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I am getting lost. Easily. And looking too hard at the screen (phone mounted on the handlebars) makes me lose concentration. Luckily, Komoot I'm trying now, and Google Maps, provide voice navigation. The problem is, either I put it on speaker and I do not hear it on busy roads I need it the most, or I put it on the headphones and I don't hear other road users. Quite awful and safety issue either way.

I think that bone conduction headphones would solve that for me. But I don't know how to choose. Note, I am not looking for particular product recommendations. What's available for you now may be unavailable for me here and for sure will not be an optimal choice in two years. So I want to ask how to look at them? What really matters?.

What I need them for, in order of priority:

  1. Hearing outside world.
  2. Navigation, of course!
  3. Listening to unobtrusive music. Quality does not need to be good, but no irritating squeaks and creaks.
  4. Answering urgent phone calls.*

My rides are usually no more than 6 hours long with up to 4 hours of actual riding in it. Headphones needs to last that much. Ability to recharge from powerbank would be appreciated.

With this in mind, how should I proceed with selecting model for me?


* I'd prefer microphone that would work, but knowing there is a call would be enough - if there would be an unobtrusive way to reject that call or automatically stop ringing sound after one or two rings.

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  • Having briefly tested some AfterShokz the audio quality for both music and speech is impressive - but I decided I couldn't justify spending the money - so point 3 is certainly doable.
    – Chris H
    Sep 15, 2020 at 11:06
  • 1
    I recommend to wear only one headphone - no matter what kind you choose. Sep 17, 2020 at 6:44
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    @VladimirFГероямслава Bone conduction doesn't work like that - you have to have the transducer pressed against your head in a spot where the flesh is thin. Just forward of the ears is perfect for this. But there is NOTHING in the ear canal on either side, which is why they're good for situational awareness.
    – Criggie
    Dec 14, 2023 at 0:46
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    @VladimirFГероямслава sorry rephrase - bone conduction earphones don't block the ear at all. So riding with only one isn't possible - they have to squeeze your head a little to press through the skin onto the bone. There are no "bone conduction" earphones that don't use a headstrap. They're not earphones/earbuds.
    – Criggie
    Dec 14, 2023 at 7:35
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    @Criggie For completion: Shokz has recently released one "true wireless", with two independant earbuds. But I think that with bone conducting headphones, having only one doesn't have any added value.
    – Rеnаud
    Dec 14, 2023 at 9:13

3 Answers 3

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Point 1, hearing the outside world, is mostly easy. If the audio is too-high a volume it can still drown out the background, but that's got to be quite loud.

Point 2, these headphones have to work with your device. If that means bluetooth, then battery life becomes a consideration. If your device has audio-output jack then that's another option.
Do note - Bone conduction headphones use their internal battery all the time. Bluetooth is additional power usage.

Generally speaking, the music fidelity of bone conduction head phones is down there with cheap AM radios. So your point #3 is going to be hard to match. It is certainly audible, but quality is low. They are great for audiobooks though.

4, phone calls. I have BC headphones that are just headphones, no microphone. So they can beep should a call or message arrive, but I can't take the call. There are variants that have a microphone and call control button. If you use an audio out jack, you might need a 2.5mm 4 way TRS connector, or maybe a 3.5mm version.

Unmentioned - sweat. Some BC headphones have a control box partway down the cable. For me, that used to clip to the collar or the HRM strap, which worked well. But sweat tends to get inside the controls and make them flaky, then non-functional.

Another feature, is some way to easily turn them off. Ideally a button that you can hit without looking, that shuts off the sound should you need to focus on something else going on.

Cost is the last mention - you could spend multiple hundreds of dollars, but thats overkill for on a bike. Something down around $50 USDish would be less upsetting when they do eventually break.


2023 - I gave up on the BC headphones, and ended up tucking a small MP3 player directly in my headband. Mono-only music is good enough, and has no directional bias to distract me.

https://www.aliexpress.com/item/1005006038122088.html has a tiny speaker on the back, but when its just over my nearside ear, it works great.

I've also used a single-ear over-ear bluetooth headset and that works quite well, but my phone couldn't do BT audio and BT heartrate strap and run the GPS reliably. https://www.aliexpress.com/item/1005001860177183.html

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Many Bluetooth ear buds have some form of "hear through". This uses the microphone in the ear buds that's normally used for phone calls to pick up ambient sounds and relay it into the audio stream that's being played in your ears.

For example, the Jabra Elite Active 65t (my personal choice) has this function and I have found that it works very well when I'm running. It has an adjustable "hear through" volume (so you can balance the ambient noises against the volume of your music). I also have a pair of ISOTunes hearing protectors that I wear in the workshop that also have this feature (in addition to automatically shutting it off when the ambient noise exceeds 85dB to protect my hearing).

The one drawback to it is that sometimes I find that it significantly and annoyingly amplifies wind noise. This is likely to be a more significant issue when cycling than when running. However, this particular model is about 4 years old, so I'd imagine that they've improved wind noise reduction by now.

The battery life easily lasted for a 3:30 marathon plus 20-30 minutes of pre race music, so it should be sufficient for the desired 4 hours of ride time. They come with a charging case that can easily be carried in a jersey pocket and the ear buds dropped into the case during riding breaks.

Note: I'm not invested in Jabra or ISOtunes in any way, shape, or form beyond being a satisfied customer of these particular products. YMMV.

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After some consultation with Criggie in 2020, I bought the cheapest bluetooth AeroShokz (now just "Shokz") available at the time. I upgraded to another model after the first one died. My primary purchase motivator was to drive sleeping children while safely listening to podcasts, but bike riding was the second consideration.

Hearing the outside world

There is no problem hearing the outside world. If anything, the outside world takes precedence over your headphones. Mine came with a pair of ear plugs as a gentle suggestion that noisy environments might need some dampening. I wear the ear plugs on trains and planes. For some bike rides, I wear a plug in one ear.

Navigation

Speech reproduction is great. Audio books and podcasts work really well. The trouble here is the same as above: Can you hear it over background noise (traffic, wind)?

Music

Music quality is pretty unremarkable. I'd rate it slightly higher than Criggie's answer. Perhaps "decent AM radio" or "mediocre FM radio."

Answering calls

There is a function to take calls on the device, but the outgoing audio is terrible. I can hear fine, but the other party never hears me right. When a call comes in, I click "accept" on the headset and pull over to dig out my phone and change audio sources while the other person tells me who they are.

I don't know if it's bad mic placement, reduced bitrate when Bluetooth has to receive and transmit, or just accumulated abuse of the device. (I'd blame the mic problem on sweat or rain, but I still had the issue on the second one, which was water-resistant.)

There are newer models with a boom mic, but I haven't tried them.

Battery life

I've gotten 6 (first model) to 8 (second model) hours of battery.

Longevity

  • First model: 18-24 months. The frame cracked above my ear.
  • Second model: 15 months of very heavy use. Electronics died. I think I killed it by charging when the electrodes were wet, which it expressly says not to do.

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