Whether you’re a bike commuter or you ride for sport, hobby or work, you’ve probably had incoming phone calls during some of your rides and you’ve considered whether to listen to music, a podcast or a good audiobook. If you’ve ever considered whether you should take it and what the best way of taking a phone call on the bike is, you’ve come to the right place.
Taking phone calls and listening to music on the bicycle is best done on a wireless headset. Bone conducting headphones are good for keeping your ears free. Earphones are best used in only one ear, while headphones covering both ears are the least safe option and even illegal in some jurisdictions. Wind-noise can be blocked by tucking the microphone under the shirt or by making a dedicated windmuff for the microphone.
There’s a lot of heated debate on forums about whether you should listen to anything or take phone calls whilst on the bike. The debate is for a good reason. A cyclist sees with his eyes and needs to rely on his ears when riding. Hearing the traffic is as important to keep safe on the road as it is to see what’s in front of you.
Cars passing or a fellow cyclist warning you with the bell are things you can hear only if your ears aren’t completely blocked.
Blasting music in your ears at maximum volume or taking a phone call with noise cancelling headphones dramatically reduce your situational awareness and increase the chances of an accident and should be avoided. Similarly, texting or taking a phone call with one hand while maneuvering with your other hand is a safety hazard. It leaves you with one hand to steer, and makes coming to a sudden stop impossible.
However, listening to music, a podcast, an audiobook or even taking a phone call while riding your bicycle don’t need to involve blocking both of your ears to a degree where you can’t hear your surroundings, and they certainly don’t need to absorb your complete attention.
Think of it. If you ride with a buddy and talk with each other while riding, you are able to hold a conversation without a problem in most cases.
As a rule of thumb, the busier the route you’re riding on the more you need to make sure that you are aware of the surrounding sounds. In a very busy traffic scenario it may mean that you need to have both of your ears free, while in other cases listening to something doesn’t distract you from paying attention. This also depends on your riding experience, confidence level and your general alertness (some people have better hearing and vision than others).
Best way to take a call or listen to audio/music
There is a vast array of devices that allow you to listen to music or audio or even take a phone call. Let’s consider them and their pros and cons.
Bluetooth speakers are a very practical way of listening to audio when riding your bike. They are usually mounted on the handlebar, carried in the water bottle holder of your bike or of your backpack.
Their biggest benefit is that they leave both of your ears free, so you can hear what’s going on around you. They are good for listening to music or a podcast. Some speakers are the perfect shape and size to fit in the water bottle holder, so keeping it on the bike is very simple. Look for one with waterproof design so you don’t need to worry about using it in the rain. They usually come with long battery life.
This speaker is perfect for listening to music on the bicycle. It has a long battery life, water proof design and it conveniently fits in your water bottle cage.
There are a few downsides of Bluetooth speakers. They are not good for taking phone calls since their microphones are located far away from your mouth and they pick up a lot of the road buzz and wind noise, which means that the other party won’t be able to understand what you’re saying.
Also, some people don’t like others hearing what they are listening to. If you ride in areas where you pass by lots of pedestrians, this may be a concern.
Wired earphones are going out of fashion, but some phones come bundled with wired earphones. The obvious advantage is that you never have to worry about charging the headphone since it draws power from your phone. The other advantage is that you can use earphones in one ear only if you want to, which leaves your other ear free to hear the traffic.
Since the microphone is usually located on the cord of one of the sides, which can be tucked under a jersey or a shirt, it is very easy not only to listen to audio or music, but also to take phone calls. Your jersey blocks the wind noise, but it allows the mic to pick up your voice.
The major limitation of wired headphones is that they need to be physically connected to your phone. If you keep your phone in your backpack or on your handlebar, you may find the cord annoying to ride with. I have pulled out some earphones when they got tangled during a maneuver.
Wireless earphones are excellent for listening as well as for talking. Most of them have the microphone integrated into the battery unit, which can be tucked under the shirt or jersey. The other party may not even notice that you’re on your bike when talking, unless you’re out of breath. This works great at fast speeds and even in strong wind.
The downside of some wireless earphones is that unless they are designed with a hook that keeps them on your ear or they are well balanced around your neck, using them with one side only may pull out the other side from your ear. I currently use one of these and I’ve gotten used to them and like them very much.
Bone conduction headphones
Bone conduction headphones are the latest and safest technology when it comes to audio on your bicycle.
They are designed specifically with sports in mind. Instead of coming in contact with your ears they deliver the sound by sending vibrations through your bones. It feels like someone in your head is talking, but both of your ears are completely free.
