How to…. Get tunes on your bike

Without it looking like this

By Alan Dowds

IT'S not for everyone, but some of us like to alleviate the tedium of a 100-mile motorway jaunt with some banging music, or maybe an audiobook, or a favourite radio station.

But how best to manage it on two wheels? In a car, you just flick on the stereo and you’re away. On a bike, you need another solution. Here are our five favoured routes to in-helmet entertainment, starting with...

1. Custom earplugs

This is one of our favourite options – a set of in-ear phones, ideally custom-fit ones from a firm such a specialist like Ultimate Hearing Protection. There are also several cheaper options, like Koss The Plug earphones, which use a foam earplug-type design to seal into your ear canal. You can get home-brew silicone kits to make your own custom plugs too.

These in-ear phones keep wind and engine noise out, like normal earplugs, while letting you pipe sound in. You can use them with a sat-nav, an intercom, radio, MP3 – anything really, including your phone (remember you need your phone to be mounted in a hands-free setup to use it while on the bike).

The advantage is obvious – your music doesn’t need to be really loud to be heard over the wind blast, so your ears get an easier time. The disadvantage is also pretty obvious: you’re isolated more from the outside world, so need to take extra care not to miss hazards on the road.

These are a bit old-school now, but some folks still swear by them. Small speakers mounted inside your lid plug into a wired (or wireless radio) intercom unit, which lets you speak to your pillion, and (on radio setups) other riders in your group. Most have options to plumb in music or other audio too.

A bike with built-in sound system is pretty cool – although you need to go quite far up the heavyweight tourer tree to get one. Honda’s Goldwing is the original (and one of the best), while BMW’s K1600GT and R1200RT also provide music while you hoon. Harley-Davidson’s tourers have bizarre US-type setups (we’re sure we saw an 8-track on one a few years back), so there are options for the weirdest of tastes.

The downside of this is that they generally become useless once you crank up the speed. A Goldwing system works up to motorway speeds, just about, but once you get towards 80-90mph, it starts to get swamped by the wind blast. Round town though, they’re top.

Interestingly, at the other end of the price range Lexmoto's £1,549 Venom 125 has a built-in MP3 player and Bluetooth speakers. Visordown has yet to try it but we enjoyed the demo video...

Bluetooth is The Future of course, and has been for about 20 years now… Several of the helmet companies offer smart add-on gizmos, which attach to your lid and pipe sound into speakers incorporated into the helmet liner (there’s usually a microphone for phone and intercom use too). A helmet-specific kit is usually lighter and sleeker, but there are generic units too, like the Interphone or Vertix (pictured) setups, which are pretty good. Buttons on the unit let you swap modes, play and pause tunes, answer your phone and adjust volume.

They often don’t work so well at speed – if you wear earplugs against wind noise, it’s obviously even harder for them to work, and you often end up with the unit at full volume, which kills the battery faster. Use them without earplugs, and you risk hearing damage from wind noise. If you keep your speed down of course, it all works much better.

READ OUR VERTIX RAPTOR-I REVIEW.

In the past, we’ve seen people fit stereos into big scooters, middleweight tourers, and even sports bikes. There was also, strangely, a tank bag with a stereo system built in floating about in the 1990s. The tech makes this easier nowadays. There Bluetooth speakers that can be mounted to the bike, like the Outdoor Technology Turtle Shell Boombox pictured below, and there are loads of amazing-looking Chinese-made setups for sale on eBay.

On an unfaired bike, you’ll struggle to hear them over the windblast once you hit 50-60mph, but on a faired bike, you’ll do better. Again, round town, or at lower cruising speeds, you’ll be fine.

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