I have owned my pair of Apple AirPods Pro with ambient noise cancellation for a few years now.

When I first got them, I was quite excited to use them under my helmet to see how they’d work to cancel wind and exhaust noise.

My main questions were

  • Would they fit under my helmet? Would they get uncomfortable?
  • Would they block exhaust noise and wind noise?
  • Could I use them to use Siri / Google Assistant?

In summary — Airpods Pro do work to block noise and are quite effective, roughly about as much as the best foam earplugs when used correctly.

using airpods pro with motorcycle noise for noise cancellation
The new AirPods Pro. Motorcycle compatible

But they don’t fit under every helmet, and putting them on can be fiddly.

Also, sometimes they can kind of rub against the casing of the helmet, making an uncomfortable squeek / feedback effect.

I ended up switching to custom earplugs, which are much cheaper, easier to fit under a helmet, and more effective.

Overall, using AirPods Pro inside a motorcycle helmet is roughly equivalent to using the best earplugs — in my personal experience 3M yellow foam rated at -31 db.

Riding motorbikes with AirPods Pro - an R1200S
Motorcycle I tested with the AirPods Pro – a 1170CC twin boxer R1200S with performance exhaust

Are you obsessed with motorcycles?

Well, I am. That’s why I created this site — as an outlet. I love learning and sharing what others might find useful. If you like what you read here, and you’re a fraction as obsessed as I am, you might like to know when I’ve published more. (Check the latest for an idea of what you’ll see.)

About me/my use case with motorcycle noise

I got the AirPods Pro specifically to reduce motorcycle noise, because it’s really important to me as I suffer from mild bilateral tinnitus.

My tinnitus is genetic and pre-dates my riding. I experience it as white noise in the background all the time. It’s not annoying, not like a high-pitched whistle that many experience, more like someone has a TV on in the next room.

After a long (2+ hours) ride with poorly-fitted earplugs, the sound of the white noise is elevated. It’s also elevated when I’m stressed or under-slept.

Most motorcycles I own have aftermarket exhausts, but I generally leave the baffles in. This is because the noise bothers not just me, but my neighbours when I leave at 5 am (for that traffic-free ride!). Besides, at anything above 60 mph / 100 km/h, the main noise I hear is the wind, and I mostly feel the vibrations of the engine through the tank.

Also, I live in places where helmets are mandatory, so I have no experience riding without a helmet. I also have only used full face helmets and flip-up style helmets.

Gear I used to test the AirPods Pro on a motorcycle

  • Helmet: Shoei RF-1200 (read my review)
  • Motorcycle: BMW R1200S with an aftermarket Laser exhaust system, baffles in.
  • Phone: Google Pixel 3A (not an iPhone!)
  • Speeds tested at: 65 mph / 110 km/h (40-65 mph)

The motorcycle is a twin-cylinder 1170cc air/oil-cooled twin with an aftermarket exhaust. In noise terms, it’s like a sporty V-twin, revving to around 10,000 RPM.

I’ve owned a lot of motorcycles, and it is roughly as loud as other twins or ~liter-class four-cylinder bikes with performance exhaust systems, but with the baffles in.

I’ve also tested AirPods Pro on other motorcycles, mostly rentals in other countries when I didn’t have my intercom helmet, including a Honda CB600R, a Yamaha Tracer 900 GT, and a Benelli 300 cc bike of some kind that I flogged to within an inch of its life. The experience was largely similar between them.

Overall — how effective is the noise cancelling of AirPods Pro on a motorcycle?

Overall, using AirPods Pro for noise cancellation inside a motorcycle helmet is roughly equivalent to using the best generic (not custom-moulded) earplugs — in my personal experience, 3M 1100 orange foam, rated at -29 dB.

Note that this means when you use those foam earplugs correctly. I twist them and moisten them slightly before really jamming them in.

But with AirPods, you can also hear music and navigation alerts through them, which is a huge win.

What worked well with AirPods Pro on a motorbike:

  • AirPods Pro reduce motorcycle engine and exhaust noise dramatically. The rumbling roar of the twin-cylinder engine, which was previously really loud (like a similar V-twin, and louder than other V-twins with no modified exhaust) was reduced to a purr, even when riding at speed.
  • Motorcycle wind noise went down a lot with AirPods Pro — but not as dramatically as with engine noise. At 100 km/h it was comfortable and I could still hear wind, somewhat similar to riding around at 30-40 km/h with no earplugs.

However, AirPods are still not as good as custom-moulded earplugs, which are my current preferred way to block noise on a motorcycle.

Does the microphone on AirPods Pro work in a motorcycle helmet?

One reader wrote in and suggested I answer the question of whether you can use the microphones on AirPods while wearing a motorcycle helmet (i.e. whether you can take calls or give voice instructions to your phone while riding a motorcycle).

In a nutshell — no, the AirPods Pro microphone does not work while using a motorcycle helmet — not for me, anyway.

I’ve tried having phone conversations, and it doesn’t work while in motion or at standstill — I’m inaudible. I’ve also tried yelling “OK, GOOGLE!” almost at the top of my lungs (which of course is comically impractical) and that doesn’t work, either.

