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How bikes are becoming more like cars

Posted by on December 5th, 2012 at 4:31 pm

BikeBOT Radio Ride-37
A sound system, plenty of storage space,
high-powered lights… Who needs a truck?!
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

It occurred to me today that, when it comes to accessories and their presence on the road, bikes are slowly but surely becoming more and more like cars. Consider this: Not only are more and more cities dedicated increased roadway space to bicycles; but the proliferation of sound systems, iPhone mounts on handlebars, super-bright hub-powered light systems, and other product trends point to a significant leveling of the vehicle playing field.

Take horns for instance. The iconic, cute little “ding ding” bicycle bell is giving way to full-fledged horns. Today I heard about Loud Bicycle, a soon-to-be launched product (Kickstarter campaign starts tomorrow) that is “designed to sound just like a car horn” and will blare at 112 decibels. This is the second such product I’m aware of. The other one will be coming out soon; but I’m sworn to secrecy (stay tuned, it’s local!).

And take a look at your handlebars. An increasing number of folks have phone mounts that allow them to partake in screen-time whenever they ride. Biologic sent me one that’s waterproof and also charges my phone while it’s encased. There’s also a new iPhone app developed here in Portland called Quick Route that will give you turn-by-turn biking directions.

Lights are perhaps the most well-known of this phenomenon. Manufacturers keep upping the brightness of their lights to the point where there’s a debate raging in the bike world about being blinded by oncoming bike traffic. And of course, hub-powered lights — that you never have to worry about running out and are always-on — are becoming common on city bikes.

A good stereo is a pillar of car culture, and now even that aspect of the driving experience is becoming common for bike riders. DIY, mobile sound systems have long consisted of large and heavy amps and speakers; but new products are giving everyone the ability to enjoy some tunes without weight or complexity. Just this week I heard from the guys at Boombotix. Their new REX speaker has quickly raised over $20,000 on Kickstarter. It’s size, water-resistance, and bluetooth capabilities make it perfect for biking.

The Owl 360 Rear View Bicycle Camera Reviewed
Rolling with the Owl 360 rear-view camera.
(Photo: Jim Parsons)

Another car-inspired product creeping into the bike space is the center console. You know, that handy cargo bin on the front seat where you can stash your glasses, a pack of gum, your phone, or whatever. The Portland-based Beebe Company unveiled their bicycle center console at BikeCraft and I won’t be surprised if we see more of that type of thing in the future.

And did you realize there’s even a rear-view camera for bicycles? It’s called the Owl 360 and it consists of a camera mounted to your seatpost that beams moving image to a large LCD screen on your handlebars. We had Jim Parsons review it for us, and while it’s not the perfect product, it does show how a company is trying to adapt a feature common on cars, to bikes.

On a darker note, the rear-end collision I wrote about this week got me thinking: If the bike industry followed the automakers’ lead, bike makers would respond to the safety fears of bike riders by making bigger and bigger bikes that would fare better in collisions (remember the immense SUV era?).

On a related note, I recall a few years back when I borrowed a bakfiets from my friends at Clever Cycles that was equipped with an electric-assist unit. With its large road footprint, high-power lights, and ability to easily cruise along at 18-20 miles an hour, I was amazed at how confident I felt zipping down the middle of residential streets with no intention at all of letting a car behind me influence my road position.

In many ways, these trends are exciting. They help make city bikers feel like legitimate users of the road alongside much larger vehicles. If there’s any downside at all, it’s that, instead of being happy that bikes are becoming more like cars, perhaps we should try harder to create conditions where we don’t need louder, brighter, bigger vehicles to feel safe.

When I thoughts about the loud horns on Twitter today, Park Slope, Brooklyn neighborhood activist Eric McClure said, “On the other hand, it might be better to make car horns as (relatively) quiet as bike bells.” And northwest Portland resident Dave Feucht added, “I find that an obnoxious reality/necessity stemming from the bad planning of our cities.” Good points.

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Comments
  • i ride my bike December 5, 2012 at 5:21 pm

    Theres also the traffic engineering of designing bike routes all about speed at the expense of pedestrians or the quality of space one is trying to race thru. We all know how this has turned out when designing streets solely for auto speed and throughput.

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  • Chris I December 5, 2012 at 5:40 pm

    If it’s point-emission free and limited to 20mph, I will welcome it in my bike lane.

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    • Niko December 5, 2012 at 7:48 pm

      Are you saying that I am not permitted to go over 20mph on my road bike?

