Ringing a bike bell to warn off a car driver is worse than doing nothing, because at least doing nothing won’t make you feel angry and impotent. Honking a car horn, on the other hand, will make a driver’s neck snap around faster than a whiplash. Road users are almost hardwired to react to a car horn, and the horn’s sound is designed to cut through traffic.
So why not just put a car horn on a bike? That’s what Jonathan Lansey did when he founded Loud Bicycle, squeezing a car horn into a bike-friendly package. Now, version 2.0 is coming up, the Loud Mini, and it’s smaller and longer-lasting than the original, while still emitting a driver-freezing 125 decibels of honk.
At first, a loud horn seems like a gimmick, but in use, it has proven to be as effective as you might imagine. Users report that a tap on the horn can cause a driver to jump on their brakes, instead of pulling out in front of a bike they hadn’t noticed. “Research shows that drivers react fastest and most appropriately to the car horn sound in a collision warning context,” Lansey told Co.Exist. “The double-pitch sound of our horns also allows people to hear where the sound is coming from, whether or not they see where the sound is coming from.”
A car horn sounds like it does because it is designed to cut through noise and be noticed. The two-tone cry warbles, giving our ears a way to track its location, and the relatively low pitch (compared to bike bells and horns) helps it travel further and better. But most important, we’re conditioned to take notice. Despite being used by lazy cab drivers to tell you they’ve arrived, a horn still means danger, and drivers take notice. An Australian study found that “even without training, participants recorded significantly faster reaction times in response to auditory icons compared with other signals.”
The biggest danger for cyclists is not being noticed. “Nobody wants to hit a person on a bike,” says Lansey. High-visibility clothing and bright lights are fine, if the driver is paying attention. A horn honk, on the other hand, is impossible to ignore. “Lights are important, but the Loud Bicycle horn works just as well in bright sunshine as it does at night. It never fails to alert, even if the person driving isn’t looking at the road.”
But don’t drivers get angry when they see they’ve been duped? “So far reactions from drivers have been positive; one man actually rolled down his window to thank me,” Lansey says. “He had been swerving into the bike lane while texting. When drivers hear the Loud Bicycle horn they know a crash is imminent; when they brake and watch me pass the strongest emotion is relief.”
One Loud Bicycle user, Calvin Bean, puts it even better: “I’d rather face an angry driver than a kind EMT.”
The new Loud Mini is smaller than the original and mounts to the handlebar with the same kind of quick-release bracket used by GoPro action cameras. The rechargeable battery should last four months, and the whole unit is rainproof.
Instead of lighting your bike up like a Christmas tree this winter, then, you might consider using sound instead. I have a feeling it will work pretty well to clear earbud-wearing joggers out of the bike lane, too. You can grab one from Kickstarter for $150.