Skip to content
Thoughtful, detailed coverage of everything Apple for 33 years
and the TidBITS Content Network for Apple professionals
40 comments

How I Use the iPhone to Listen to Music While Biking

I’ve been biking instead of running for the last few months while rehabbing from inexplicable knee pain. I don’t prefer to spend my workout time on a bike, and when I do, I usually choose my ElliptiGO, then an elderly Easy Racers Tour Easy Classic recumbent that a friend gave me years ago. But both were a bit harder on my knee than the classic Fuji Saratoga touring bike I bought for a long trip with Tonya right after we graduated from Cornell University in 1989. So a few times per week, I’ve been tossing the steadfast Fuji in the back of our Subaru Outback and driving to a nearby park where I can ride 12–18 miles on low-traffic roads without significant hills (again, hard on the knee), terrain that’s not easy to find around here.

But what I want to talk about is how I’ve been using the iPhone on these rides. I often like to listen to music or podcasts while riding, which would generally be a job for the AirPods Pro. However, it’s illegal to cover both ears while biking in New York State, and I don’t relish trying to explain Transparency Mode and Adaptive Audio to a state trooper (see “AirPods Firmware Updates Add Features, Improve Automatic Switching,” 20 September 2023). Dropping to a single earbud is legal and functional, but I hit on a different approach that I prefer—playing music through my iPhone’s speakers while it’s mounted on my handlebars.

Tonya and I have used handlebar mounts for our iPhones in the past, but they always involved beefy, expensive cases that required extracting the iPhone from its everyday case and locking it inside a clamshell. Worse, they were specific to particular iPhone models, rendering them worthless after a year or two. The top-rated modern handlebar mount solutions seem to be from QuadLock (about $75 for the necessary case and mount) and Peak Design (about $120), but when I started, I wasn’t sure I would like having my iPhone on my handlebars and didn’t feel like paying that much. I was looking for a solution that could be moved between my bikes and would work with both the iPhone 14 Pro I had then and whatever ended up replacing it. Plus, I didn’t want to limit my everyday case options.

I settled on the sub-$25 Nite Ize Wraptor, a rotating handlebar mount that uses four silicone straps to secure nearly any phone, even in a case. It also relies on a silicone cinch strap to attach to the handlebars, and while that’s less secure than a screwed-down clamp mount, it has worked fine. It sometimes rotates slightly on my bike’s stem, but a quick nudge straightens it.

Nite-Ize Wraptor phone handlebar mount

The burning question was whether the silicone straps would hold the iPhone securely enough. My first few rides in mid-August worked well, so I may have become complacent about attaching the iPhone properly. One day, I was biking back and forth between friends doing a club group run on a crushed stone rail trail when a walker I had just passed yelled for me to stop. When I went back, she handed me my iPhone, which had popped out and landed on the trail without my noticing. Luckily, it was none the worse for wear thanks to its Smartish Wallet Slayer case. Since then, I’ve paid more attention to securing the Wraptor’s straps across each of the iPhone’s corners and haven’t experienced any other drops—or even worrisome situations—across 55 subsequent rides. I probably wouldn’t trust the Wraptor when mountain biking on rough roads and trails, but I don’t do that sort of riding.

Interacting with the iPhone on the handlebars has worked surprisingly smoothly. I may consider myself primarily a runner, but I’ve put thousands of miles on my various bikes, so I’m confident in my ability to manage water bottles, bike computers, maps in a handlebar bag window, and items in my pockets while riding straight and remaining aware of cars coming up behind me in the mirror. I wouldn’t attempt to type on the iPhone while riding, but I can unlock it—Face ID sees my face in the classic tucked riding position—and easily tap icons and buttons. Practically speaking, I use “Hey Siri” for most actions, such as selecting music, starting and stopping playback, controlling volume, and adding reminders for things I think of while riding.

