I fell in love with cycling during the pandemic for the same reasons countless others did: It’s good for you, it’s enjoyable, and it offers a quick, affordable, and (relatively) safe way to travel longer distances while public transport remains something of a risk. But from the get-go, there was one thing I didn’t like so much about riding in a city. Because you’re sharing the pavement with cars, buses, and jaywalking pedestrians, you need to be able to hear the street, which means listening to music and podcasts (as I normally do during commutes) is quite hard while you bike, at least if you want to do so safely. As an audio freak who gets bored easily, I found this alone would sometimes stop me from riding. That was until I got my hands on a pair of AfterShokz headphones — the one thing that has had the biggest impact on my life as a cyclist since I bought my bike itself.
Launched in 2011, AfterShokz makes wireless, Bluetooth-compatible headphones that wrap around your ears to stay in place. Just like many other pairs, you may be thinking. What’s different about these, though, is that rather than being inserted into your ears or over them, AfterShokz headphones sit in front of your ears, on the bone just below your temples, and use bone-conduction technology to transmit super-clear audio. In layman’s terms, bone-conduction technology allows the headphones to transmit sound via comfortable vibrations against the skull as opposed to through speakers covering or in the ears, so wearers can still hear the noises of traffic and pedestrians as they listen to music, podcasts, or GPS instructions. A secondary but no less important benefit of this technology is that it makes AfterShokz headphones lighter than their competitors’ since they lack extra parts in the form of speakers.
While bone conduction isn’t a new technology (AfterShokz traces its origins back to an Italian physicist of the 1500s), the brand appears to have carved out a niche in the headphones category. AfterShokz makes the only bone-conduction headphones stocked by REI, Best Buy, and Backcountry, and those headphones have received a Red Dot Design Award, an annual German prize you could call the Oscar of the industrial-design world. I first learned about them from a bike-store owner while reporting about the best gifts for cyclists. (In fact, after that story published, AfterShokz sent me the pair I now wear so I could try them out.) But had I paid closer attention, I would have spotted that, last February, two competitive athletes told the Strategist that the brand also makes their favorite workout headphones.
On top of transmitting audio, the AfterShokz Aeropex headphones I use can receive it, too, meaning I can take and make calls while riding if need be. Conveniently, they fit seamlessly beneath my helmet. While wearing them, I became more confident biking long distances — from my Park Slope home to the Rockaways or the Upper West Side — because I could easily listen to directions rather than pull over and look at them on my phone. So great is my admiration for my AfterShokz that when it came time to Christmas shop this year, I purchased a second (cheaper) pair, called the OpenMove, for my brother who recently got into running. Even though his are the most affordable of the brand’s headphones, we noticed no difference in sound quality between the two pairs. (The Aeropex’s higher price tag is likely due to that model being waterproof with an eight-hour battery life, while the OpenMoves are just water resistant with a six-hour battery life.) Although I personally prefer my PowerBeats Pros for running (I run in the park, where cars are less of a concern), my brother, who runs on the street, says the AfterShokz I bought him immediately replaced his AirPods, which he always worried would fly out of his ears while he ran. He also discovered another use for the AfterShokz this holiday season: He could listen to his favorite podcasts and take part in our family chats at the same time.
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