What are the best headphones for cycling? Should you cycle with earphones or earbuds?
Bluetooth, Wireless? Bone Conduction? Wearable Speakers?
How to stay safe when cycling with a headset on
What are the best headphones for cycling? Should you cycle with headphones or earbuds? What characteristics should you be the most aware of when choosing earphones or earbuds for biking?
Bluetooth? Wireless? Bone Conduction? Will these be comfortable under my bike helmet?
We’ll try to answer these questions in this blog article, where we’ll dig deep into our findings to give you all the instruments to choose which headphones or earbuds are the best for your biking needs.
Even though most of the time we want to be aware of our surroundings, during our 6-years (so far) bike trip around the world, we often found ourselves on long, boring, but quiet sections where we really wished we could listen to some music or podcasts while cycling.
So we decided to explore what the market has to offer when it comes to cycling headphones, earphones, and wireless Bluetooth earbuds.
We have to be clear about the fact that none of these headphones are specifically meant for biking, what we list here are the best sports headphones that, in our opinion, will work well for cycling, which means with a helmet on and constant wind-noise.
The Best Biking Headphones In-A-Nutshell
Best Bone Conduction Headphones for Cycling – AfterShokz Aeropex
Best Cheap Headphones for Bike Commuting – EKEN E1 Headphones
Best Quality Earbuds for Bike Commuting – Sony WF-SP700N/L
Best Budget Earbuds for Cycling Long Rides – Boltune True Wireless
Best Headphones for MTB – Jaybird Vista
Best Cycle Touring Headphones – Anker Soundcore Spirit
Cycling with headphones: Awareness VS Immersion
One thing that all of us have to accept is that cycling with earphones on will cripple your overall safety on the road. How much? That depends on various factors:
Where are you cycling?
What time of day are you riding?
How loud is the music/podcast/audiobook are you listening to?
The “where”: If you’re riding a mountain-bike trail or on protected cycling paths, being able to ear your surroundings is somehow secondary. But if you’re sharing the road with motorized vehicles you should but your safety first – get headphones with ambient-mode or bone conduction… or try out wearable speakers.
The “what time”: early mornings and late nights mean quieter roads, but also less-reliable drivers, if you’re cycling secondary roads at these times of day, you may get a bit more sound immersion, but bear in mind that it’s always a risk.
The “How Loud”: we all like rich bass, and a louder volume gets us going faster, but unless you’re on a protected path, you shouldn’t raise your volume too much. Don’t put yourself in danger by eliminating surrounding sounds
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Bone Conduction Headphones – Maximum Awareness
Unlike traditional headphones, that send sound through the ear canals, bone conduction technology delivers audio through the cheekbones. With nothing inside or over your ears, you can enjoy total awareness and comfort while you listen to your music, podcasts, or audiobooks.
Bone conduction headphones are probably the best solution for cyclists that want to be aware of their surroundings.
Of course this comes at the price of a compromise, bone conduction headphones can’t sound anything like a good pair of in-ear earphones or buds. But the quality is improving year by year, and some of the bone conduction headphones listed here have a pretty decent sound!
Pro trick! Bone Conduction can act as noise canceling headphones by wearing a pair of proper earplugs, an interesting alternative to active noise-canceling earphones/earbuds.
Since this is a relatively “new” technology, bone conduction headphones make for a great conversation starter, everybody will be curious about them.
What’s best for biking? Bone Conduction VS Earbuds VS Earphones VS Wearable Speakers
The perfect cycling headset simply doesn’t exist, all systems and models have pro and cons, let’s say some generic truths:
Bone Conduction‘s pros are awareness (of course) and comfort; the cons are poor sound quality and battery life.
Earphones (wireless or wired) are usually cheaper, sound good and har hard to loose, but most will block too much of the outside noise making it dangerous to ride on roads. Another con is the presence of the cable (even on the wireless ones) that can be annoying.
Wearable Speakers are another “novelty” and do not always come to mind when thinking of the best sound system for cycling. They are though a very smart option, leave your ears free to scan surroundings and sound better than bone conduction. Downsides are heavier weight and a bit of bouncing around.
Overall, my personal recommendation is to always put safety before audio quality, as an audio engineer myself with a strong background in music and a never-dying passion, I will still compromise on sound to get a better perception of the surroundings.
That’s why I recommend wearable speakers or bone conduction as the best headphones for cycling. If you want to go for earbuds go for some that have transparency more, unless you only cycle in protected areas with no motorized traffic.
Aftershokz is the leader manufacturer in bone conduction headphones, with a technology one step ahead of the competitors. The Aeropex, like the other wireless AfterShokz models, are the closest items on the market to what could be considered the best headphones for cycling.