I mostly listen to music in the Music app, although I sometimes switch to podcasts (I’m hugely enjoying Andrew Hickey’s A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs podcast), and I’ve even carried on a few phone calls entirely successfully. At 100% volume, the iPhone 15 Pro’s speakers pump out enough sound for music. I listen to podcasts or phone calls only if I’m biking more slowly uphill or with the wind—otherwise, I lose words in the wind noise. Amazingly, the people I’ve spoken with on the phone tell me they don’t hear any wind noise from my side of the conversation.

Perhaps the most unexpected enjoyment I’ve gotten from putting the iPhone on my handlebars has come from displaying lyrics to the current song in the Music app. I’m a word person and particularly appreciate complex lyrics, but I commit words to memory by seeing rather than hearing them, something I discovered at Cornell when learning Ancient Greek. So, while I think I know my favorite songs, glancing at the lyrics scrolling by on my iPhone has occasionally proved revelatory. At no other time do I listen to music in a situation where I can simultaneously see the lyrics—I’m always writing or cooking or doing chores—so between getting a much better sense of what these artists are saying and listening to Andrew Hickey’s podcast, I feel like these bike rides have significantly deepened my appreciation of music. It’s hard to beat biking down a scenic country road in the fall splendor while listening to rock-and-roll.

Fall scene over bike handlebars

The outdoor biking season is becoming more difficult due to the cold, although I’ve figured out the clothing necessary to bike down into the mid-30s, as long as it’s dry. (Yesterday, it was over 50 degrees, but CARROT Weather’s short-term forecast let me down with regard to the rain, and I don’t have fenders or wet weather gear.) Along with tights, a jacket, and extra layers, the dropping temperatures have forced me to supplement my fingerless biking gloves with a pair of windproof running gloves that are somewhat compatible with the iPhone’s capacitive touchscreen. Those are good down to about 40 degrees, after which I have had to fall back on cross-country skiing mittens. I have to take one of them off to use the iPhone screen at all, something I can do while riding but prefer not to. With luck, we’ll get some seasonally appropriate snow soon, and my knee won’t mind cross-country skiing, but I’ll miss the time on the bike with the iPhone playing great music.

Subscribe today so you don’t miss any TidBITS articles!

Every week you’ll get tech tips, in-depth reviews, and insightful news analysis for discerning Apple users. For over 33 years, we’ve published professional, member-supported tech journalism that makes you smarter.

Registration confirmation will be emailed to you.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA. The Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Comments About How I Use the iPhone to Listen to Music While Biking

Notable Replies

  1. I’ve used that mount before, and once had the same problem - I missed one of the loops and the phone almost fell onto concrete. I don’t do much outdoor cycling, so I now use a MagSafe mount on my bike as it sits on the training stand, but I’d switch back to the Raptor if I took the bike outside again.

    One more advantage to using your phone mounted on your bike is that with watchOS 10 you can optionally use it as a bike computer to see live stats from an outdoor bicycle workout started on the watch.

  2. Adam, maybe OT but re. your knee, if you haven’t, I strongly recommend getting a professional bike fitting to minimize any possible damage from, say, a seat that’s too low or misplaced cleats. And don’t forget to keep the RPMs up and the gears low.

    Good luck!

  3. Look into Moose Mitts for your glove issue, but they may take up too much room for the phone. You may be able to convert the bike to wider, flat handlebars.

    Diane

  4. Don’t read lyrics while riding.

  5. Huh! I hadn’t thought of that since I tend to use Strava to record workouts. But I could just as easily use Workouts since it saves to Strava as well. I’m not too perturbed about my stats because biking is more about rehab and recovery than actual training for me.

    Always good advice! I can’t remember the details of when I did that, but this bike hasn’t changed in decades, so I think I’m good there. And I betray my (and its) age by the fact that I still use old-style toe clips. I realize they’re less efficient (Tonya giggles at me for not being more modern, but she was a much more serious biker for a number of years), but I don’t like the thought of being attached to the bike, and I worry that the twisting action to remove my foot from the pedal would bother my knee even more.

    Whoa, I’d never seen those before. They look really serious, and if I ever get into real winter biking, I’ll check them out.

