Let’s face it, cyclists here in Southern California – or elsewhere for that matter – rarely pay strict adherence to the state vehicle code. Sometimes it’s subtle, like not coming to a complete stop at a stop sign or using headphones, and other times it’s far more blatant, like a huge pack of riders blowing through lights on a weekend group ride. It’s usually the latter that’s going to attract the attention of the local police.
And if you get stopped by the police for any reason, you can end up with a very expensive ticket if also busted for wearing headphones. Just last year, California’s state legislature closed the loophole on wearing the ‘bud’ style category of headphones. But that hasn’t stopped a significant percentage of cyclists from still wearing headphones – myself included.
Over the past 20 years I’ve searched out legal options for getting my music fix while cycling, but all fell far short of a satisfactory listening experience – including the obnoxious handlebar-mounted players that force others to listen to your taste in music.
At last year’s Interbike show in Las Vegas, I stumbled across a sports headphone designed for active, outdoor enthusiasts that promised exceptional acoustics while being street legal with an open-air design.
Like a lot of new gear unveiled every year at Vegas, I was skeptical of the claims AfterShokz was promising with their new “bone conduction” headphone technology. According to AfterShokz, their headphones “incorporate an open-ear design (OpenFit) and a suite of proprietary audio technologies and design patents with athletes in mind”.
After several months of testing, I found that AfterShokz’s claim to being the “safest alternative to traditional sports headphones and ear buds” wasn’t just Vegas Interbike hype. The technology is a game changer on many levels for those that want to enjoy their music on two wheels; they’re legal, safer in traffic or group rides, and deliver a premium audio experience equal to any conventional sports headphones.
AfterShokz terms the dynamic sound range found in their sports line, including EQ presets offering powerful, rich bass, as “PremiumPitch+”. By creating mini vibrations, bone conduction technology delivers music through your cheekbones; ensuring ears remain completely open to hearing ambient sounds while also providing maximum situational awareness.
Runners, especially those training solo in isolated areas, will also appreciate being able to maintain an awareness of their surroundings – how many times have you been out riding on a bike path where joggers are so tuned-out they can’t hear you when you try to warn them of your approach?
Besides saving yourself the cost of an expensive ticket (that would have easily paid for their top-end model), you’re going to be on stronger legal grounds if ever involved in an accident – say, for example, with the prevalence of distracted drivers on the roads these days who could claim you were also distracted by using illegal and conventional headphones.
For riders looking to cut the cord to their cell phone or MP3 player, the Trekz Titanium Bluetooth headphones ($129.95 – available at Amazon or R.E.I.) are a great solution. Incorporating Bluetooth 4.1 connectivity and convenient multi-point pairing, the headphones come in at a feathery 36 grams – which means they’re light enough for all-day riding comfort.
The rugged design can handle sweat, dust, and moisture from your Saturday “World Championship” group ride or any kind of nasty weather (rain cancels most club rides in Southern California so you probably won’t get much of a chance to test this feature).
The Bluetooth version is available in two sizes: standard and mini. You’ll get six hours of continuous music (plus calls) on a single charge. “Audrey Says”, the ever-present voice assistant common to all of our tech toys these days, guides users through power, pair, play and talk functions. The dual noise-canceling microphones are so effective at excluding surrounding noise and enhancing speech that these headphones have now become my go-to hands-free cell phone device.
If you’re looking for something a bit more affordable but still incorporating the same bone-conduction technology, AfterShokz just introduced a wired Sportz Titanium headphone with microphone ($59.95; without microphone $49.95). The wired in-line controls for play, skip, and pause aren’t quite as cool as the Bluetooth version but they do come with a price tag half the cost. A nice bonus is 12 hours of continuous music (plus calls) on a single charge. The noise canceling microphone reduces surrounding noise, effectively enhancing speech, but as I found, not as well as the Bluetooth model.