Many people object strenuously to the very idea of cyclists wearing headphones. In fact, every time I mention the words headphones and cycling in the same sentence, someone steps up to kindly explain to me how dangerous this combination is. If you are feeling a kindly urge to do that – please don’t, because I already know! But I also know that many of the cyclist commuters I see are wearing headphones of some kind, so I thought it would be useful to write about how to choose the safest headphones for cycling.
This is quite a long post, with a lot of information and options. If you are in a hurry and just want to cut to the chase, I recommend my pick for the ultimate in safe cycling headphones at the very end of this post – just click here to go there. Here’s a table that handily sums up my comparison of the features of the top 5 safest headphones for cycling!
Chart Comparing 5 of the Safest Headphones for Cyclists
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Assuming that you are a cyclist and choose to wear headphones, here are our picks for the safest headphones for cycling. If you decide to buy one of these, please help me to earn a living by using one of the affiliate links. It costs you nothing, and is the only way I make any income.
These made the list because they have great sound and are Bluetooth – so there are no wires to snag on your handlebars. And also because they are designed for athletes, and stay in your ears exceptionally well. Plus, I love their awesome sound and ear fit. However, they are certainly the least safe, as they are designed to keep out noise. So they come in at the bottom of the list. I personally only use these for walking and working out, not for cycling.
Most earphones are designed to exclude ambient noise and immerse you in the sound of your choice. These are sometimes called noise-reducing or noise-cancelling headphones. These Jaybirds X3 are an example of that kind of headphones. Of course, that is great when you are in a noisy gym or on crowded transit. However, there are obvious drawbacks to immersive headphones for cyclists, which is why the usually highly rated Jaybird X3 are only rated at no. 4 on this list of safest headphones for cyclists. They beat out the Bose SoundSports, because they offer a better bang for your buck. I have had every generation of Jaybirds, and in my opinion the X3 have hit the sweet spot in terms of being much more robust, and cheaper. I compared the Jaybird X3 vs. the also-awesome Bose SoundSports here.
It really is best for cyclists to be aware of their surroundings (unless you are cycling in utter isolation – for example, somewhere in the Sahara Desert, or unless you are lucky enough to be cycling on physically separated bike lanes).
But if you really want Jaybirds or some other immersive earphones, it is possible to compromise and only plug one earphone in when you are cycling. This leaves you with 50% of your hearing power available to listen for cars or yelling – and probably about 80% better off than 95% of your fellow road users. (Don’t try to do the math – it doesn’t add up!) Of course, it would be best to plug up the ear that is closest to the sidewalk, not to the traffic.
Non-immersive earphones are especially designed not to exclude ambient sound. These Plantronics BackBeat Fit earphones were designed with runners in mind, but of course work equally well for cyclists. In my opinion, these are a pretty good compromise. That’s why I have rated Plantronics BackBeat Fit non-immersive earphones at no. 3. That, plus the fact that they are my all-time favorite headphones!
Personally, I find that cycling with non-immersive earphones in both ears is still too insulating for me, so when I use my non-immersive Plantronics BackBeat FIT earphones, I still only plug up one ear. It’s best to try it on a quiet street and figure out your own comfort level. These are really great headphones, and built strong-to-last, so even though they plug up your ears to some extent, they are rated at no. 3 on this list of the safest headphones for cyclists.
If non-immersive earphones still make you feel unsafe, I highly recommend an alternative that leaves your ears completely open – open-ear earphones. I guess these should really be called cheekphones, not earphones, as they don’t go in your ears. They work by conducting sound waves through your cheek bones, with nothing at all plugged into your actual ears. Bone conduction headphones are my personal choice, satisfying my desire to listen to music or podcasts on my long commute without compromising my ability to hear what is going on around me. I can also make phone calls with them (a long bike ride home can be an excellent time to catch up on outstanding phone calls).
Related: Aftershokz Earphones Review
The bone conduction headphones I recommend are Aftershokz Sportz Bone Conduction earphones. Now, I am not going to tell you the music is of the same quality as something like Jaybirds or Bose SoundSports, because that would not be true. It’s a different technology, and I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect the quality of the music to be quite as good. However, it is a compromise I am more than happy to make, as it enables me to listen to reasonable quality music safely.
Aftershokz Sportz earphones are very lightweight, and the battery lasts for ages. I usually just charge them on the weekends, after over 10 hours cycling during the week. Plus – and this is a big plus – they are very rugged. I am quite sick of expensive earphones that die after a very short time, apparently unable to withstand the rigors of (my) real life. These headphones cost less than fifty dollars, yet they do what I need, safely, and I have not been able to break them. You can read my full review of Aftershokz headphones here, and see what you think. They are my no. 2 pick for safest corded headphones for cyclists. Buy your Aftershokz Sportz headphones from Amazon – you can return them and get your money back if you find you don’t like bone conduction sound!