The level of awareness is total, although of course, you’ll have to compromise on sound quality, like with all bone conduction headphones. The Aeropex is the top model in the Aftershokz gamma, and the price reflects that – but they are definitely the best bone conduction headphones up to date (2020).
Completely sweat and waterproof, the AfterShotz Aeropex cycling headphones are designed for tough workouts and adventures in the most extreme weather conditions.
Although they are not suitable for swimming, some people still use them for that and never had problems, for sure they’ll withstand a shower. A moisture detection sensor alerts you if the charging port gets too wet to be safe when charging.
Weighing less than 1 ounce (26g), they feature dynamic bass, higher volume, and less vibration (a slight tickle common to bone conduction) compared to other bone conduction models.
They can connect with two devices at the same time, which might not be important for cycling but makes them versatile for working
As we already said, bone conduction headphones can’t replicate the amazing bass of an expensive pair of earbuds or headphones. That said, when wearing earplugs these things easily sound at least as good as a “decent” pair of headphones (like $20-40 range, more than adequate unless you are an audiophile). They are still the best-sounding bone conduction cycling headphones up to date (2020).
Without the earplugs in, with open ears alert to your surroundings, The Aftershoz Aeropex sound similar to stock Apple iPhone earbuds, maybe a bit less bass.
The purchase includes two magnetic charging cables (very solid) a handy sports-belt and 2 years warranty.
A bit cheaper than the AfterShotz Aeropex (available on Amazon for 60/120$, keep an eye on special offers), made in titanium, alloy, and TPU, the Vidonn F1 are another interesting option when it comes to choosing the best biking headphones for your needs.
They are a bit heavier than the Aeropex (38g), but very comfortable to wear, if they feel tight, you can move the backbone upward, adjusting to the proper position also improves the sound experience.
Like with the Aftershotz, you can use the included earplugs to close your ears and feel the pure bone conduction tone quality.
Their biggest downside used to be poor connectivity but the Bluetooth has been recently upgraded from v4.1 to 5.0, so it should be more stable.
The Aftershotz Titanium Mini are the little brothers (or sisters) of the Aeropex, they cost less and are small and comfortable but lack the outstanding performances of their sibling.
Wireless Bluetooth connection is a bit faulty, IPX waterproof rating is just an IPX55, perfect for sweat and rain but forget about taking a shower with these on.
Sound performance is still great for bone conduction headphones but it doesn’t match the Aeropex, although the app EQ preset can help with that.
The titanium band offers durability and flexibility, while the LeakSlayer™ technology minimizes sound leakage. The dual noise-canceling microphones reduce external noise, making the call quality more than acceptable.
These budget bone conduction headphones by Eken are great for cycling. The built-in 200mAh lithium battery, supports standby time up to 20 days, phone call up to 8 hours, music play up to 6 hours.
The waterproof rate is IP54, no need to worry about sweat or downpours, while connectivity via advanced Bluetooth 5.0 is faster and more stable than the Bluetooth 4.2 used by some competitors, up to 10 meters from the device and up to two devices at the time.
A downside is the low playback volume, which can result in inaudible sound in noisy environments.
30 days free replacement and 12 months warranty service have your back covered in case you don’t like them. But they really are a bang for the price.
Let’s approach the world of sport earbuds, how good are them for cycling? The Powerbeats Pro have a few strong points that make them interesting for bikers.
The adjustable, secure-fit ear hooks make sure they stay in place and not fall on the ground. They come with 4- sizes interchangeable ear-tips, easy to find a perfect fit, and you can play around with it to match your desired grade of noise-insulation. One of those ear-tips is cone-shaped, meant to let more ambient noise in, you might want to use that when cycling on unprotected roads.
The sound is powerful, balanced, with a high dynamic range but lacks somehow in the midrange. Call quality is also very good. The Powerbeats Pro aren’t completely noise-canceling (don’t block out ambient noise), which is better for cycling. In case you still don’t feel safe, you can wear only one, as those cycling earbuds are completely independent from each other.
The downside is mainly their size, a bit too big and heavy, might causa annoyance when worn with helmet and sunglasses.
Second pair of cycling earbuds in this review, how do they compare? Well, those are very small and much lighter and more comfortable compared to the Powerbeats Pro. They are also IPX7-rated, which means fully waterproof, you can shower with then and even swim (although swimming is not recommended).
They come with three sizes of interchangeable ear gels ensure a secure fit, they stay in place, you’re able to take off a t-shirt without the earbuds flying out.
What might be a concern for the cyclist is that those are in-ear-canal phones with great passive noise canceling and do not have passthrough ability (transparency mode), so it can be rather hard to hear the outside world, especially if music is loud.
The Jaybird Vista’s sound quality is great with options to customize with the equalizer. They feature a decent microphone for calls in a reasonable outdoor environment. The person on the other side can easily tell that you’re using a headset of some sort, but that happens with all earbuds.