    The iPhone is in the line of sight while looking at the road, and less of a distraction than the the maps I used to display in my handlebar bag’s window when touring. (If I was ever riding an unfamiliar route, I’d love to have mapping software providing directions on the iPhone.) It would be dumb in on busy city streets where there’s a ton going on, but on rural roads where I might encounter a handful of cars for the entire ride, it’s just not a problem.

  6. There are times I’ve had to remove my gloves under the mitts - they are that good! I see there are about a million knock offs out there these days - I’ve had my originals for over 15 years!

    About the fit, unfortunately our flexibility and strength change as we age and what worked years ago may not be the same as right now. I went through this about 5 years ago, the fitter shortened my cockpit up a bit - against my many protests - but I have to say in the long run it worked out well. You can obviously do what you feel is right for you but that is my experience. :)

    Diane

  7. Not sure what that means–in the 70s, when I started riding, they had straps that you had to lean down to release before you could get your foot out. In my case that produced at least one amusing Wil E. Coyote moment at a stop sign. :rofl: Fortunately no one was watching.

    But if that’s the kind of toe clip you mean, it has almost no side to side play, and that’s what’s critical to get right for knee protection. There’s also the relationship of the pedal axle to the ball of your foot. As for the rest of your fit, what’s changed (aside from your body–in my case the loss of 2" off my height) are the fit standards–in the day they put the saddle much further back from the bottom bracket à la Greg LeMond (who had very long femurs) than they recommend now, for instance. Time for an update, methinks. You may be surprised; if not, so much the better.

  8. The speakers on my iPhone SE are not the greatest, so years ago I decided to try bone-conducting bluetooth headphones while riding, and I am hooked! I use Shoks OpenRun Pro which sound great and still leave your ears open for other sounds. Where I live in Asia, there are cyclists who love to “share” their music with others on the trail by blasting it out of mounted speakers… so I find that using the Shoks is also a courtesy to others. Probably not an issue if you are cycling in a remote park, though.

  9. I wonder if there is a solution to wind noise on a bike. This is what annoys me the most when I listen to podcasts while riding my bike. The only solution I am aware of is a winter hat or ear warmers.

    Does anybody has any other solution, especially during the summer when hats are truly awkward? I am surprised this cannot be solved by anti-wind noise cancelling.

  10. I mount my phone on the handlebars for some rides but use one or two AirPods Pro with noise reduction on. Even then the wind often made podcasts hard to hear. A friend recommended a product that slips over the helmet straps and reduces wind noise by diverting the airflow — “Cat-Ears / AirStreamz“ (https://www.cat-ears.com). Very effective. They allow me to turn down my overall sound volume. I love them.

  11. That’s a fairly hostile law! Do they require all drivers to keep at least one windows open too (given that modern cars block out far more external noise than a pair of AirPods Pros do)?

  12. Yes, that sort, but I never tighten them enough that I can’t get my feet out, and perhaps because of that, there’s quite a lot of side-to-side play.

    I hadn’t realized fit standards had changed—I’ll have to look into that.

    Someone recommended them on Mastodon too. Do they work well with a helmet? My worry was that they’d interfere with the helmet straps. And I don’t love the connecting thing in the back, which just seems awkward.

    That would be annoying. There are no pedestrians on the rural roads I ride on, so no one ever notices.

  13. Well . . . he also says (and this to me is the key point): "It is important to hear what is going on around you when biking. Biking with headphones makes this difficult and may increase the risk of accidents.

    “Furthermore, biking with earbuds on can also make it difficult to hear the sirens of emergency vehicles. Or it could even prevent you from hearing someone’s warning to you when you are riding. This puts you and those around you at risk for injury or death.”

    'nuff said, as far as I’m concerned, and I’m even skeptical of Adam’s approach–country roads are where I rely most on my ears to tell me about what’s coming up behind, including overtaking cyclists, who often aren’t experienced enough to say “on your left.”

    But then I’m never bored on my bike, or when I’m running, or even swimming in a pool. Be careful out there!