The only drawback with these earphones is they are wired, so you have to do the whole snaking-the-cord-through-your-shirt thing, to prevent the cord snagging on your bike and jerking the phone onto the road – which has happened to me, and resulted in my iPhone 4 being run over by 3 cars and smashed into 4 pieces – not a good day for me. Which brings me to my top pick for the safest headphones for cyclists …
A while ago I spotted a crowdfunder on Indiegogo for a Bluetooth version of the Aftershokz earphones – the new CORDLESS Trekz Titanium Bluetooth open ear bone conduction earphones. I thought it was such a great idea that I supported the crowdfunder, and received my earphones in due course.
My Trekz Titanium earphones have turned out to be my ultimate cycling headphones. This is because I am just not safe with corded headphones, as I am unbelievably clumsy. So far I have: taken a Garmin Edge bike computer scuba diving (completely ruined); dropped an iPhone 4 from my bike when the cord snagged on my brake lever (broken into 4 pieces); gone swimming with an iPhone 4 (completely ruined); and most recently, accidentally thrown an iPhone 6 under a speeding train (it is fine, thanks to its Otter case, which I now use all the time, for obvious reasons).
To be clear, the phone fell below the train tracks, and then stayed under there for hours while hundreds of trains thundered over top. It was not actually RUN OVER by a train while lying on top of the tracks – I think that would have ended it, Otter case and bullet proof screen cover notwithstanding! Still, I was so impressed by this Otter case that I decided to recommend it here. If you plan to carry an iPhone on a speeding bike, you need this case! I added in a special screen protector that the Apple Store will apply for about thirty dollars. They claim it is bullet proof. Well, I can confirm that it is train proof!
Anyway, cords are to my clumsiness like a red flag is to a bull, so I try to use Bluetooth all the time. I did not even think Bluetooth was possible with open ear bone conduction headphones – but it turns out I was wrong, thanks to the new Trekz Titanium. I now use these Trekz Titanium earphones exclusively for bike riding. My ears are open (for my safety), and there are no cords (for my phone’s safety).
Apart from the Bluetooth aspect, the other big innovation with these earphones are the titanium frame. Trekz chose titanium for strength, durability, and infinite flexibility. It did take me a little while to get used to them, because the titanium feels stiffer than rubber (obviously, because it IS stiffer). However, I find I can drape them down towards my neck, so they don’t have to be under my bike helmet, and they work just fine. Most of the time I hear my music just fine, and the quality of the sound is more than acceptable to me. I don’t even remember that it is bone conduction while I am wearing them.
For safety from traffic and clumsiness, the Trekz Titanium are a very clear, stand-out winner to be named no. 1 in my list of safest headphones for cyclists!
And here’s an update: Trekz has just proudly announced that you can now buy Trekz Titanium in PINK!
A Cheaper Option for Wireless Open Ear Bone Conduction Headphones – SainSonic BM-7
If the Trekz are a bit too expensive for your taste, there is a similar product that costs about half the price – SainSonic BM-7 bone conduction headphones. However, I still prefer the Trekz. You can read my in-depth comparison of the Trekz and the Sainsonic headphones here.
With deafening traffic and high wind speeds, the sound is sometimes compromised with any headphones. To improve that, I recommend wind blockers (buffers that you attach to your helmet straps). They are not a total solution for open-ear headphones, as they are designed to shield in-ear earphones. But they do help.
Bottom Line on Choosing the Safest Headphones for Cycling
If you want to find the safest headphones for cycling, it comes down to what your own comfort level is. For me, I have tried all kinds, and it turns out that I need the safest option possible: open ear, cordless headphones: my new Trekz Titanium earphones. I can hear my surroundings perfectly, but I still get to listen to my music. Plus, there are no cords to catch on my brake levers, so I will not accidentally jerk my phone onto the road, and crush yet another iPhone. Instead, my iPhone is safely tucked away in the padded pocket of my favorite Two Wheel Gear Pannier. Finally, these Trekz Titanium earphones are extremely tough, which is necessary if you are using them for an activity like cycling (or if, like me, you are just plain clumsy).
An After Thought: Why is it That ONLY Cyclists are Lectured for Wearing Headphones?
I find it very odd that many people are so strident on the issue of cyclists not wearing headphones, but most don’t seem to have a problem with motorists or pedestrians who embrace distractions. Motorists with windows up and music blaring are utterly insulated from sound around them – yet at the same time are driving a machine that can bring instant death to an entire family or an entire peloton of cyclists within seconds. Many times I have saved myself from danger by yelling at an absent-minded motorist to alert him of my presence – but this only works in summer. Clearly, it would be safer for cyclists and pedestrians if motorists had to keep their windows open at all times and were not allowed to have radios – yet somehow I don’t think that would be a popular suggestion!
It might be that the argument has to do with cyclists putting ourselves at risk, rather than the danger we might pose to others. Most roads are simply not safe for cyclists – and instead of making them safe, people just want us to be alert enough to deal with it. For example, Marilyn Johnson, a researcher at Monash University’s Accident Research Centre in Australia, said: “I think it’s dangerous enough when you’re cycling to be on the road when drivers aren’t looking out for you … For you to have one of your senses removed by being distracted with sound, I don’t think it’s a safe behavior for cyclists.”
Mmm … maybe it would be a good idea to do something about all those careless drivers? Just a thought!
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