They have no Master/ Slave design, both earbuds can connect to the device independently, which allows for a consistent audio connection, although interference is experienced when there are many wireless devices around). Unfortunately, they allow only one function with the single button. No options for previous track.
Another interesting feature is the “Find My buds” function, which keeps track of your earbuds through the Jaybird app. The case is compact and lightweight.
Of course Apple has its own model of sport earbuds, they have a lot of cool functionalities but hey… it’s Apple, so expect a crazy price tag and some compatibility issues.
Among the features that make them among the best earbuds for cycling there’s certainly the transparency mode, the Apple Airpods Pro have active noise cancellation for immersive sound but with the transparency mode, you can let in as much ambient sound as you desire, for hearing and connecting with the world around you.
The sound is good but not the best, an adaptive EQ automatically tunes the music to the shape of your ear, at least allegedly. Call and mic quality is the best available.
Three sizes of soft, tapered silicone tips allow for a customizable fit, although the Apple Airpods Pro have the ugly vice of falling off sweaty ears, and you don’t want to lose a pair of 250 bucks earbuds.
Sweat/water-resistant grade are only IPX4, which means they are not totally waterproof. The battery life is average but the case holds a lot of charge and they get juiced-up very quickly.
They are easy to set up for all your Apple devices and can access Siri quickly by saying “Hey Siri”. They can be paired with Android although not as easily as with iOS. The charging cable uses the stupid and overpriced Apple proprietary connector.
Here’s another big player whose sports earbuds can’t be omitted from this buying guide/review. The Sony WF-SP700N could easily be the best cycling headphones for city commuting.
Their ambient sound mode blends music and environmental sounds, making it safe to wear them while cycling in the city, while the active noise cancellation blocks everything if you wish to be completely immersed in your music (better than Airpods and Powerbeats).
Both settings work pretty well. You’re able to hear traffic noise with that option selected and can hear voices but not much else on the other.
What makes them best for commuting but not for long rides is the crappy battery life, only 3h on one charge and just 9 hours with the case, definitely a bummer.
The wind noise can get really loud when there are strong winds, but under normal wind conditions the annoyance is negligible.
The sound stage is also pretty good. you can feel the music is around, not just inside your head. They are IPX4 rated to handle sweat or rain splashes but can’t withstand a shower
Phone calls are not great, only come out in mono from the left earbud, and the mic picks up too much background noise.
The left is earbud is master so they can’t be used independently (well, the left one can, but not the right). You’re able to use Siri and similar with the Sony WF-SP700N sport earbuds.
The earbud pad options really are great, they stay in place much better than the Apple Aipods. Bluetooth connection is stable up to 10 m (30 feet) away from the device.
Switching from earbuds to wireless earphones. From audio-giant Bose here’s probably the best earphones for cycling and sports in general, at least when it comes to price/quality ratio.
The sound quality on these blows the beats out of the water, far better than all headsets mentioned so far.
This time, Bose did tweak the volume EQ a lot. You can hear tracks from various genres and the earphones will adapt to each song. No need to set your own eq or raise the volume to listen to your piano track.
You can hear ambient noise, they are not noise-canceling earphones, although for maximum awareness you might want to wear only one.
Battery life is great, 8 hours of continuous playback, and a 10-minute quick charge refills almost two hours of playback.
The Bose SportSounds stay comfortably in place during any kind of ride, and while the cord might be a bit annoying, it ensures that you won’t lose them. Sweat and weather resistance rated at IPX4 (splashproof).
The inline mic and remote to control volume, can skip tracks, take calls, adjust volume, and activate Siri (or similar). The buttons though are covered by a rubber membrane that sometimes makes them hard to press.
They are charged via a standard micro USB into the right ear-pod, which is covered by a flap of rubberized plastic which looks a bit weak.
All right, wait a second, great sound, impressive playtime, totally waterproof… for less than 40 bucks? This sounds too good to be true, but it is! The Boltune are probably the best cheap wireless earbuds for cycling and all sports in general.
They feature a Bluetooth V5.0 with ensures fast pairing and transmission speed, stable connectivity with no signal loss or music dropouts, and a range of up to 50ft away, even with walls in-between.
The music quality is breathtaking for the price and the sound signature delivers immersive sound, putting you at the center of the stage.
They feature a Bluetooth V5.0 massively reduce the level of power consumption, so you can get 6 hours of playtime. 34 hours with the charging box and realistic music for several days.
The compact and lightweight magnetic charging case holds 34 hours of charge, which added to the 6h life of the Boltune earbuds reaches an impressive 40h playtime. Type-C USB 3. 1 connector transfer speed is up to 10 Gbps and charges fully in 90 minutes Moreover
The Boltune True Wireless are IPX7 waterproof, can be used under the shower and even rinsed with water, no problem.
