Music headphones for cycling

I received my copy of Cycling Plus today and in amongst all the bikes I couldn’t possibly afford something caught my eye.

The Mad Catz Airdrives Biking Friendly Headphones

Black airdrive headphones showing connectors

Admittedly, the price is unattractive (Click here for Amazon price if you dare!) but being able to listen to music whilst cycling and answer a call sounds good.

Or does it sound dangerous?

According to the company behind the design they are not. The out of ear design means you still have good awareness of the ambient sounds around you. The experience is likened to listening to a car stereo.

Personally, I’m a little fed up of listening to the dull sound of cars revving to overtake me. A little bit of music would certainly add to the enjoyment of my cycling around London. Also, the microphone built into the cord would be good for answering a call without getting my iPhone out my pocket (or bike mount).

I could see this being especially enjoyable on a longer road route or an off-road mountain bike route.

According to Cycling Plus the sound quality is good and the cable is robust enough to cope with being often snagged. 

What does everyone think?

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41 Responses to Music headphones for cycling

  1. Rajiv, Going Going Bike 28/03/2011 at 4:27 pm #

    I would like a test drive of these headphones to get an idea of the experience, but I’m dead set against cyclists wearing headphones and listening to music while cycling on roads at least.

    Some cyclists I have come across on my travels just have no idea to their surroundings when listening to music. All senses should be directed to riding safely and not distracted in anyway

  2. Kerena 28/03/2011 at 5:31 pm #

    I’m with Rajiv. They sound like a good idea, but cyclists who wear headphones scare the hell out of me! Much as I’d love to be able to listen to music on my daily commute (12 miles each way) I just don’t think it’s safe. Be interesting to see how these actually work though.

  3. Paul 28/03/2011 at 5:37 pm #

    i agree

    • Andreas 28/03/2011 at 7:26 pm #

      Bad news for the Airdrives with 3 firm no’s!

      • idavid 28/03/2011 at 10:47 pm #

        Make that 4!

        • Adrian 01/04/2011 at 12:50 pm #

          And 5

  4. Mike Smith 28/03/2011 at 7:09 pm #

    Hi Andreas

    Firstly, there is a company (American, I think) that markets a stereo-into-mono single earbud, designed for runners, cyclists, etc. They do one model that is mobile phone compatible and has a mike and basic controls built into the cable.

    That said, I ride a lot around Cornwall, where the choices are basically narrow (4metres wide and less) lanes, or screamingly, suicidally fast dual carriageways. Other than in town there isn’t much else.

    I’ve often worn in-ear earphones,, but always turned down to a sensible level. I work on the basis that on the dual carriageways, I know full well there is always something tearing up behind me, so hearing it coming doesn’t tell me anything new. On the lanes, there is nowhere to hide as they are bounded by high hedges (and Cornish hedges usually have granite walls built in) so I’d rather not hear my death coming!
    I’ve been doing this for three years, and never had a near miss attributable to the earphones.

    On any road I constantly check over my shoulder, and ride on the assumption that there is ALWAYS someone just around the next bend who wants to kill me and display me as a bonnet emblem to show how macho they are.

    As an aside, I also know a guy who is almost stone deaf (bomb blast in Northern Ireland) who has been riding around Cornwall and Devon for twenty years with no problems.

    I agree with being totally aware of your surroundings when you’re cycling, but I think you can be very aware while still listening to music, just like you can do without the music and be totally UNaware of what’s around you (most of the cyclists I see fall into the second category).

    With the traffic levels in London (where I do cycle sometimes) I would always assume death is stalking me, and again, hearing it coming wouldn’t help, really.

    I am now pouring a beer and waiting to get flamed by irate supercyclists!

    Keep up the good work,

    Mike

    • Andreas 28/03/2011 at 7:31 pm #

      Mike,

      Appreciate you leaving a comment that goes counter to what most people will be saying! Glad to hear also you are basing it on first hand experience. When I noticed these headphones I immediately pictured the sort of scenario you describe. Quiet country lanes or dual carriageways where you don’t have much choice anyway.