      Ideally, i would like to see future bicycle engineering that will allow us to go a lot faster under human power then we currently do. Do people not like this idea?

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      • Spiffy December 5, 2012 at 7:59 pm

        over 20 mph the accident mortality rates climb exponentially… I’d rather not see bicycles turn into cars and then we have to go through all this again in another 100 or so years to get rid of the plague that would become bicycles…

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        • spare_wheel December 6, 2012 at 2:10 pm

          that’s a car stat. fast cyclists may annoy you but they are not cars.

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      • was carless December 5, 2012 at 11:05 pm

        Not in the bike lane. I see no problem with you going over 20 mph in a non-bike lane, but beware: if your brakes suck… bikes already take longer to stop than some cars do. :(

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  • PorterStout December 5, 2012 at 5:48 pm

    I’ve often thought a big diesel-sounding blast would be useful at making a point, like to the person that pulled into and parked in the bike lane right in front of me yesterday.

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    • Spiffy December 5, 2012 at 8:00 pm

      I think an intentional and controlled crash into the back of them would be more amusing… like that guy in the video that runs into bike lane obstacles…

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    • john December 7, 2012 at 9:39 am

      Bike lane or Car lane, a vehicle is allowed to come to a stop, If you rearend them, you are at fault. Yes parked in a lane is a different story, but being flexible is part of living in city.

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  • Spiffy December 5, 2012 at 5:52 pm

    I can’t think of a reason for a loud horn on a bicycle… if something is in your way you simply go around it, tell it to move, or knock on it to get its attention…

    if something is about to hit you then you are more focused on getting safe than having time to hit a horn… and if you do happen to hit the horn in such a situation it’s more likely that the person you’re honking at will just get mad and flip you the bird not knowing that they did anything wrong…

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    • deborah December 6, 2012 at 9:49 am

      I had one keep me from getting splattered all over Grand at the Hawthorne bridge. Another bike spotted a car that wasn’t going to stop at the red light and sounded this massive air horn sounding thing at the last second. It was just enough to get my attention and make me hit my breaks a second before the car ploud through right where i would have been otherwise.

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    • Anthony December 6, 2012 at 11:20 am

      Not to mention the simple, practical fact that car horns sounding near us are pretty jarring as it is. Even if I’m the one controlling it, I don’t think I want something that loud so close to my exposed ears.

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    • q`Tzal December 6, 2012 at 12:04 pm

      You are riding in the bike lane with traffic to your left; no ability to leave bike lane.
      And impatient driver attempting to exit a driveway approaches too fast from your right. They make a token stop and looking only at automotive traffic they gun it to shoot a gap in traffic; this driver does not see you. This all occurs within the last 20′-30′ though you saw them approaching earlier.
      If you both continue there will be a collision and likely fatality at that.

      The AirZound has saved me at least THREE times in this exact situation. All full daylight. In each situation the driver looked so startled but actually sorry and terrified at their inattention.

      It happens very, very infrequently but my thumb moves to the button while I prepare for an emergency stop. If it looks like they are only looking for cars I’ll give a warning honk; this can easily be done in advance to prevent the need for emergency maneuvers before everything goes wonky.

      It is a very NON-passive way of interacting with traffic but most newer vehicles are increasingly sound insulated and high enough that drivers look right over bicycles never seeing us. The high volume blast serves to refocus their attention to where it needs to be.

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    • Duncan December 7, 2012 at 6:51 am

      I had an experience years ago that made me change my mind. a woman right hooked me and caught my drop bar on her passenger side view mirror and was dragging me along despite me screaming at the top of my lungs and pounding on her car. when she finaly heard me (before my leg was broken thank god, but not before I ended up with a bruise from crotch to knee that took weeks to heal) her music was so loud that it was obvious why she couldnt hear me. I was so rushed on brain-speed that pretty much every curse word in my mind came out my mouth. She was young, she cried, I felt like shit.

      Now I have an airzounds- one quick toot and everyone hears it. much better than getting hit.

      I try not to use it on peds as a rule. but if they are running with ear phones? I have an app for that.

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  • joel December 5, 2012 at 6:15 pm

    yup. great. more people getting out of their cars, and on to car-like bikes, still thinking and acting and demanding amenities in/on their vehicles as if they were still in their cars. honestly, thats what i see in much of this stuff, and its what im seeing on the roads.

    oh yeah, and a whole lot of expensive accessories that i dont need and couldnt afford even if i wanted them.

    this is not my cycling.