Whether the microphone works or not depends a lot on your head shape and how snug your helmet is. But on the face of it, the microphone is either unusable, or at very best, far less usable than a Sena headset.

I do like occasionally being able to talk into my helmet without taking it off, which is one reason I switched to using a helmet with a comms system (a Forcite helmet).

Disadvantages to using AirPods Pro with a motorcycle

There are three main disadvantages:

  1. They’re hard to remove from the motorbike helmet. My helmet is a snug fit. It’s challenging to get the AirPods Pro to stay in position as I put the helmet on, but it’s much more difficult for them not to go flying when I take the helmet off.
  2. They block traffic noise. In most states/countries, you’re not supposed to wear earplugs while driving or riding a motorcycle. Even though AirPods Pro don’t block out ALL ambient noise and you can definitely hear cars honking and so on, it would be a hindrance if you were pulled over by a police officer. (I’m not sure if it’s illegal.)
  3. You may not hear emergency vehicles. This is a real risk. With the noise cancellation on and music playing, you may not notice emergency vehicles. I haven’t experienced this — but I did miss a fire alarm in a building (listening to music while in the gym) until someone came to fetch me.

I would not use AirPods Pro without a helmet. They’d fly out. I also wouldn’t ride without a helmet, because I’ve crashed before, but I know it’s legal in many states in the US to do so.

Where else are AirPods Pro effective?

The most obvious use cases to me are

  • Car noise — I slept for an hour as a passenger (something rare for me, as I’m a noise-sensitive sleeper)
  • Flying in an airplane (aircraft cabin noise) — I have tested this on many flights. I prefer AirPods Pro to headphones because I can rest my head more easily, and I prefer them to earplugs because I can play music to drown out the sound of the plane and babies.
  • Cockpit noise if you’re a helicopter/aircraft pilot

I haven’t tested the last one, but I know others have tested cabin noise already.

Alternatives to the Apple AirPods Pro

There are always alternatives popping up around.

The ones I’ve kept my eye on as high-quality alternatives are ones by Sony, Bose, Jabra, Google, and Samsung. According to reviews online, they have sound cancelling roughly as good as (or better than) Apple’s ones. I haven’t tested them on motorcycles, though.

ModelNoise cancelling quality
(per The WireCutter)
Bose Quiet Comfort Earbuds IIVery good
Google’s Pixel Buds ProVery good
Jabra Elite 7 ProOK
Samsung Galaxy Buds ProOK
Sony Linkbuds SGood
Various Alternatives to AirPods Pro for motorcycles

There are others, too, but they’re from brands that are less available outside the US.

Samsung Galaxy Buds - great for motorcycles
Galaxy Buds Live. Photo: PhoneArena. Galaxy Buds Live are low profile enough to fit under your helmet as you’re slipping it on.

Side note – AirPods Pro work pretty well (not perfectly) with Android

They’re almost fully compatible. When I unpackaged them, I paired them immediately with my Android, and was able to use noise cancellation and the sound features immediately. I could also switch between noise-cancellation and pass-through modes.

If you have any Apple device that’s not a phone, including a MacBook or an iPad, you can use the software on that to manage the “fit test”. I use a MacBook Air laptop, and that was fine.

However, you don’t need to do the fit test.

AirPods Pro don’t work perfectly with Android. I have an older iPhone too (as a device for just a few apps), and I found the mic quality to be much higher when I used my AirPods Pro with the iPhone. I also find re-connecting to the iPhone / other Apple devices easy, whereas if I share my AirPods Pro the re-connection with my phone sometimes is slow or doesn’t work.

However, because of occasional drop-outs and a drop in audio quality, I’m switching from AirPods Pro to Jabra Elite buds.

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3 Comments

  1. I’ve tested many Active Noise Cancellation headphones. Few are good. Bose is probably the most effective, but the latest versions have popping issue that is very loud and annoying. And they are not wireless. Huawei Freebuds 3i are my current go-to solution for shorter rides. They do become painful under the helmet after a while so for longer journeys I still use the ultra soft 3M E-A-R earplugs. Latest airpods are on my to-test-list, but at current prices they are not in priority.

    For the myth of earplugs blocking out the ambient noise. It’s a myth. Earplugs reduce all noises but it’s the wind/exhaust noise that drowns out possible ambulance sirens or traffic noises.

    Personally IMHO replacing the exhaust with a loud one, and then wearing earplugs, is rude to all others that share your immediate environment.

  2. This is an excellent article. I ride a Harley Davidson tour bike and use a full helmet. I find the AirPods to be an excellent choice in my case at speeds below 60 miles an hour I am able to carry on a conversation on the telephone I am also able to get directions Using Siri.

    He is right about the snug fit, but I have found that taking my helmet off over my sweatshirt or grass, keeps my ear bud from hitting the asphalt or concrete.

    I have also used the Bose wired noise canceling Earbuds, and found that tucking the mic inside my helmet made it possible to talk at speeds in excess of the average speed limit on a freeway. How much in excess shall remain a secret.

    Overall, I agree with his assessment. Bravo! One of the best reviews I’ve ever seen.

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