      Although, I must say in London I feel the ears are a good secondary sense to have and the one time I did ride with headphones in (was a short distance so thought I’d risk it) I didn’t notice a car coming until the last moment (fortunately they noticed me). Although, I wouldn’t necessarily put that down to wearing headphones I’d put it more down to not being used to riding without my hearing to aid my decisions.

      I think someone making the switch from headphone less to wearing headphones will need to really think carefully through their decision. Someone that is used to wearing headphones all the time probably makes far better use of the rest of their senses (like your pal from N.I.)

      Thanks and good comment!

    • Nick 28/03/2011 at 9:22 pm #

      I agree with Mike – if you assume there is always a car behind you and you won’t get killed by surprise. Motorcyclists who check behind (they call it ‘the Lifesaver’) don’t get killed so easily and they wear ear plugs and a full face helmet. If you’ve ridden a motorbike you’ll be aware of how little they can hear above the noise of their own engine. Wearing in-ear headphones won’t get you killed! A drunken cyclist or foolish, reckless cycling will!

    • Filippo Negroni 30/03/2011 at 2:12 pm #

      I too agree with Mike.

      Although, the only headphones I would wear with confidence are the cordless one (stereo bluetooth is now available on most mobile phones), since I find the corded ones uncomfortable when the cords get pulled by my head movements.

      Motorola makes some nice ones (S9-HD), which are also waterproof, for a reasonable price compared to other bluetooth headsets.

      Also, I noticed that the open-ear style headphones I have tried so far let way too much noise filter through requiring alarming levels of sound output.

  5. SoTyred 28/03/2011 at 7:14 pm #

    Although hearing ambient sounds might seem attractive and lessen the danger, there is a real risk that you will be distracted in traffic. And as for using them to answer the phone, well it may be hands free, but yet again more distraction to make the wearer that bit more vulnerable. So a thumbs down.

  6. jtb 28/03/2011 at 7:23 pm #

    I think using any type of headphones in central London is retarded. I see people all the type riding round with those big closed cup headphones on. How they haven’t been killed yet I’ll never know, I even have seen people wearing the noise cancelling headphones! However out on quiet country lanes I sometimes have one headphone in (on the off side of the road), but I tend to turn it off anytime I get near a busy road.

  7. Iain 28/03/2011 at 8:04 pm #

    I’m wary of the diraction and reducing the ability to hear vehicles sneaking up on me. I suspect I’d end up with it rather loud to compete with the traffic which wouldn’t help. Howevber I tend to have a song in my head while cycling (and with the ride to work taking jst under 2 hours, it helps if it’s a goon one.) Sadly today I’ve mostly been singing I know him so well by Peter Kay and Subo… Aarrgghh…

  8. Angi 28/03/2011 at 11:56 pm #

    Like most here, I’m also rather wary of headphones when cycling. As far as cyclists with hearing impairments goes…I like to think they’ve adapted their other senses (hopefully). But if you have all your senses in place, it’s probably best to make the most of them to keep yourself as safe as possible.

    I just tend to sing or hum (both really badly) to myself when cycling. It’s more fun that way anyway.

    Plus, if you are really desperate for some music when on the bike…just set your phone up to loudspeaker…or attempt to create your own little sound system (other people do it on public transport all the time, as annoying as it may be).

  9. Dave Escandell 29/03/2011 at 9:26 am #

    Couple of observations on this.

    1. Generally speaking I’m against cycling with headphones, so as a concept it’s a NO from me.

    2. Despite the OK review from cycling plus, I fail to see the point in a headphone that is not applied into the ear.

    3. Cycling and taking a call while you continue to cycle may have legal consequences that all cyclists should be aware of. The act of taking a call hands free or not is not illegal but that doesn’t mean that one is potentially not commiting other offences.

