The Very Best Headphones for Cycling
When it comes to riding indoors motivation and concentration are much more important than outdoors. Miles from home if you feel tired you have little choice but to keep going. When the end of the ride is as easy as stepping off the bike, it is much more difficult to keep turning the pedals. One of the easiest ways to help with that challenge is listening to music with headphones.
Engage your brain and your body will follow. Start moving on autopilot and pretty soon every little annoyance becomes a huge issue. Legs start to feel a little tired and you wonder if maybe you’ve done enough for today. Heart rate starts to climb and you are sure it’s time to stop. You need a distraction that energizes your brain.
Music is just the right kind of distraction. It’s likely that everyone who has spent any time working out inside has felt the effects of music. Start looking at the available research though and you will see it’s not just imagined. Get things right and you can power through any workout. Here’s a few suggestions for the best equipment and ideas to make music an easy uplift for every indoor workout.
This isn’t my first article on the subject but the technology moves fast and I’ve got a whole new list of recommendations.
Ticpods 2 Pro+
I love true wireless headphones. They are so convenient both on the bike and off the bike. They are also among the hardest technology to get right. Everything is miniature and designing a top-quality piece takes everything a company can throw at it. I love them for riding because you put one headphone in and there’s nothing to weigh you down. The big challenge I run into is that riding with friends, virtually, is a torture test for the mic on any headphones.
The Ticpods 2 Pro+ take the challenge inherent with indoor riding and laugh it off. You have a fan pointed at your face and the drivetrain of the bike always seems to be extra loud in a small indoor space. The Ticpods feature dual-mic noise cancellation sensors on both earbuds and they work.
Aside from what I consider the headline feature they have some useful controls built in. You can answer a call, or not, with a headshake. You can also skip the wake-up command for your voice assistant when controlling your music via voice. If you want to control the volume there’s a touch sensitive slide function on hand. It’s just a nice collection of options that make things easier while riding.
As far as the actual sound quality it’s pretty good for voice. It’s plenty loud enough and the quality from the driver is good. It does fall down a bit because the fit in your ear isn’t sealed. Despite that there’s no sealing though they do not fall out.
The OpenMove are the surprise product in this lineup. The one option that I didn’t even see coming until I tried them. These are bone conduction headphones and they leave you free to hear your surroundings. There is no speaker and they don’t go in your ears. Instead, they touch your jaw just in front, and slightly below, your ears.
I don’t ride outside with headphones. I like to be able to hear my surroundings and I don’t think using headphones is a safe option. Inside I never felt the need to have my hearing unobstructed. Once I used these though my mind was definitely changed. They aren’t right for every situation but they have some real advantages.
It turns out that riding inside it can actually be really nice to still be able to hear. My family sometimes comes in and talks to me while I’m riding and now there’s no need to stop my music. I can hear them just fine. Side note, if you hate the feeling of chewing with sound isolating headphones the OpenMove solves that annoyance.
I did try them outside and while I still am not a huge fan of riding with music these are an option if you are. It’s an odd feeling being able to hear ambient noise and your music but it works.
The mic is not a bone conduction pickup but it is very good. It handles the fan inside without issue. Other nice features include the ability to pair with two devices for seamless switching and exceptional battery life. They do sound a bit thin but so if you are looking for great musical fidelity they aren’t awesome. The only other downside is that the piece behind your head leaves them unusable laying down. Not an issue on the bike but worth considering.
Historically speaking I haven’t been a big proponent of over the ear headphones. Some people love them though and there’s also a certain iconography associated with athletes using them. Video footage of world tour races often show riders warming up with chunky over the ear headphones. If you like the style but still want something focused on sport then the Adidas RPT-01 is a good fit.
The stand out feature on these is a knit fabric covering similar to what you can find on certain Adidas shoes. It works a little bit differently than I expected but it does work well. The headband uses a soft touch plastic in the area where contact with your head occurs and the fabric covering is more for looks. It’s not removable.
The ear cushions on the RPT-01 are also fabric covered. Unlike the headband the ear cushions are removable. The fabric is permanently attached to a plastic structure and the whole piece twists for removal. It’s different than you expect it to work but it does the job just fine.
Put the Adidas headphones on and you notice the fit and the sound first. The fit is tight enough that they aren’t going to budge even if you find yourself standing and sprinting with your whole body. It’s a solid feeling. As far as the sound it’s impressive. There’s no noise cancelling but the tight fit blocks outside noise and the bass heavy sound feels immersive. It’s also worth noting that the four-way controller on the right is one of the best control schemes on any headphones.
Jabra Elite 85h
These are the premium option on this list. The very best quality sound and useability. They aren’t a sport focused option but they work just fine if you like an over-the-ear headphone. In fact, I’d say there’s an argument for a non-washable covering that you can wipe clean. In the end I don’t think one approach is definitively better than the other, just different approaches.
Both the Jabra and the Adidas fall into the over-the-ear headphone category. Choosing one vs the other isn’t about how each company handles the covering though. The Jabra is the more premium product and it’s got the features to back up the pricing and positioning.
Just getting the Jabra out of the packaging and using it for the first time is an experience. All the touchpoints feel high quality and there’s no on/off button or switch. Turn the earpieces so they are flat, and fit into the included case, and the headphones are off. Turn them out, so they are usable, and they are on. The app makes pairing easy and gives options for the sound profile and high-quality noise cancelling.
It’s unlikely you will run out of battery life with 36 hours available but if you do there are options. 15 minutes of charging gets you 5 hours of use or you can connect them with a cable. There is also an airplane adapter included for using them with the onboard audio on commercial flights.
Google Nest Mini
Depending on your setup you might not actually need headphones. Using a Google Nest Home device gives you hands free voice control for your music. There’s no need to worry about battery life or sweat resistance since it plugs in and isn’t subjected to sweat. The sound is great, there’s nothing on your head, and yelling at your smart speaker when you are needing different music is oddly satisfying. You can also use it for talking to people if you have to although the mic isn’t nearly as good as the other option on this list.
In 2021 I think most people have an idea of what a smart speaker can offer and how it works. I don’t need to get too deep into describing everything about it. Just keep it in mind as a possible option. The price is low and if you integrate other smart home hardware your fan, and the lights, in your workout room can gain smarts. It’s not perfect for everything but it might be right in some situations.