January 2024


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.

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