Once you get these to fit snug in your ear they stay in pretty well. You can do a fair bit of jumping around and shaking your head before they start to come loose. These are great for mountain biking.
The biggest downside, besides a poorish phone-call quality, is the absence of any ambient mode to let you listen to the surrounding. Your best bet to make them safe is to use one at a time, or at very low volume.
We just mentioned the best budget earbuds for biking, and here are the best earhphones (although the next ones come close).
Anker stays up to its name again, coming with those pretty sneaky sport earphones for less than 40$… some features: Bluetooth 5.0, 12-hour battery, IPX7 waterproof grade, noise isolation, SweatGuard technology for the sweaty cyclists.
High-octane sound: 10 mm dynamic drivers, precision tuning, and exclusive bass up technology ensure spirit x’s Deep low-end is balanced by lush midst and crystal-clear treble.
Extreme comfort: gentle over-ear hooks and softened silicone ear tips float effortlessly in place as you sprint, lift, and push your way to the limit.
12-Hour playtime: get sublime bass-driven sound for well over a week of workouts from a single charge.
The Anker Soundcore Spirit X beat anyone else when it comes to sweat resistance, implementing a submarine-inspired structure and impermeable hydro-seal to create an impervious barrier around the sensitive internal components.
they hold firm and feel very secure even when running. High quality materials save your skin from irritation and the quick-adjust neck-bend is literally genius. With a simple pull, you’re able to create a tangle-free tight fit, which greatly reduces the annoyance of the wire touching the clothes.
Connectivity is reliable even with walls in between. Bass is substantial leaving nothing to be desired. better than Apple AirPods. blocks a lot of surrounding noise.
miss the ability to connect to two devices at the same time without power off and do connect again. Not completely noise cancelling.
Another pair of budget biking earphones with a great sound, this time by TrebLab. Sound and comfort are indeed the biggest pluses, crisp treble and strong bass, if your device is capable of using the apt-x compression that these earbuds use, the audio quality is outstanding.
The soft silicon ear-hooks which makes them stable but not stiff, although they could slip a bit on very sweaty rides. You can keep them on for hours without feeling discomfort.
TREBLAB XR500 are not active noise-cancelling headphones, they use passive noise isolation. You can ear a bit of your surroundings but it’s advisable to use only one earphone if you’re raiding on unsafe roads.
Using one earbud requires to somehow clip the loose earbud to the jersey or something, not the handiest solution.
The mic for calls is good for the price range, resulting in clear calls, the connectivity though is not the best, Bluetooth 4.1 EDR. The range is 33 feet (10 meters), but they can lose signal if there’s some obstacle between the devices, that includes your body (so they might have problem
IPX4 means they are water-resistant but not waterproof, they come with a 1-year warranty.
Most of the riders don’t want cables in their way, that’s why we are only including one model of non-wireless earphones. In case among you there’s someone who doesen’t mind plugging-in the old-fashoned way, the JBL Endurance Run are our pick fo you.
The flexible flipbook, two-way design allows you to wear the headphones either in-ear or behind-the-ear, for added comfort and convenience.
A comfortable combination of flex soft ear tips and twist-lock technology means these buds never get annyoing or fall out. Thanks to IPX5 sweat/water proofing, JBL endurance run headphones keep up with any weather, while an in-line microphone and remote ensures you’re never reaching into your pocket to answer calls.
Very good sound for the price, with rich bass and a good staging. At these pricetag, they are probably the best non-wireless headphones for biking.
Value for money – 10 | Comfort – 8 | Sound quality – 9 | Noise cancellation – 8
Have you ever heard of wearable speakers? They are basically small wireless speakers that clip (magnetically or otherwise) to your clothes, such a great solution for listening to music while cycling!
The Zulu Audio are our pick in the category: they pair easily, have easy controls, and a good and loud sound, plus… they don’t cost a kidney.
As with bone-conduction headphones, also wearable speakers have to compromise on immersion to get a high level of awareness of the surrounding. Other people might be able to ear what you’re listening to, but only if they come very close, so that’s not an issue when riding a bike.
The speakers though, are not ultra-small and lightweight (dimensions: 1.83″ x 0.75″ x 1.83″) they can cause a bit of discomfort, but nothing unbearable. The magnets clip together to stay firmly in place while you are running, biking, etc. Wear them on top of your shoulders for best sound quality.
Like all other products listed in this blog review, the Zulu have a built-in microphone to answer phone calls, they are IPX4 rated (splash and sweat proof, but should avoid full submersion or long/sustained exposure to water).
The main issue for us cycling is battery life, somewhere in-between 2 and 4 hours. Might need a power bank to keep them juiced up.