Music on your Commute: Abstinence or Safe Sounds?

This is a review of speakers, but I feel like a Sex Ed teacher getting ready to talk to high school students about condoms.

Here's the deal: Maybe we shouldn't cycle while listening to music. Maybe we would all be better citizens of the world if we could center ourselves in our zen place, clear our minds, and appreciate the sounds of everything from the birds chirping to the confused driver yelling at us to get on the sidewalk. But that's about as likely as doping disappearing from professional cycling, and much less controversial.

 O-tus Mini-speakers for Bike Helmets
O-tus Mini-speakers for Bike Helmets

Sometimes you just want Rusted Root's sweet, sweet melodies to send you on your way as you mount your steed and hit another epic trail. So here you go. As long as you're going to do it, these cond"” I mean, speakers are probably your safest option.

You don't stick these in like you do with traditionally invasive ear buds. In fact, these little guys aren't ear buds at all. They look like ear buds, but they are best described as micro-speakers, and they fasten to the underside of your helmet an inch or two above each ear hole.

Not only does this design allow for potentially life-saving traffic noise to reach your ears, but it could also prevent injury if anything were to collide with the side of your head like, say, a pumpkin (hey, happened to me), or Ron Burgundy's half-eaten burrito.

Let's get serious for a minute and state the obvious: Cycling day-to-day is a relatively safe activity. So you may be wondering if there are any other benefits to these air buds besides safety. Definitely.

I don't know about you, but I've been stuck behind Headphony Tony one too many times on a bike path. "On your left!" But he doesn't hear you. O-tus allows you to listen to music without being that guy.

As for me, I don't usually ride with headphones, but now that I know these exist I am a lot more likely to ride while listening to music.

See what happened there? These speakers influenced me not to abstain. Sure, my music is quiet when I use these speakers, but they're certainly safer than ear buds, more comfortable than headphones, and lighter weight than any other speakers I know of.


  • I used a Philips GoGear Raga mp3 player.
  • Installation and setup time: About 1 hour.
  • Major benefit: Safe way to listen to music.
  • Major problem: Volume too low.
Philips GoGear Raga mp3 player with O-Tus Safe Sounds Speakers
Philips GoGear Raga mp3 player with O-Tus Safe Sounds Speakers

Detailed Pros:

  • COMFORTABLE: More comfortable than earbuds/headphones. I would never know they were on my helmet.
  • LIGHTWEIGHT: Lighter weight than more distant speakers (i.e. handlebar/backpack speakers)
  • MINIMAL SOUND POLLUTION: Less sound pollution than more distant speakers that would require higher volume to reach your ears. You can listen to Nicki Minaj without your riding buddies knowing.
Adam: O-Tus Senior Technical Advisor
Adam: O-Tus Senior Technical Advisor
  • EXTRAS: Plenty of extra installation pieces and adhesive to try try again in case at first you don't succeed.
  • FREE MOUNTS: If you have one of the rare, extra thin helmets, special mounts are available at no extra cost by contacting Otus.
  • QUICK INSTALLATION: The installation of the device, itself, is quick and easy (not including music formatting/setup)
  • INSTRUCTIONS: Helpful instructions and videos on the website. URL included in instructions.
  • AFFORDABLE: About $42.00 US
  • INSTALL ONCE: After you install the speakers, they're ready for a ride. You never have to remove them and reattach them.
  • ADAM: In the installation video on Otus's website, Adam plays the part of "Senior Technical Advisor with Otus." He's a friendly little chap and the point is clear: Even a small child can install the speakers in just a few minutes.

Detailed Cons:

  • SPEAKER VOLUME: Very low volume. Otus, please turn it up. Explanation below.
  • SETUP TIME: Relatively long (1 hour) setup just to attempt to increase volume and retransfer music, which did not work for me in the end.
  • PREPARE TO CUT: You may need to cut some Styrofoam at the edge of your helmet. Instructions say to shave a paper thin area of Styrofoam. My helmet (Giro Indicator) required me to cut about quarter inch of Styrofoam away due to the rounded edges.
  • INSTRUCTIONAL VIDEO VOLUME: Poor guy. It's difficult to understand everything little Adam says in the instructional video. Maybe now that he is older (the video was recorded in 2011) Otus can record another video whereby the cameraman doesn't film from behind Adam's voice direction, and he gets the opportunity to speak up a bit more.
  • SUNGLASS CLEARANCE: Installed speakers caused minor sunglass clearance issues. It takes a few seconds to make sure the arms of the glasses get tucked toward the inside of the speakers without knocking them loose.
  • FASTENERS: Speakers fall off when shoving gloves etc. into helmet after a ride. (Pro: They easily reattach by clicking into place.)

Speaker Volume Details:

Very low. Too low.

If I were a typical consumer, I might have written this off as a disappointing reality and gone on using quiet speakers, but because I am reviewing the product I made sure to read and follow every instruction included in the package, on the website, and in their videos.

O-Tus Safe Sounds Speakers
NOT an earbud, but… can’t.. resist… urge…

The third instructional video on their website explains how to edit the volume of every song in your iTunes library. It took about 30 minutes. After spending an hour installing the speakers, editing song volumes, and transferring songs from my new, supposedly louder iTunes library, I barely noticed a difference, if at all. To be sure, I left some of my older, regular volume songs on the mp3 player and imported new songs whose volume I had just increased. Only by a placebic stretch of my imagination did I notice a difference.

Even if there were a noticeable increase in volume, the time-consuming process begs the question, If the speakers can handle a louder volume, why do I have to change my music to make it happen? Why don't O-tus's factory settings allow for a sufficient volume?

Toward the end of the setup page on their website, O-tus says, "Warning "“ These are speakers not earbuds "“ Do not put directly in ears," an ostensibly important warning considering the speakers look like ear buds. The warning gave me an idea. I turned the volume all the way up, (Oh, it already is), ignored the warning, and put the speakers in my ears.

They were loud, but definitely not too loud. In fact, I compared two other pairs of ear buds to these speakers and they sounded nearly the same. I certainly have headphones louder than these speakers even when the entire speaker is in my ear.

Oh well, safety first? The quieter the speakers are, after all, the safer you are, and the more birds you'll hear chirping in the trees.

As for the confused drivers, you can react however you want to their outbursts"¦ but I must admit it has been nice to have a good soundtrack (albeit a quiet one) helping me try to react non-aggressively to the inevitable road rage of misguided drivers.

Samuel HaglerSamuel Hagler is a returned Peace Corps volunteer and founder of the Ride for Good Foundation. He is a master’s candidate studying Bicycle Activism in the M.A. Sustainable Communities program at Northern Arizona University, and enjoys mountain biking, commuting, and traveling the world by bicycle.

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