Riding is a great way to enjoy the sensation of the wind in your hair and on your skin—but no one likes listening to wind noise. Not only is it bad for your actual ability to hear, it’s just an unpleasant thing in general. What’s a rider to do?
You could, of course, wear earplugs. It’s what I do on every ride, in fact, and it’s served me well so far in terms of not suffering serious hearing loss while riding. The thing is, in 2022, a lot of us also like to hear things like our GPS navigation of choice feeding directions into our ears, or even music or podcasts.
Pairing a set of earplugs up with a Bluetooth helmet communicator is a good choice (and it’s my preferred one, personally), but there are plenty of reasons that might not be a good option for you. For one thing, BT communications units are expensive. For another, BT comms units may not appeal very much if you don’t have other riding buddies who are also using compatible comms units. Maybe you just don’t like the idea of sticking strong adhesive to a helmet graphic you really like. (We totally get that one, by the way. No one wants to ruin their favorite lid.) Isn’t there another way?
What About Earbuds?
That’s where a good pair of earbuds under your helmet can be your new best friend. Wired ones will likely be your least expensive option. They also usually take up less physical space, and are therefore less likely to end up stuck in an uncomfortable position between your ears and your helmet. Obviously, you’ll have to be careful not to get your wires stuck in your jacket zipper, and accidentally unplugging yourself from your phone or other device is another potential issue. Sliding a balaclava over your head after you get your wired earbuds situated can help keep everything right where you want it.
Wireless earbuds can potentially work, but be careful. What works just fine outside a helmet may bring nothing but pain and misery crammed inside a helmet, because the fit may be totally different. Things also tend to shift around when you’re putting a helmet on or taking it off, which can result in additional discomfort. Wireless earbuds will also fall down if they’re not securely mounted in your ears, so if your helmet dislodges them, it could at best be an annoyance, and at worst be seriously uncomfortable or even painful (ask how I know).
One important consideration to keep in mind about earbuds is, why do you want to wear them? If you just want an inexpensive, comfortable way to listen to music and/or navigation while riding, that’s one thing. However, if you also want to protect your hearing, you’re going to want a pair with active noise cancellation. While prices on ANC earbuds have been getting better over time (as with a lot of tech), they’re still not going to be the cheapest ones you’ll find.
A note about the earbuds you may already be using with your smartphone to make and receive calls: These may or may not work as well for making calls as you would like when used inside a helmet. You might appreciate them just fine for everyday phone calls, but find that functionality seriously suffers when placed inside a helmet. That’s fair enough, since such a thing would probably be a bonus use anyway, and is not actually what those earbuds were made for in the first place.
Please also be aware that your local laws and regulations may vary regarding whether you can legally wear earbuds of any kind while operating your motorcycle. When in doubt, it’s best to check before your next ride.
Wired Versus Wireless
Wireless earbuds are extremely convenient when you’re doing most things—but they may or may not be your best option if you want to wear earbuds while riding a motorbike. While we’re big ATGATT proponents here at RideApart (that’s “all the gear, all the time”), wireless earbuds could potentially be an issue even if you opt not to wear a helmet on your bike.
Why? That’s easy. They fall out. Think about all the stresses to which you'll subject any earbuds you wear on a bike. Vibrations, head checks, quick maneuvers, wind, helmet adjustments, shifting your head around inside your helmet, talking or singing inside your helmet, taking your helmet off—you get the idea.
If you wear wireless earbuds without a helmet, and one falls out mid-ride, you could lose it forever—along with whatever good money you paid for the pair in the first place. Even with a helmet on, when a wireless earbud falls out, you may not always be able to control where gravity causes it to land. (How is it that they always manage to fall into the nearest open storm drain, anyway?)
If you’re going to wear earbuds in your helmet, my personal preference is for wired ones, for a number of reasons. Obviously, as with most things, your opinion may differ. Practicality, comfort, and price do seem like pretty compelling points when considering your available options. That said, here are a few of the best options we’ve seen in 2022.
Jabra Elite Active 75t
Wired or Wireless? Wireless Bluetooth
Features: IP57 waterproof rating, active noise cancellation, two-year warranty, 5.5 hours battery life (claimed) with ANC turned on, 7.5 hours battery life (claimed) with ANC turned off, comes in four colors
Plenty of people make wireless Bluetooth earbuds, but a lot of them are bulky, heavy, and don’t fit well under a motorcycle helmet. That’s not even beginning to discuss sound quality and functionality, either. However, riders have been recommending wireless earbuds in the Jabra Elite Active line in forums for years as hitting a rider-specific sweet spot. As with all other advice from random riders on the Internet, your mileage may vary—but these seem worthy of further study.
MEE Professional M6 Pro Noise-Isolating In-Ear Monitors
Wired or Wireless? Wired
Features: Noise reducing, sweat-resistant (but not IP waterproof-rated) design, detachable and replaceable cables, lifetime replacement at half-price guarantee, can be converted to custom-fit with 3D-printed silicone eartips that exactly match the shape of your ears (at an additional charge), comes in three colors plus clear
As the name probably gives away, these earbuds were designed with musicians in mind—but their noise reduction, good sound quality, and low-profile design with over-the-ear memory wire makes them a good option for motorcycle riders, too. Plus, plenty of riders might also be musicians, so why not get earbuds that can pull double duty?
Bose QuietComfort 20 Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones
Wired or Wireless? Wired
Features: Decent sound quality, comfort, and noise cancelling; claimed 16-hour battery life
MSRP: Discontinued by Bose, but still available refurbished or aftermarket in 2022 at varying price points
Bose is a brand commonly associated with noise cancelling—and this pair of earbuds frequently comes up in rider forums as working comfortably well inside motorcycle helmets. When they were new, MSRP on these earbuds was a cool $300, though—which probably doesn’t surprise you if you’ve ever priced most Bose products. That also means if your argument against a dedicated in-helmet Bluetooth comms unit was primarily based on price, these earbuds probably wouldn’t be a good option to fit your needs.
Bose has moved on since the QC20s, though, and now seems to focus exclusively on wireless earbuds that visually appear to be uncomfortably bulky for in-helmet wear. If you can find a new-old stock set of QC20s, or you’re comfortable with buying a refurbished pair from somewhere, the good news is that you can probably also find them at much lower price points now. Actual riders have recommended these for some time, so they could be worth hunting down.