Headphone recommendations for road cycling?
May 16, 2009 9:34 PM   Subscribe

[cycling] best headphones, preferably not buds?

A few years ago, a company called Slipstreamz introduced something called "The Slip" which mounted earbuds outside the ear on a windscreen and allowed the best of both worlds -- hearing your environment and hearing your ipod. They appear to be out of business (or at least hard to find, and their server has been down since I started looking).

I've tried riding with both forms of iPhone buds (the plug-style and the pre-plug disc-shaped "buds"). They block too much environmental audio, and I'm not comfortable being that detached from my surroundings.

What are you using? What do you like or dislike about them? Would you recommend them?

Thanks in advance. Bonus points for iphone-friendly (e.g., mic on the cable) recommendations.

Sorry I have to ask, but no "don't do it" safety responses please. This is a specific question for people who choose to ride with headphones.
posted by Señor Pantalones to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I like thephilips shs5200, I've bought a couple them over the last few years. They allow you to hear ambient noise pretty well, the sound quality is the absolute best in this price range and style I've ever heard, and they've got a reinforced cord. You can usually find them for about $15.
posted by bluejayk at 10:40 PM on May 16, 2009

i haven't purchased a pair (yet) but koss portapros are non-earbud headphones with a reputation for exceptionally good sound at the price (~$50) they're also supposed to be quite comfortable and durable. they've proven to have such a longstanding reputation as untouchable-in-this-price-range that they still produce them to this day unchanged from their (highly 80's looking) original design. i suggest them despite not owning a pair because i've been doing some research on this exact same question (quality headphones for biking that aren't earbuds) and this name pops up over and over again, always in conjunction with gushing praise.

i'll be checking out the results from this thread before make a final decision, but so far they seem to be a very good choice for this sort of thing.
posted by messiahwannabe at 12:32 AM on May 17, 2009

Response by poster: I probably should change my question: "buds" could be ok, but plugging up the entire ear canal with a rubber gasket (like the current-gen iphone in-ear ones) is most likely not.
posted by Señor Pantalones at 1:29 AM on May 17, 2009

I use Sennheiser PX100s. They're open backed and allow plenty of sound through while having great sound themselves.

If you get them, please don't use them on public transport, at work, etc. They send out sound in all directions.
posted by Olli at 1:32 AM on May 17, 2009

Response by poster: messiahwannabe, i have porta-pros. they're awesome headphones, they're cheap, and they have a lifetime warranty. But the foam around the ear pad, the dual/overlapping metal frame, and the bulky construction makes them really noisy because of wind. Good recommendation in general, but i think you'll find the wind is louder than the music.
posted by Señor Pantalones at 1:32 AM on May 17, 2009

I love my Shure in-ear isolating headphones (I have the E2C model, apparently no longer made). They have no connection to the outside world, no exterior holes/ports/etc like some headphones, which will cause wind noise. It's more like an earplug with a speaker in it. Truly great sound, very comfortable, and will not fall off while riding once you pick the right fit (they come with interchangeable rubber and foam inserts of various sizes). It looks like some of the newer models are iPhone compatible/enabled.

At ~$100 they are not cheap. But they held up well on my 1,200 mile bike trip and still work great almost 3 years after I bought them.
posted by bengarland at 4:12 AM on May 17, 2009

I doubt you want to wear audiophile quality headphones on a bike, so i'd suggest TDK np100's for comfort -- light, cheap, and guaranteed to make you hear car honks and other ambient noises.
or any other back-of-your-head skype headphones that you can find for $5 -- just rip the mic off . i found some that have pretty powerful bass that you will hear even if you do not put the speakers right over your ear.
(cant say the np100's shine for bass)
posted by 3mendo at 5:01 AM on May 17, 2009

The only headphones recommended for road cycling are no headphones. None. If you get hit by a car wearing headphones you know their first defense is going to be that you swerved in front of them and didn't hear them coming because you were listening to music. Headphones on a bike are very dangerous. That being said, I know people who swear by the Slipstreamz, which by the way are still available. If you must listen to music while you ride, please do yourself a favor and track down a pair of slipstreamz.
posted by caddis at 8:05 AM on May 17, 2009 [4 favorites]

Out of stock at thinkgeek, but here are bone conduction headphones that allow you to hear the outside world unimpeded.
posted by filmgeek at 9:06 AM on May 17, 2009

I use off-brand clip-on earphones (the ones that hook over the ears, and look sort of like a question mark--B&O A8's are the high-end version, but compared to IEMs or over-ear cans, there's no such thing as audiophile clip-on earphones, and, besides, yours are just going to get filthy with sweat and yanked out of your ears and fail at the wire joints anyway, so just get something for ten bucks from Target or Best Buy or wherever. If you want something mid-range, these Sennhisers are a good compromise) for cycling. Not too much isolation, and they work well with hats and helmets.
posted by box at 9:07 AM on May 17, 2009

I have Porta-pro's as well and agree with Señor Pantalones: they're useless on windy days. I used to have Sennheiser PMX100's and I liked those.
posted by Siberian Mist at 5:35 PM on May 17, 2009

Slipstreamz server seems to be somewhat flaky, but was up last time I checked and is up for me now. I've been meaning to try them.

