cheekbone of the listener and the vibrations make their way to the Cochlea where these vibrations are turned into sound.
The technology has its roots in the hearing aid industry since the bone conduction replaces the eardrum in this case.
The upshot of this is that they are great for cyclists since your ears are not actually isolated from external sounds.
Audiophiles rightly turn their nose up at the technology but they are great for this type of application.
Looking beyond bone conduction headphones, more traditional wireless headphones can block out a lot of environmental noise through both passive and active noise cancellation technology.
Whilst some have neat features to allow riders to hear more of the sound around them, removing one ear phone is generally a good compromise.
If you want the company of a good audiobook on an epic ride then battery life is one of the most important things to look for in a pair of headphones.
Some truly wireless headphones offer quick charging features that are great for getting a battery top-up when you stop for a coffee.
With most wireless headphones, the case also doubles as a charging pack which can be great when you need some more juice in the middle of nowhere.
The battery life on wireless headphones is typically up to around eight hours.
Water and Sweat Resistance
For the same reason that you always stick a rain cape in your jersey pocket, your riding headphones need to be able to withstand any weather thrown at you.
They also need to be able to withstand corrosive effects of sweat.
Headphones, like most tech, usually comes with an IP (Ingress Protection) rating that gives you an idea of the level of protection from outside contaminants such as dust and water.
The IP or IPX when dealing with only water and not solids operate on a sliding scale from one to nine. At the lower end of the scale this means protection from dripping water and sweat. At the higher end you get protection against spray from high pressure nozzles with hot water.
A typical rating for wireless headphones is IPX7. This means that the headphones are protected from immersion in water (3ft) for up to 30 minutes.
This should give you confidence that your headphones are more than up to the challenge of a bit of rain and sweat.
Some headphones have a lower rating but most will be design to withstand a rain shower at a minimum.
Sound quality tends to be the one feature where you do really get what you pay for.
Getting decent sound quality from earphones no bigger than a quarter is asking a lot of audio technology.
No truly wireless headphone is going to match the clean bass audio of over-ear headphones but some do come remarkably close with excellent balanced sound.
A lot of riders prefer podcasts and audiobooks to push through the miles where sound quality will be less important.
Wind noise can also be an issue when riding with headphones and some are better than others at cutting through the air. Generally the lower the profile and the more refined, the less the wind noise.
Comfort and Stability
There is no point in having the best features, the best sound quality or the best battery life if the headphones are not comfortable when out on the bike.
You also need headphones that will stay in the ear during your cycle. Over-ear headphone hook designs are the most secure but even most in-ear wireless earbuds generally stay secure once you have fitted the right earbud for your ear shape.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is It Safe To Ride A Bike When Using Headphones?
Intuitively, blocking out environmental noise when out on the bike feels like an additional risk. The findings of de Waard et al suggest that listening to music does have an adverse effect on reaction times. It could be argued that the same effect would be seen in drivers.
Common sense would suggest that earphones are more suited and safe in less busy cycling environments than congested city streets.
Is There Anything That Can Be Done About Wind Noise?
Wind noise is a fact of life when using earphones.
There are even products out there that attach to the helmet straps and act as a windbreaker when wearing headphones.
Are There Any Laws Against Riding With Headphones?
In the US, only seven states actually regulate the use of headphones on the bike and two of those, California, Delaware and Maryland, outright ban their use (although Maryland allows their use on bike lanes).
In the other four states, Florida, Rhode Island, New York and Virginia, cyclists can ride with headphones in one ear only.
All of this means that it is perfectly legal to wear headphones in all the other 47 states but, as with everything, you should exercise your own judgement.
Using headphones when cycling can be a great way to pass some lonely miles. Some riders like to pump tunes during a big effort whilst other riders enjoy the company of a great podcast.
Like everything in cycling, safety is the number one priority. For this reason, the AfterShokz Aeropez bone conduction headphones are clear winners. Decent sound quality whilst still being able to hear everything that is going on around you.
For battery life alone, the Powerbeats Pro are a great option for cyclists on epic rides. The Apple Airpods Pro also deserve their popularity. The transparency feature makes them great for cyclists.
Whether you are listening to music, podcasts or even trying to learn a foreign language on a big ride the right headphones for cycling combine excellent sound quality and safety features that let you hear what is going on around you.