    4. Cyclist in general already have a bad name – lets not encourage further marginalisation

  10. Steve 29/03/2011 at 10:06 am #

    Not for £45! I cycle with headphones in, but rather than listening to Music I listen to podcasts. Speech, at a volume that allows me to hear what’s going on around me, and I’m constantly peering over my shoulder, making eye contact with drivers if possible.

    That said, the roads I cycle aren’t the busiest, and if my commute changed and I were to head to Central London instead of the outskirts I might reconsider my approach.

  11. chris 29/03/2011 at 10:13 am #

    My daily commute is 25 miles and I’d go nuts very quickly if I didn’t listen to something on my way in and back out. I use a single earbud and generally listen to talk-based (audio books, podcasts) which is generally easier on the noise levels (think normal programmes vs adverts on the TV).

    Also I stick the single bud into my left ear, which means my right is still free to listen out to the road-side.

    While I can’t see how both ears can be safe and I can appreciate the comments about needing to hear noise, the baffling effects of hats, caps and helmets also don’t help, so there’s a definite scale of hearing abilities.

    I know that my subconscious is looking out for me though – frequently I’ll realise that I’ve no idea what the noise in my ear has been saying for a few minutes because I’ve obviously been paying more attention to the road.

  12. Pat 29/03/2011 at 10:24 am #

    Why are so many forgetting there’s is an option with all headphones (except DJ style/cupped headphones) to have one-ear-on, one-ear-off.

    I cycle this way all the time. It’s relaxing, fun and safe.

    I cycle in the down right scary world that is west london traffic on a daily basis and the best way for me to tune out the chaos, but be aware of it at the same time is to have one earpiece in and one ear free.

    It’s the best of both worlds. Even on very quite roads, I prefer this option because it’s usually then that you’ll be confronted what I like to call “creepers.” You know the ones – they creep right up behind you in the hope they can squeeze past you on a very narrow road. Those are the type of situations I prefer to be more alert.

    Plus with the mouthpiece – if you’re using the MP3 player on your iPhone for example, it instantly switches to the handsfree; so you can talk and still be aware of your surroundings.

    Aren’t I a genius! Ha!

  13. Andrew Allsop 29/03/2011 at 11:48 am #

    I’ve been wondering what the general consensus about cyclists wearing headphones was, the comments where certainly insightful!

    There’s a guy where I live in Leeds who rides around with two speakers attached to his bike, that’s certainly one way to approach it.

  14. Nick 29/03/2011 at 12:16 pm #

    Just because you assume something is safe and therefore OK to do, does not make it safe! Ignorance on the roads is the main killer and if you think that wearing a pair of headphones just because your commute is long and to stop you from “going nuts” is OK, then perhaps take public transport and listen to your music on your commute (lot safer).

    Enjoy cycling as a sport first and a commute second… Or perhaps question why you cycle at all! As most will know, Cyclists are amongst the most hated road users (and in some cases I tend to agree) because (not pointing fingers) some of us just are flat out rude and do not respect other road users!

  15. Andrew Priest 29/03/2011 at 2:19 pm #

    Hi

    I ride listening to music, the traffic and i can hold a conversation as well. However I cannot turn down the wind and boy the wind noise here in Perth, Western Australia can be dam loud. Funny thing as to what we perceive as being okay and not okay …. :)

    Oh I wear an Adidas Sennheiser PMX 680i Sports which helps with the wind noise too and I made an informed choice to do so, i.e., it provides a good balance in my experience and heck I even know what is going on around me because of my eyes (and my use of a thing called a mirror).

    I use a mirror because I don’t rely on my hearing to tell me what is happening behind me as I haven’t been able to develop an ability to determine what a driver is doing by sound – guess that makes me a stupid cyclist.