I use V-Moda Vibes on my bicycle; wore them last Friday in fact but preferred no music this morning. They seem to have some pluses and minuses based on what you are looking for:

1. They are "plug style" if I read you correctly--I've never seen the Apple ones except just now on a search, but they are in-ear.
2. They're not as isolating as many of the same style. They actually tend to get poorer reviews because they don't block as much outside noise, but of course some people prefer that (me, too).
3. Mine came with three different sizes of silicone earpieces, and they had an extra-small available when I just reordered, and the extra-small fits even better.

Wind noise is still a problem. My listening volume is lower than the wind noise level, something that folks against riding with headphones might note. It's still illegal in many places, though (perfectly fine of course to crank up that car stereo though!)

Unfortunately I don't know of any solution that blocks wind noise but allows environmental noise besides the Slipstreamz, and I don't know how effective they are. A quick search at Bikeforums.net reveals at least one person who tried them and found them to lessen wind noise.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 6:57 AM on May 18, 2009

I should add that after a perusal of other Slipstreamz users on the same forum, they seem to get mixed reviews.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 7:04 AM on May 18, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for all the responses so far. It turns out the slipstreams were just temporarily out of stock at their US distributor and are now back in stock. The only downside is they do look silly. But hey, that's the price you pay for safety and convenience. I'll also give a few of these other suggestions a shot since many of the online retailers have lenient return policies.

Caddis, I hear you loud and clear. Although I did ask people respond to my question specifically and not post their opinions on riding with headphones, your thoughts are appreciated. I don't need or want music when doing hill climbs or enjoying the beauty of OLH or any other amazing routes through the south bay, but I'd like to listen to my podcasts and be able to answer my iphone when riding the (fairly) protected route down "bicycle boulevard."
posted by Señor Pantalones at 10:21 AM on May 18, 2009

I've had success with in-ear earbuds (I used a $20something pair of Sony earbuds. Mine were the MDR-EX70LP, but apparently they aren't made anymore).

The trick was to only put one earbud in. In that ear, you could hear the music fine, even when the volume wasn't particularly high, and there was absolutely no wind noise. You could hear the outside world fine through the other ear. The music also doesn't sound anywhere near as weird as you think (particularly if you take the time to re-encode to Mono, but that's an optional step).

As far as I know (and I'm not a lawyer by any means), in most places it's only illegal to have earphones in both ears. One ear is fine (in fact, the applicable code where I used to live mentioned that specifically).

Also, just a general tip: put the cord under your jersey. If it's outside, it has an unbelievable ability to tangle around everything, no matter how short the cord.
posted by oostevo at 8:14 PM on May 18, 2009

Best answer: It's true that most states, all?, that ban earphones ban earphones in both ears, not earphones in principle. It isn't just about what is legal though. If I was the lawyer defending the guy who runs you down your earphone, pushed into your ear and screaming music at a very high volume, even though it is but one, distracted you and prevented you from hearing my client's approaching vehicle. It was most unfortunate that just as he approached you decided to swerve out to avoid some rocks on the road. Really, there was little he could do at that point and hitting you and paralyzing you for life is perhaps the most trauma this poor man has ever suffered. Why you were listening to music, even in one ear, is a mystery that this court can not solve. Nevertheless it did prevent you from hearing this gentle man from approaching you in his Hummer and led directly to you unfortunate injuries. I know you say the volume was low, but if it really was low why did you swerve into his path? I know you say you didn't swerve, but it is just your word against my client's. He is a well respected member of the community, a congressman, why would he lie?

Don't put a phone in your ear on your bike on the road. Save them for the trails. If you do put even one in your ear you give too much power in a trial to the soccer mom who runs you down with her hulking SUV, or even the professor who runs you down with his Prius. I actually believe that you can ride safely with one phone etc. The liability issues are real though. Slipstreamz are a proven device which allows you to have your cake and eat it too. If you were wearing these, they actually make it easier to hear because they block wind noise, my client's distraction defense probably fails. Go with the slipstreamz, please. Some of my cycling bud's use these and swear by them. I have not, but even this very anti-earphone rider would be willing to ride with these.
posted by caddis at 4:39 AM on May 19, 2009

Response by poster: Hi all,

I've been riding with the slipstreamz for a week now and wanted to follow up for anyone who is curious.

pros: they really do work as described. I can hear everything around me as I could before. No impedance of auditory attention.

cons: i have to make my chinstrap a bit tighter than I like, or the slack allows wind to get inbetween the slipstreamz and my head, creating a ton of wind noise.

Overall this was a great solution, and thanks caddis for the perspective and discussion. For anyone else in this thread who is still riding with in-ear buds, try these out.
posted by Señor Pantalones at 10:54 AM on June 1, 2009

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