Bone conduction headphones are the safest way to listen to music or take phone calls on a bicycle. They are wireless, so you don’t need to manage cables and they have built in microphones to take calls.
True wireless earbuds
These are two separate earbuds that you store and charge in the same case. The good thing is that you can use these earbuds independently, so you can leave one of your ears free to hear your surroundings. They are also lightweight and small, and there are no wires whatsoever looping around your neck, which means that you have a complete freedom of movement.
One downside of true wireless earbuds is that if they fall out they inevitably fall on the ground which may result in damage, and if they fall in grass they are hard to find. The second issue with wireless earbuds is that their microphones pick up a lot of wind noise, which is impossible to cancel since they can’t be tucked away as they sit in your ear. They are good for listening, but if you want to take a phone call, you need to stop.
Headphones (wired and wireless)
In order for headphones to deliver sound to you and to stay in place even while riding the headband needs to go over your head and the cushions need to sit over your ears. This is problematic because you can’t wear a helmet even if you want to. The headband and the large cushions are just physically incompatible with helmets.
The other problem is that having both ears blocked completely reduces your alertness and leaves you absorbed in whatever you’re listening to.
There are some jurisdictions (e.g. California, Delaware and Maryland) where using headphones or riding your bike with earbuds in both ears is illegal. You need to do your due diligence if you wish to ride with headphones.
Where to keep your phone?
Another question you need to consider where you’re going to need your phone during the ride. This will depend on what the intended use is. There are plenty of solutions to carry you phone with you, but the main thing you need to decide is whether you want to see your phone screen or not.
If you want to see the screen for navigation, for using your phone as your bike computer or you want to take a quick look at incoming calls, you have to keep your phone mounted on the handlebar, stem or top tube of the bicycle. Here you need to balance practicality and safety, but as it’s evident from the video below, elastic phone holders seem to be the most practical choice for most people.
This phone mount is easy to put on your handlebar and your phone can be mounted on it very easily. This is the simplest and one of the most secure ways to carry your phone on the bike.
Screen not visible
Some people don’t necessarily want to see the phone screen. In this case your options are plentiful. You can keep your phone in the pocket of your trousers, jersey or jacket. Whatever you find convenient. You may choose to keep your phone in your backpack or bike bag.
You will still be able to use it, especially if you have a decent wireless earphone. You may not be notified of who’s calling you, but you can still take the call with the push of a button on the earbuds.
If you have a smartphone or even certain dedicated GPS units (like the Garmin Forerunner 35, which doesn’t cost an arm and a leg on Amazon), allow you to see the caller ID, accept or reject the call and even send preset messages to incoming texts.
Practical tips and tricks
Here are some powerful tips and tricks when it comes to enhancing your alertness on the road as a cyclist.
A powerful but underestimated and underutilized accessory monitor your surroundings while riding is a bicycle mirror. It helps you to check the traffic coming from behind. You can anticipate when a car is going to pass you or whether it’s safe to take a turn. A mirror compliments your hearing since it allows you to not only hear traffic approaching from behind you, but it allows you to see it too. While no mirror can replace a glance over your shoulders they enhance your vision by giving a more complete picture of what’s around you.
An excellent mirror for both flat handlebars and drop handlebars are the Hafny bar end mirros (check pricing and availability on Amazon). It’s small but it offers a good field of view and it is super simple to mount on any handlebar.
Spoken word is less distracting when you ride than music. It absorbs less of your attention and therefore it allows you to hear better. Podcasts or audiobooks are better than your favorite songs, and listening to audio in one ear still gives a full experience, whereas your favorite tracks are always best in stereo. Amazon Audible is a great way to listen to books when you’re on the bicycle. The best of it is that you can try it for a month for free before you commit to paying a monthly fee.
If you decide that music is a must for you on the bike, you should pay attention to the audio level and make sure that it doesn’t absorb you completely, especially if you’re riding in traffic. The louder the music the less you can hear other things. This is kind of a no-brainer, but still worth mentioning because it could save you from having an accident by being less distracted.
In forums many people bash on others who look for safe ways of taking phone calls or listening to music on the bicycle. While it is true that safety should always be the number one priority there are safe ways to enjoy audio or to take a phone call on the bicycle.
You need to apply your common sense. The more you block the outside world, the more you open up the possibility of an accident. You need to take into consideration your riding experience, how alert you are and what you feel comfortable with.
Some people get easily distracted, and should never take a call, while others can do it in a safe and responsible manner.