  14. Yes, it’s a tangled, throbbing web of opinions. Here, for example, is what Peter White has to say on the subject (note all the copyright dates!): https://www.peterwhitecycles.com/fitting.php

  15. I’ve been using a pair of Aftershokz bone conduction headphones while biking for a few years. They aren’t as disruptive, strapwise or connecting-thing-wise, as I thought they’d be. I had those same concerns. They’re not perfect in that respect. Sometimes I forget I have them on and then end up whipping them off mistakenly while I’m taking off the helmet. But that’s pretty rare.

    I’ve been very happy with them and the way they allow me to hear the world around me while I ride. I almost never listen to music, though, so I can’t vouch for them for that use. I’m usually listening to a baseball game or a podcast.

  16. I find that the amount of noise generated by different cars and trucks varies widely, especially when riding into the wind or after the crest of a hill, so while I would be hesitant to have full earbuds without transparency in both ears, I rely much more on my handlebar mirror to discover what’s behind me. I’m constantly changing where I look from the road to the mirror, which is why my gaze runs over the iPhone easily.

    If I biked a lot more, I’ve always wanted to try the Garmin Varia, which alerts you to cars coming up from behind with radar.

    Overtaking cyclists have never been a concern for me—while I do get passed on occasion, I’m usually moving fast enough that they can’t come up on me quickly enough to surprise me. :slight_smile:

  17. It IS important to hear what’s around you, but even with headphones I can hear cars coming. Just how loud do they have to be to not hear anything?? I have also found that headphones, even with no music, can reduce wind noise in my ears.

    OTOH I can’t hear an electric car coming up behind me with or without headphones so it would be nice if they addressed that.

    Diane

  18. Adam…if you’re a serious cyclist…get yourself some biking shoes with cleats on the bottom and cleat type pedals. Much more comfortable than the old toe clips or toe baskets and also easier to adjust for maximum effect and minimum strain on your lower legs. They take a little bit to get used to initially…but basically you rotate your heel outward to disengage the cleat and it pretty quickly becomes muscle memory.

  19. I resisted using a Varia based on the cost too. But a friend loaned me an old one of his, and found it worth it and bought one (on sale of course). It doesn’t replace my eyeglass mirror, but supplements it by alerting me to the car behind me instead of having to constantly check in my mirror. If you’re riding even once or twice a week it’s well worth it.

  20. I had knee problems when I used toe clips w-a-a-y back in the day. As far as modern pedal/cleat combos I found that Wahoo Speedplay pedals are especially good for my knees. They allow free float (foot rotation) that allows your knees to work naturally, and they don’t use springs to try to keep your foot centered. Down side - they are expensive

  21. I have some nice, noise-cancelling earbuds that alledgedly reduce wind noise too, but I’ve never tried that and I ain’t gonna make it easy for you to find 'em since I’m agin the whole idea and want you to keep safe. :slight_smile:

    Interesting what you say about electric cars–unlike most people (apparently) I can hear the tire noise they (and any other car) make when they’re coming up on me just fine, whether I’m out walking around the neighborhood or out riding my bike, anywhere and at whatever speed they’re moving. Also, as noted, overtaking cyclists . . . And my audiologist says I’m borderline hearing aid material, too. Maybe I just know what to listen for?

  22. Hereabouts, and even in the country, dodging potholes and patches of wet leaves, sand, or ice can make it extremely important to know if someone’s passing on your left at the same moment.

    I guess one approach to this sort of dilemma is to have a passing mirror on your helmet or left-side bar. I’ve seen a lot of folks with those.

  23. I just used the wired Apple headphones - they aren’t noise canceling by any stretch of the imagination.

    I suppose tire noise depends on speed and pavement condition. A gas powered car is definitely louder. And I’ve only lost a tiny bit of high pitched hearing in one ear so far!

    I’ve honestly cut way back on road riding in the past two years. The drivers are just too crazy around here. Instead I spend money and time to drive somewhere safer.

    Diane

  24. I agree. I live in Belmont, MA, and although I spent ten years commuting into Boston along the river and enjoyed it in all weathers before I retired, I don’t ride in the city any more–I drive out to Concord instead and bike around the neighboring towns. I can get out there 3-4 days/week, weather permitting.

