Pumping Up the Jam at 20 MPH
April 24, 2014 10:58 AM   Subscribe

What is the best way to play music of decent audio quality and volume while riding a bicycle? (not headphones) I'm riding the MS-150 bike ride this year from Duluth to the Twin Cities. I've done it the last few years with a cheap handlebar-attached speaker that runs on AA batteries and barely delivers enough sound for myself to hear, let alone my riding companions. This year I'd like to improve on that, because it really helps to have some sweet tunes while tooling down the road.

I am considering going a bluetooth speaker route, and specifically buying something like the highly rated but expensive UE Boom or perhaps something a little cheaper like this. I'd probably use a smartphone with music piped from local storage for the source, or alternatively use something like a Sansa Clip plugged into it via a mini-jack cable.

The reason I'm asking the question is that I'm feeling a bit shaky about every aspect of this "solution" and don't want to drop a couple hundred dollars on something that doesn't fit the bill. I've googled quite a bit about this but it's not bringing me to any definitive conclusion on the best rig for this job.

- Needs to play music at a volume where those biking within about 10 feet of me can hear it
- Needs to have decent enough quality to not sound tinny or blown out
- Waterproof is a big plus
- Mounting a heavy speaker to a rear rack is a last resort.

Does anyone have direct experience with doing such a thing? What's worked? What hasn't?
posted by mcstayinskool to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
The Boombotix app (http://sync.boombotix.com/) is specificially for this purpose - everyone would need their own speaker, but you can get Bluetooth speakers that suit a single person pretty cheaply. This depends on how good your wireless internet in the area is though - it also requires an iPhone/iPad.
posted by UncleBoomee at 11:29 AM on April 24, 2014

Boombotix is run by some real scumbags and should be avoided at all costs.

The Outdoor Technology speaker is ok but the battery life on those is meh.
posted by playertobenamedlater at 12:14 PM on April 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I commute every day by bicycle, and every day I use my amazing, loud, portable, great sounding Goal 0 Rock Out. It fits perfectly in the bottle cage of my downtube and is loud enough that I can hear it over wind noise. It charges via USB. You can daisy chain multiples of them together if you want to.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 12:17 PM on April 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

I ran my G-Project G-Go at length for months and months on a daily bike commute. It stood up admirably to occasional rainshowers, even serious ones. I left it out one night, pointing face up at the bottom of my Ortlieb bag; it did not survive full immersion overnight. Never expected it to, honestly - they tell you that it's weather-resistant but not waterproof. Kudos to G-Project for accurate reportage.

It would play for, uh, maybe six to ten hours at max volume on four rechargeable AAs. It has eighth-inch in as well as bluetooth and USB.

It was always audible over the interstate I had to commute next to, when jacked to full volume. When not next to the interstate, cyclists and pedestrians rather more than ten feet away could hear it just fine.

I am contemplating an upgrade to the TDK A33 due to reports of its superior bass response. After blaring bass-heavy music at max volume on the G-Go for months, I'd blown the speakers a bit and the G-Go was getting a bit farty in the low end.

But, really, as far as price-performance ratio goes, the G-Go was great.
posted by BrunoLatourFanclub at 1:40 PM on April 24, 2014

You might want to check into the terms of the ride agreement for doing the MS150 whether this sort of thing is allowed. You have some technically correct answers above about how to go about this, but if you do it you will generate some concern because no matter how you slice it when you play audio you create a competing stimulus for attention. There are generally quite interesting people to meet along the route of these charity bike events. I would skip the audio entirely.
posted by dgran at 1:56 PM on April 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

You want the Mini Boom - the smaller and cheaper cousin to the UE Boom (review here). It's about $90 and sounds amazing for its size.

Not sure about mounting - you'll have to jury-rig something.
posted by O9scar at 2:04 PM on April 24, 2014

Response by poster: Appreciate the input dgran, but this is my 4th MS-150, speakers are allowed but not headphones, and I meet more interesting people when playing funky music than not. I don't play to drown out conversation, I play it to give us a beat to ride to. The thing I have to worry about is attracting too large a draft pack. Seriously.
posted by mcstayinskool at 2:35 PM on April 24, 2014

Response by poster: I went with a 2-pack of the Goal 0 Rock Out speakers mentioned above, because at $40 for 2 (daisy-chained!) and pretty good reviews on sound quality and volume, I can afford to take a flyer on these and then revisit if they are not up to snuff.

Rather than even bring a smartphone into the mix I'm going to keep it simple and use a Sansa Clip, which basically gives me a tiny flash-based user interface for the tunes that can mount to handlebars or wherever.
posted by mcstayinskool at 2:10 PM on April 25, 2014

Response by poster: Follow-up after test drive: I did a 50 mile training ride over the weekend with my Goal Zero Rock Out Speakers and a Sansa Clip and was very pleased with the results. The biggest barrier to getting this to acceptably work was figuring out how to mount the Rock Out speakers. There is a bike-specific YouTube video by the Goal Zero people on mounting the speakers to the top tube of the bike, and it was worthless. Finally, it dawned on me: The Tune Belt. I took an old belt and strung it through bungees on the back of the daisy-chained speakers, then cabled it out to the Sansa Clip which was clipped to the end of my bike shorts, a remarkably stable and accessible location. The Clip is an absolutely perfect device for this purpose. The speakers are very stable against my lumbar, and have the added benefit of pulverizing any kidney stones I might have. The only downside (for me) is that it will be easier for people behind me to hear than me. Nevertheless, this goofy Tune Belt idea I had turned out to be the key innovation in making this silly idea fly.

Some day I'd like to try the full-on UE Boom BT speaker idea, because one thing I'm very confident about is that the UE Boom sound fidelity would be a big improvement. But, considering even on ultra discount those speakers are $100 each, the $40/pair cost of the Goal Zero for what amounts to 2 days of use was more justifiable. It might not be top notch fidelity, but it is quite loud.
posted by mcstayinskool at 10:58 AM on May 27, 2014

FWIW, last week I bought the GoalZero Rockout 2 and I like it a lot more than the original Rockout. It has controls on outside, it's a little bigger on the inside (to hold larger phones or phones in cases), and it sounds a little better. The original Rockout fits in a bottle cage a little better, but the Rockout 2 still can be crammed in there.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 10:50 AM on May 28, 2014

I just upgraded my previous bluetooth speaker(Supertooth Disco) to the UE Boom and I love it. Just as loud, but in a much smaller package that fits perfectly in a water bottle holder. Sound quality is great. Also it charges via micro-usb so I can add additional battery life via phone external battery packs.
posted by metaname at 6:50 PM on June 23, 2014

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