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    • Chris I December 6, 2012 at 7:17 am

      To each their own. If everyone was forced to ride a fixie with no brakes, very few people would be cycling in Portland. That’s one of the great things about bikes; they are very flexible and customizable. Some people need more features to motivate them to ditch a car; and I’m okay with that.

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  • Tom December 5, 2012 at 6:40 pm

    Slow news day ? the premise of this article is weak.

    JM says >> “A good stereo is a pillar of car culture, and now even that aspect of the driving experience is becoming common for bike riders.”

    common ? not on any of the 100′s of bikes I see weekly. Nor any of those other gadgets either.

    many of these are novelty items that come and go quickly … bike Furbys , if you will.

    maybe there is some wheat mixed in with that chaff.. ? (just more crap to be stolen)

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    • Spiffy December 5, 2012 at 8:06 pm

      people love their music… they already have stereos in their ears thanks for portable music players… so when people are social they still want music in the background just like when they have a car full of friends…

      and although I do enjoy the music on the Friday night mystery rides I think that if everybody had music playing to the general public then we’d have a serious noise issue…

      so although the ownership of such an item may become common I would think that it’s widespread use would not be as practical…

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  • Niko December 5, 2012 at 7:36 pm

    I think a stereo on a bike is pretty silly- but I would love a car horn on my bike and although a rear view camera is a cool idea- bar end mirrors are around $10 and will likely work just as well or better- even the fanciest cars still use side mirrors- simple and effective.

    But, for insurance and investigation purposes, if the rear view camera can record it can be a huge asset.

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    • Hugh Johnson December 5, 2012 at 8:38 pm

      Agreed. I rarely hear someone else’s music that I like.

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    • Andrew December 6, 2012 at 8:11 am

      I think a stereo is silly as well… then again it’s not as silly as people who have in earbuds when they ride.

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    • Duncan December 7, 2012 at 7:02 am

      airzounds

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  • bicycler1951 December 5, 2012 at 9:17 pm

    How about this bike on Kickstarter? http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/842248593/roll-out-the-elf-to-your-city.
    I wish I had $4k to get one. I would even give up my little truck so I would have room in my garage to keep it.

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    • was carless December 5, 2012 at 11:08 pm

      I thought all the ELF members were sent to jail as terrorists????

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  • Bubba Nicholson December 5, 2012 at 10:39 pm

    Bicycle horns obviously need to be sound (i.e. scream) activated to reinforce bicyclist’s natural reaction to being threatened on the road. Bluetooth microphone, amplifier, and speaker or horn make the set, or just a sound activated circuit listening to ambient noises and adjusting sensitivity automatically would work.

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    • Duncan December 7, 2012 at 7:03 am

      uh I have a horn on my bike that is thub activated. once you remember that its there its no harder than hitting a car horn.

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  • ladyfleur December 5, 2012 at 11:54 pm

    When bikes have a cup holder for every rider we will know that bikes are indeed the new cars.

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    • Alex Reed December 7, 2012 at 9:26 am

      I have a cupholder on my bike and I freaking love it. A nice insulated mug of coffee or tea makes my commute just that little bit more luscious in the winter :-)

      My next plan for a car-like accessory: v. large lockable metal box locked to a frame-mounted front rack. Bike trunk!! No more lugging all my purchases from three errands ago in with me to stores or friends’ houses when I trip-chain….

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  • K'Tesh December 6, 2012 at 12:00 am

    ladyfleur
    When bikes have a cup holder for every rider we will know that bikes are indeed the new cars.

    You mean, something like this?
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/ufobike/6961109261

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  • Jonathan R December 6, 2012 at 5:53 am

    I have ridden a quadcycle, a pedicab tricycle, a cargo bike, and many regular size bicycles. The larger, multi-wheeled HPVs are extremely comfortable to ride, especially because you don’t need to put your feet down when you are stopped.

    The quadcycle, which had handlebars underneath the seat, would be the best suited to accouterments like the phone mount, rear-view camera, and obligatory cup-holder. The reason is that it is extremely difficult to tip a quadcycle over. Adding extra weight to a standard bicycle’s handlebars makes it more tippy when at rest; the quad doesn’t have this deficiency.

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  • Dave December 6, 2012 at 7:38 am

    A great kind of bike for dead-flat areas of central Portland. I see delusions of Amsterdam in this idea.

