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Earbuds and cycling are not a good mix in my opinion, though there is obviously controversy with this statement. Just look at the variation of law by state regarding headset use in cars (and bicycles) (1). In California, for example, “wearing headsets or earplugs in both ears is not permitted while driving or operating a bicycle” (1). Not sure about you, but a huge pet peeve of mine is listening to anything with just one ear. Most of us were born with 2 ears, making stereophonic perception the “norm,” if I may use that term.
The point is, wearing earbuds in both ears while cycling, I believe, can present a significant safety hazard by preventing the rider from hearing critical audio cues, such as another cyclist attempting to pass you, a siren, an approaching car, a pursuing dog etc. On the other hand, wearing an earbud in only one ear, while legal in most of the United States, is annoying. There are some alternative designs of headphones out there, most notably, Aftershokz’s ® open ear sport headphones that rely on bone conduction (as opposed to air conduction seen in conventional headphones/ earbuds) (2). However, review of these headphones has revealed relatively lacking audio quality, especially in the bass frequencies(3).
Outdoor Tech (OT) ® presents another approach to the issue of safely listening to your media while cycling by creating a simple, portable, durable speaker that can be mounted on your bicycle. As an introduction, OT is a Los Angeles based company whose goal is “to address the ever growing issue of blending a modern lifestyle in the age of mobile technology with the drive to be outdoors” (4).
They present a unique array of products including apparel, mobile phone cases, and pretty innovative wireless audio equipment. Featured in this article is a review of the OT Buckshot ®. Here are some stats:
Dimensions: 3.5in (9cm) long, 1.5in (3.8cm) diameter
Weight: 5.5 Oz/ 150 grams
10 hours on a single charge
Rechargeable lithium-ion battery, micro USB charging compatible
Built in microphone for conference calls
Bluetooth-enabled with range of up to 33 feet from device
Handlebar mount accessory
IPX5 dust and waterproof standard: will protect from water jets at any direction.
Construction (5/5): My first impression of the speaker when it came was the quality, simplicity, and beauty of the construction. Very Bauhaus. It was a monochromatic (matte black) cylinder. The outer protective layer consisted of a geometrically texturized rubber sleeve. On one end of the cylinder was the metal speaker grill: solid construction. At the other face of the cylinder were three push buttons (the 2 volume buttons, and a “link” button) and a micro USB charge port nearly hermetically sealed by a thick plastic cover; these were harmoniously arranged. Overall, the the speaker felt good and solid in the hand. No clinking of internal parts when shaking it vigorously, not even after dropping it (accidentally of course) from about 5 feet.
Ease of use (5/5): Perhaps they did this on purpose, but OT ® never sent me the instructions for the Buckshot ®, and I am glad they didn’t. Because it gave me a sense of the ease of use of this robust little speaker. There are only three buttons, two of which are to raise and lower the volume. The only other one to tweek around with was the “link” button. It took me about 5 minutes to figure out, but basically I enabled my phone’s Bluetooth then held down the link button for a good 4-5 seconds. After a few beeps and some blue and red LED flashes, I was connected. Phone calls, stored media, streaming media etc. were all connected.
Charging is a cinch. And what’s cooler is that the Buckshot ® takes the very common micro USB port, which charges many smart phones. I actually forgot the Buckshot ® charger on one occasion but was able to charge the speaker with my own phone charger. Once again, simplicity of design, ease of use.
Finally, mounting the speaker to my bicycle handlebar (aerobar) was pretty easy to figure out.
Sound Quality (4/5): I was impressed with the sound, both as an indoor speaker and one to use whilst riding. Regardless of it being a monophonic speaker, I was able to enjoy listening to music and other audio programs through the speaker over extended periods of time. I had to turn the volume all the way up (both on the speaker and my phone) for the music to be audible in 40MPH traffic rushing by me, but it was still audible. Poorer quality of course, but audible. Not unlike car speakers in a noisy old car.
Being a cylinder, the Buckshot ® tends to concentrate sound towards whatever it is pointed at. So I felt that when biking outdoors, my own ears made up the majority audience, i.e. not as much “noise pollution” as I might expect that may or may not annoy other riders, pedestrians, etc. However, people still noticed when I rode around with the speakers on. As a pet peeve of mine is loud music blasting from neighboring cars, I tend to be more conscious of what emanates from my own vehicle (in this case my bicycle). However, I did not get a strong impression that the speakers were disturbing anyone elses’ peace.
Speakerphone Capabilities (2/5): Having a speaker phone conversation was very good indoors. But when on the road with 40mph traffic rushing by, I could neither hear the other side of the conversation, nor could the other side hear me even when I was shouting into the speaker. I must have looked like a crazy man, screaming into my aerobars, “What’s for dinner tonight?!”
And even when the cars had passed, and it was just me, the road, and the passing breeze, I really had to raise my voice and put my ears close to the speaker to carry any semblance of a conversation, and even then, it was butchered at best.
Utility(3/5): Admittedly, I dropped the speaker a few times during this review, but the sound was unflinching. The Buckshot ® was also very portable and was easily packed into the top pocket of my pack. It hasn’t rained much in SoCal, but I had to test the water resistance, so I played some M83 through a row of sprinklers, and it was unscathed and unfazed. I made sure the water sprayed into the speaker grill too and there was no change in sound quality. Plus it was cool seeing the water vibrate when the music hit certain notes!
I noticed that the speaker was pretty wobbly when mounted “over the bar” and shifted significantly when going over even small bumps. As such, I mounted it under the bar, and it was a bit more stable. But going over larger bumps really caused the speaker to wiggle and nearly come off the mounting strap, and intermittently I had to push the speaker back into place to be resecured to the strap. Maybe it was because my aerobars are thinner than the handlebars.
1. Bike to work with your speakers then set up a conference call (indoors) at work with those same speakers.
2. Bicycle-picnic trip with portable music at your destination to set the right mood. No more need to lug around larger speakers/ radio.
3. Fun way to watch movies on your phone in a group. I actually leaned my phone against the speaker and the audio-visual worked pretty well.
Overall, the OT Buckshot ® is a robust speaker for playing music on bike rides that are not too bumpy or noisy. A nice beachside cruise would be one appropriate setting. Unfortunately, it did not perform well with the speakerphone function while riding. For $50, I think it is a good purchase, and besides the three aforementioned scenarios, this speaker has many unrealized applications.
Hope you enjoyed the review. Do good and ride well.
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