    If there’s one out your way, your might consider joining a local bike club for group rides. Good company of all abilities, safety in numbers!

  25. They work fine with my helmet. I put them on first, and the straps just fit over the headphones neatly. The thin bar in the back fits under the back of the helmet, so it doesn’t bother me. There is a nice, easy to access pause button on the left earpiece that makes it convenient to pause my music when needed. I can answer phone calls with it as well.

  26. I absolutely don’t trust silicone strap mounting systems. They all work fine until they don’t. It is not hard in Maryland to find pavement capable of dislodging the phone from the mount.

    Quadlock is a much smarter mechanism and worth the dough when you consider how expensive screen repairs are. You buy the bike mount once. When I upgrade phones, I always have to buy a new case and then I slap the QuadLock mounting device on the back of the case for $15 or $20 bucks.

    In terms of using the Fitness app as a bike computer, it does present a nice big readout, but there does not appear to be any way to customize the screens and I have to flip to the fourth one for my preference (which is really the only useful screen in my opinion). It also seems to tax the Watch battery slightly more vs. simply recording the workout.

    I made a shortcut that pops up when I launch iCardio (I can’t seem to quit using it) which starts a bike workout on my Apple Watch, closes the garage door, and texts my family that I am leaving on a ride. I also record the ride in iCardio, handy for when your Apple Watch runs out of juice mid-ride. I have another shortcut that opens the garage door and tells everyone I’m home when I’m done.

    I’m a right AirPod rider, podcasts mostly. I use a silicone ear horn thingy for a secure fit, leaving my left ear open to traffic noise. I can’t believe no one has given you a hard time for blasting music on your phone speakers.

  27. You should be able to customize them in the Workout app on the watch itself. Open workouts, tap the three dot icon on the upper right of outdoor cycle, scroll down the list to get to “preferences”, and tap “outdoor cycle workout views”.

    I haven’t done an outdoor cycle workout with watchOS 10 yet, so I can’t confirm from experience, but from here you should be able to choose which screens show on the watch, which should be mirrored to the iPhone.

  28. As I said, there are no pedestrians where I ride, and very few cars. I live in the country. :slight_smile: And much as the iPhone speakers are pretty good, we’re not talking about a boombox. If it’s a comfortable volume for me to hear two feet away, it’s hard to imagine someone 30-40 feet away even noticing for the few seconds that I’m passing by.

  29. I’m a distance cyclist and I’ve been using my iPhone in lieu of a dedicated bike computer…pretty much as long as I’ve had an iPhone. I’ll respond to some points made upthread.

    The best phone mount is from Peak Design. The second-best is from Quad Lock. I’m currently using a Quad Lock because it allows for more customization in my cockpit setup.

    I use and enjoy a Shokz bone-conduction headset. It’s not perfect, but it’s good. I pretty much forget I’m wearing it. It doesn’t interfere with the helmet. I go on rides long enough that I need to be able to charge it in mid-ride, which can be a problem—they draw so little power when charging that some power banks don’t recognize they’re plugged in. If this is a concern, look for a power bank with a trickle-charge mode.

    I’ve seen a few people who use JBL bluetooth speakers lashed to their handlebars for audio.

    I’ve tried one product that purports to keep wind noise out of my ears—basically a furry strip that wraps around the helmet strap in front of the ears to disrupt the wind flow. I found it completely ineffective.

    Although I won’t ride without cleats just because that’s what I’m used to, there’s no scientific evidence that they offer any biomechanical advantage except in sprints (and even then, not by much), when compared to flat studded pedals. The notion that we apply power on the upstroke with cleats has been debunked: for the most part, we just unweight the pedals.

  30. re. phone holders for any type of phone case.