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  • deborah December 6, 2012 at 9:56 am

    Spiffy
    I can’t think of a reason for a loud horn on a bicycle… if something is in your way you simply go around it, tell it to move, or knock on it to get its attention…
    if something is about to hit you then you are more focused on getting safe than having time to hit a horn… and if you do happen to hit the horn in such a situation it’s more likely that the person you’re honking at will just get mad and flip you the bird not knowing that they did anything wrong…
    Recommended 0

    I had one keep me from getting splattered all over Grand at the Hawthorne bridge. Another bike spotted a car that wasn’t going to stop at the red light and sounded this massive air horn at the last second. It was just enough to get my attention. I instinctively knew somethign was wrong and it make me hit my breaks before the car plowed through the space that i would have otherwise occupied.

    It’s true that it seems like there’s rarely a time for them, but at the right time and place, is it’s an invaluable tool for getting everyone’s attention. I know it was for me that day.

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  • tonypdx December 6, 2012 at 10:14 am

    I can understand the attraction of having your creature comforts while you ride, and of wanting to feel safer and more noticeable when surrounded by dangerous drivers who dont usually realize what a death trap their car actually is. Yet in spite of my humble yearnings for a cup holder, I hesitate to take away from the joy I take even in a short trip to the grocer. If I had music playing I wouldnt hear the birds singing. If I had a console, or a screen in view, I might miss the squirrel running in front of my wheel. riding my bike engages me in the world around me, in a very direct way that wouldnt happen if I were in a car. Ill leave my baggage in my bag, thank you…..

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  • Garrett Moon December 6, 2012 at 10:24 am

    Developer of Quick Route and long time reader of Bike Portland, here’s a few free copies of Quick Route for you all.

    http://tokn.co/hdvnnetk
    http://tokn.co/2hpq8r7j
    http://tokn.co/7ykdtp47

    Let me know what you think!

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    • SilkySlim December 6, 2012 at 11:26 am

      Awesome – downloading now. Just need to think of some place I don’t already know a good bike route to so I can test it!

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      • Garrett Moon December 6, 2012 at 11:32 am

        It uses directions from Google’s APIs so it’s likely to be similar to what you’d see on the Google Maps website. I’ve noticed it doesn’t know the shortcuts I do, but does a good job when I’m in an unfamiliar place (I rarely leave SE except to get to work).

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  • Tom December 6, 2012 at 10:58 am

    >>A sound system, plenty of storage space,
    high-powered lights… Who needs a truck?!

    so the idea is to turn your bike into a truck ? OKAY for delivery vehicles, but for most of us each pound added is more energy needed to be expended in moving that weight. ie: the more you carry, the less distance you can go.
    At a certain age you learn “energy management” ..loading up a bike with steal-able geegaws sure isn’t the way that Portland riders I’ve observed want to go. (unless you are a SpringWater Bum who lives on his/her bike)

    Part of the joy of riding is getting AWAY from all that stuff.

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  • deborah December 6, 2012 at 11:21 am

    holy crap Jonathan – sorry for all the dupe comments! The site kept telling me it didn’t come through. Any chance you can remove them?

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  • Brad December 6, 2012 at 11:28 am

    You know what would be great? If you could take these bikes and put bigger motors on them to go faster, wrap the rider in a roll cage and sheet metal for safety and security, figure out how to link a climate control system and entertainment features to the electric assist motor, and maybe add another wheel or two to make the thing more stable and comfortable.

    Boy! Improvements like these would get more “intersted but concerned” folks riding bikes.

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  • q`Tzal December 6, 2012 at 11:57 am

    You are riding in the bike lane with traffic to your left; no ability to leave bike lane.
    And impatient driver attempting to exit a driveway approaches too fast from your right. They make a token stop and looking only at automotive traffic they gun it to shoot a gap in traffic; this driver does not see you. This all occurs within the last 20′-30′ though you saw them approaching earlier.
    If you both continue there will be a collision and likely fatality at that.

    Three AirZound has saved me at least THREE times in this exact situation. All full daylight. In each situation the driver looked so startled but actually sorry and terrified at their inattention.

    It happens very, very infrequently but my thumb moves to the button while I prepare for an emergency stop. If it looks like they are only looking for cars I’ll give a warning honk; this can easily be done in advance to prevent the need for emergency maneuvers before everything goes wonky.

    It is a very NON-passive way of interacting with traffic but most newer vehicles are increasingly sound insulated and high enough that drivers look right over bicycles never seeing us. The high volume blast serves to refocus their attention to where it needs to be.

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    • q`Tzal December 6, 2012 at 11:58 am

      Wrong place

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    • PDXJoe December 8, 2012 at 10:29 am

      I have an Airzound horn and it is great! 115 decibel air horn really gets drivers attention. I decided to get one after I got right hooked by a car. I use the horn almost daily. I think of it as an offensive tool rather than a defensive tool because it instantly changes driving behavior rather than simply indicating your presense.