    Regards
    Andrew

    • Nick 29/03/2011 at 5:05 pm #

      And again, a mirror can only provide you with a limited view of what is behind you, of course you have blind spots which may or may not include other idiot cyclists that will try to undertake you (you may not hear them over the howling wind). But then comparing cycling in Perth to London is like comparing your commute to the Tour De France.

      But then I’m entitled to an opinion, BUT riding in a dense population such as London which has a lot more buses, cyclists, pedestrians to take into consideration I wouldn’t expect you to understand that! My experience of riders who wear headphones is that they tend to not be paying attention to anything around them, you may be the exception to the rule, I am not there to judge you… But in 99% of of cases the rider wearing headphones is a bigger risk!

      • RSK 26/05/2011 at 11:39 am #

        How patronising – the comment you’re replying to was not comparing Perth to London, only you were.

  16. Shaun 31/03/2011 at 10:35 pm #

    My first reaction when LondonCyclist referred to Mad Catz Airdrives Biking Friendly Headphones was sceptical. I use hearing as an absolutely basic resource, whether it be for cycling or sensing things that go bump in the night. I started reading the comments above and after four negatives realised that Andreas does not point us towards rubbish; there is more to this than meets the ear.

    Having burrowed back through the links and coming across the [two] Amazon user reports the penny dropped. Tiny speakers sit OFF the ear’oles, and point into them. So street noise (or things that go bump in the night) can get into the ears for interpretation by whatever goes for a brain.

    Having recently taken possession of a GalaxyTab. the main criticism was the necessity to stick the supplied buds in my ears and block out most or all extraneous sound, while driving my car or riding my Strida the two places I mostly wanted to be able to use the Tab as a phone. Now it seems like a brilliant option is open to me and “Thank You” for the heads-up.

    There is more. It is very likely that I can wear a big woolly cap pulled down over ears WHILE wearing MadCatz on the bike while riding in freezing weather. I suggest that all the respondents on both sides of the fence re-check their polarised views because we may have here a device which could save lives.

    I have only one unresolved question and maybe some you young people can answer it. Will the 4way jackplug return stereo in the 3way jacksocket such as found on eg an i-pod or a walkman?

    • Andrew Priest 01/04/2011 at 2:36 pm #

      Referring to your comment about the way the ear phones sit; this is the reason I wear the Adidas Sennheiser PMX 680i Sports. The pair I have cost me ~ US$85 so not cheap by any means, but they are worth it in my view. They are not noise suppression earphones. The sit forward and off the ear (its like you hear from the vibration if that makes sense) and means that the volume can be turned down and noise from vehicles and others talking to me as they ride past can be heard.

      I wouldn’t use the standard “iPhone” type air buds but.

      Andrew

  17. tr 01/04/2011 at 10:55 am #

    as a daily commute cyclist in london, nothing is more terrifying and selfish than cyclists who insist on wearing earphones. where’s the awareness and responsiblity?

    having seen someone get knocked over the other day whilst cycling wearing earphones, i have no sympathy.

  18. nilling 01/04/2011 at 11:01 am #

    I tried listening to my iPod with just one ear bud in but just got frustrated with it falling out and then not being able to FF easily. I still prefer singing or humming my own ‘internal jukebox’ ;)

  19. Graham Barker 01/04/2011 at 1:47 pm #

    a definate NO for me. cant think of anything more dangerous for your own safety in these days of car drivers basically being blind most of the time. i would love to listen to music on the go, but for me listening to the cars, lorries and buses and being more aware is where its at. Maybe thats boring, but i would rather get home alive. The only place for these woould possibly be for an off road ride perhaps. Mind you, the price is a joke!!

  20. Gavin 01/04/2011 at 7:07 pm #

    I wear headphones while riding but never music, always podcasts. The talking has many more silence gaps and allows me to hear people and the traffic fine. The headphones I use also sit on the ears and are fantastic. Re: Avantalk Jogger Stereo Bluetooth Headphones. they are Bluetooth, so no wires, water proof and can take phone calls to. Although I find it is usually too windy for calls and find I need to pull over. Gavin

  21. Andrew Ebling 02/04/2011 at 6:57 am #

    I would never drive a car without mirrors and I’d therefore avoid riding my bike with anything that gets in the way of hearing (a helmet and back pack can be bad enough).

