Ask a city cyclist to name the most frustrating aspects of commuting on two wheels, and they’ll probably tell you that potholes are near the top of the list. But Greater Boston’s ragged roadways have almost been a blessing for Loud Bicycle Horn creator Jonathan Lansey. The Somerville resident developed the Loud Classic, a car horn that cyclists can affix to their two-wheeled vehicles, back in 2013, and in May, his company will release the new-and-improved Loud Mini, a smaller, sturdier version of the horn developed in part with help from the area’s uneven pavement.
“The roads here are so bumpy that it’s like accelerated life testing,” Lansey laughs. “By now, they’re, like, bomb proof.”
Loud Bicycle came to life three years ago thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign and a relatively simple idea: People on bikes are safer if drivers can hear them. Lansey had a 3D-printed horn prototype and a hunch that cyclists would want to buy a product that let them be heard—a hunch that was confirmed when the initial crowdfunding effort raised more than $50,000. But it took a while to go from prototype to mass-production; the first Loud Bicycle Kickstarter page is full of updates about setbacks and changes to the horn. “I was a novice then,” says Lansey. “Our team had never really done this before.” He worked with backers to get input about design, and the Loud Classic hit streets in late 2014. Loud Bicycle returned to Kickstarter to fund the Mini, raising almost $28,000 in late November.
Lansey says that the Loud Bicycle horn is much more effective than a cyclist’s only other attention-getting alternative: yelling. “When you yell, you’re like, ‘Did they hear me? Are they gonna listen?'” he explains. Shouting can also escalate into altercations. Drivers don’t realize that a cyclist who’s hollering at them probably isn’t doing so to be a jerk, but rather, to alert motorists to their presence. “There’s no way to yell non-aggressively,” Lansey says. And he understands that driving in the city can be stressful—when you’re sitting in traffic, the last thing you want is to be berated by a person zipping by you on two wheels. Rather than inspiring anger, the reaction from drivers who hear a blaring bike horn is, if anything, confusion.
Well, confusion… and maybe a little bit of shame. Lansey recalls a friend who had a near-miss with a driver making a right turn into a parking lot. That friend tried to make eye contact with the guy to get his attention, which, unsurprisingly, didn’t work. “With a horn, the driver knows, and everyone around them knows,” Lansey says. “It’s embarrassing to get honked at—it’s a strong memory.”
Like its predecessor, the Loud Mini plays two separate tones that give it that robust—and we mean robust—sound. “With two notes, you’re exciting more neurons, so your brain is like, ‘Whoa, something’s happening!'” Lansey says. The horn’s broadband sound also interacts with the brain in such a way that drivers can actually pinpoint where the honking cyclist is. Without getting too technical, Lansey compares it to the high-pitched whine that electronics sometimes make. That one-tone sound lets you know that a TV is on somewhere, but you can’t pinpoint exactly where. Not so with the Loud Bicycle horn. “[Drivers] know—not just that this is a horn—they know where the sound is coming from,” Lansey says, making it perfect for situations like the parking lot righthand turn.
In addition to its more compact and less destructible design, the Loud Mini will also let cyclists accessorize their safety features—Lansey plans to release the 3D model for the mini’s removable front plate so that riders can print one out in any color they like. (He already has a glow-in-the-dark frontplate and a clear one that he plans to put lights behind.) “I don’t like patents as much as I like innovating, that’s just the way I like to do things,” he says. Plus, “It’s expensive! I’d rather buy more bike horns.”
And if the Mini doesn’t do it for you, just sit tight—Lansey and co. are currently working with Traffic Droid to create a bike horn that sounds like a truck horn. Now, that will leave a strong memory.