    (while the image shows no phone case, you can use it with any phone case you generally use when not cycling.)

    https://www.amazon.com/Zewdov-Motorcycle-Protection-Rotatable-Compatible/dp/B0CD15VPFT/

    Loads of similar ones on Amazon:
    https://www.amazon.com/s?k=bike+phone+holder

    While not pretty, this style of holder is best IMO, for several reasons:

    1. Use your normal phone case.
    2. Holder has soft silicon in corners holding phone, so doesn’t damage your case.
    3. Holder secures the phone’s corners (not just single point of failure tiny clip-type thing on the back).
    4. Whole screen is fully accessible (not covered by straps).
    5. Holder has a quick slide-lock on back to secure it, add/remove device quickly repeatedly.
    6. Holder ball joint means switchable between portrait/landscape.
    7. Holder itself is quickly removable for switching between bikes.
    8. Cheap, so affordably replaced if broken/stolen.
    9. Can hear speakers clearly.

    I use one like this on my ebike with a 15 Pro Max and it’s great. Additionally, it’s great for trips when having to do multi-stops and taking my phone off/on repeatedly.

  31. True but. For as much as there is to know about pedals of any kind and anything else bicycle, see as always Sheldon Brown/John Allen here and passim, including a color photo of Sheldon in his winter biking sandals and John’s own tale of knee pain.

    But beware; this wonderful, quirky resource is addictive, and searching under “headphones” will bring you to John’s article on “Synching Audio and Video from Separate Recordings . . from forward-facing and rearward-facing cameras . . . mounted on different bicycles. . . . [including] real surround sound without a multi-channel recorder.” Firmly OT, but maybe of interest to people here. :grin:

  32. I wanted a pair of those sandals in the worst way! I think Louis Garneau also had them. I think at the time, REI carried them. I used to ride in my Keen sandals when I was beach riding or just tooling around and always hated sliding around on the pedals when I wasn’t wearing cleats. But none of the bike sandals fit me, they were all too narrow! Probably saved me from breaking more toes though as I would have used them in inappropriate-for-sandals places.

    Diane

  33. Thanks for the tip, but this seems to change the order that the screens appear on the Watch. There doesn’t seem to be a way to change the order of the screens that appear on the iPhone.

  34. Actually, changing the order on the Watch also changes the order on the iPhone. Thanks for the tip!

  35. I’ve been using Varia radar for years, first a RTL510 and when that recently died a RTL515. Radar alone isn’t enough, since it doesn’t tell you what or left/right where, but combined with a helmet mirror (I’ve used helmet mirrors for about 40 years) it keeps you very aware of what’s behind. I use a Garmin Edge (gone from 705 to 800 to 1000 to 830 to 1040 at about 4 year intervals) as the radar display. Garmin also has a Varia iOS app if you want to risk your phone that way, but as usual if you use one app you can’t use another (can’t record and use radar at the same time).

    Garmin isn’t the only one who produces radar units, but they’re the best. The also make a combined radar/rear camera device.

    As for headphones, I’d never use one when cycling. I did buy a Shokz Open Run for times when I want to listen but don’t trust my AirPods not to fall out (primarily cross country skiing) where there’s no traffic to deal with.

  36. Interesting gadget, Paul. How does it perform in city traffic, I wonder?

  37. I’ve read that in city traffic, not so well, since there’s just so much behind you. On the other hand, you know in a city that there’s lots back there so it’s not telling you much that you don’t already know.

    For me, it’s very useful when I ride in the mountains on gravel roads or worse. Up there it’s mostly the case that I don’t see any traffic during a ride, so getting a warning that there’s something back there is valuable.

  38. I strongly recommend the Ram X-grip. It’s fantastic.

  39. M C

    Put it in a pocket and BT it to one of those neck speaker things or eyeglasses with speakers. Then you can tap to start and stop music. No lyrics though. Just like the 1980s and a Walkman.
    BTW: are there any bike helmets with BT speakers built in or, that you can attach?

Join the discussion in the TidBITS Discourse forum

Participants

Avatar for ace Avatar for schinder Avatar for jzw Avatar for peter6 Avatar for neil1 Avatar for schwartz Avatar for ddmiller Avatar for anthony.craine Avatar for dianed143 Avatar for owen.laws8 Avatar for jimthing Avatar for David_L Avatar for jonathan4 Avatar for adamrice Avatar for JeffBelden Avatar for dave Avatar for danriley Avatar for 04.phenol-kiln