    Save listening to music/podcasts/audiobooks for the train, bus, tube or walking.

    That said – I do enjoy a good workout at the gym with some high energy music in my ears.

  22. Shreds 03/04/2011 at 2:17 am #

    Just cant do it. The ability to hear traffic in the City unimpeded by headphones is vital. Out in the countryside, who needs ‘artifficial’ sounds. The beauty of nature is there to be listened to.

  23. Gavin Smith 04/04/2011 at 8:53 pm #

    I’ve only recently started cycling and still very much a newbie, but I must say people I pass that are wearing headphones really do anger me.

    The roads are a dangerous place, with some nut cases who don’t appear to care about our safety about.

    100% concentration is needed 100% of the time, if your desperate to listen to music while you commute, take the bus.

    • Filippo Negroni 11/04/2011 at 4:48 pm #

      That could be equally said for pedestrians, joggers, and drivers of cars and buses and lorries.
      The truth is that the roads are not all that dangerous, and that 100% focus is not required 100% of the time, in fact, if that were true, we wouldn’t be able to enjoy riding.
      The experienced cyclist learns to anticipate and react accordingly.
      Listening to music at reasonable levels and paying appropriate attention to the road ahead and behind is usually enough to be safe.

  24. David 05/04/2011 at 9:48 pm #

    I wonder is there a legal position on this?

  25. Shreds 06/04/2011 at 9:10 am #

    Dont encourage the ambulance chasers. Just like mobile phone use in a car is considered distracting, a strong case could no doubt be made about music/phones and the only winners would be the lawyers.

    The recent case where a bus driver got away with killing a cyclist had the lawyers suggesting that the cyclist was not wearing appropriately distinctive clothing. But since the bus driver didnt notice anyway, sky blue pink polka dots would not have mattered.

  26. donkeys are very cool 10/04/2011 at 7:01 pm #

    I am surprised at the almost majority decision against listening to music while cycling, I for one find the thought of cycling without my earphones is unimaginable to me, I am so used to it that every journey (however short) without music seems to feel much longer than normal.

  27. RSK 26/05/2011 at 11:48 am #

    Am I the only person here who finds themselves deafened by the sound of traffic (or possibly I’m on a busier route?) Motorcycle riders wear ear buds to protect their hearing, is it really any different to wear earphones in the same way (as long as you don’t turn up the volume too high!)

  28. Simon 01/06/2011 at 4:59 pm #

    I have a set and they work wonderfully.

    Sound quality is fine.. and any traffic noise completely overpowers the phones.You can even have a conversation (just about) with a friend while wearing them.

  29. Claire 21/06/2011 at 1:27 pm #

    I’m with Mike, everybody says to me that it’s dangerous to cycle whilst listening to music etc, but i totally disagree. You can be a good cyclist and be aware of your surrounding environment at the same time. I listen to music, it makes my noisy traffic heavy London commute so much more pleasant. I’m always concentrasting and if i need to conentrate more i just completely block out the music. I can still hear traffic around me and always know whats behind me and in London there’s always something. If i get knocked off it’ll be because i didn’t see it not because i didn’t hear it. And it stops the inside of my head getting cold when i cycle in winter.

  30. Andy 04/08/2011 at 4:12 pm #

    I always wear earphones while cycling. If I’m riding around town the traffic will pass me regardless of whether I can hear them or not. If I’m riding the country lanes (which is what I do mostly) then approaching cars usually roll up behind me with the engine idling so I wouldn’t hear them anyway due to wind noise. What about motorcyclists and deaf cyclists? They can’t hear either. If we never did anything because it was dangerous then we’d stay indoors all the time.

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