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  • drew December 6, 2012 at 12:36 pm

    An effective horn for a bike in car traffic is a great idea. Lots of drivers are distracted and a car-type horn is better than yelling. It could also reduce the chance of getting mugged at night on the springwater trail or other risky places.

    I would much rather be on my bakfiets type bike if I am about to get doored. It’s a big bike and I just seem to get more road respect. Less getting bullied by motorists on it. My dog rides with me on the cargo bike sometimes and we can visit a half dozen dog parks in an afternoon. She can enjoy watching all the squirrels and other dogs from her basket in the front of the bike at dog-running speed. Errands and shopping are easier by far.

    As cargo bikes improve and become more widely available we will see they are a great option even for hilly Portland.
    http://drewsminiblog.blogspot.com/2010/09/making-cargo-bike.html

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  • Barbara December 6, 2012 at 12:41 pm

    I would love a horn too. For a long time I thought that it is one of the big disadvantages for bikes compared to cars that they don’t come with horns that can actually be heard by car drivers. How often do I see inattentive drivers who would pay more attention if reminded by a horn!

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  • Joe December 6, 2012 at 12:44 pm

    what up PJ ? haha

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  • Mike December 6, 2012 at 2:28 pm

    Here’s an idea…cut the crap and just ride your bike. Gizmos, gizmos, gizmos…I wanna barf. Speakers? rear facing video camera? If there was ever an article that made me want to just get on my bike battery-light-iphone free, this would be it. I’ll bet there isn’t a lot of gizmo-bikes in Copenhagen. I love Portland, I’m there many times a year but it seems that there is an aspect of it that is…I don’t know…bike emo-ish.

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  • joe kurmaskie December 6, 2012 at 4:22 pm

    bike, legs, ride = happiness.

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  • q`Tzal December 6, 2012 at 4:37 pm

    I want a good velomobile that isn’t 3x more expensive than my ¢r@ppy 1990 Honda Accord. It doesn’t even need a motor or engine.

    Is that too much to ask?

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  • Jim Lee December 6, 2012 at 5:04 pm

    Why would anyone desire to blot out the wonderful experience of cycling the surface of our magnificent planet with virtual and artificial sights, and, God forbid, sounds?

    Recommended Thumb up 5

    • q`Tzal December 6, 2012 at 7:43 pm

      Because people are different.
      Not all of us have the good fortune to be as magnificent as you.

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  • Duncan December 7, 2012 at 7:04 am

    uh I have a horn on my bike that is thumb activated. once you remember that its there its no harder than hitting a car horn.

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  • Duncan December 7, 2012 at 7:14 am

    Tunes on a bike. It is something I have thought about. On longer rides (over and hour) they are a Godsend, but I dont want speakers (I hate infecting other people with my music, and if we all had speakers it would be cacaphony on the MUP), but I want to be able to hear in traffic. I have ended up with using a right earbud (left ear is road side) on the road, and two only when I am hammering down a bike path. If I am going slower (and likely to be overtaken) Ill keep an ear out for “on your lefts”. Maybe not perfect but whatever is?

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  • Duncan December 7, 2012 at 8:49 am

    A thought from the world of motorized two wheelers- back in the 50s all motorcycles in the US were the same and served the same fuction- big motors, single seat no storage. They were pretty usefull for moving one person around with maybe a bag of groceries but little more. Someone looked overseas and saw that there were all kinds of bikes for all kinds of uses- from economical people movers like the Honda Dream to sidecar rigs that could haul three people and their dunnage to bikes built for speed. Bikes were imported, sales surged people got out on the road and you met the nicest people on a Honda.

    Then in the Eighties someone decided that the only bikes worth selling were crotch rockets. Motorcycles once again became a nitch market catering to single 18-25 YO males. Once again new ideas came over the pond- this time from Bavaria as well as Japan. The BMW GS bikes could haul a ton of stuff and two people all day long in comfort, and now the new Honda motorcycles offer decent reliability and comfort along with near-moped gas mileage (and they come with a fair amount of storage). I for one am hopeful that this means more people will start motorcycling again, because the more people on motorcycles there are, the more people will be aware of them. I just wish sidecar rigs were not so expensive because I would love one. Same with a bakfiet.

    What is the moral of this story for bicycles? Bicycles are tools, and is better that a wide variety of tools be out there so that people can find a tool that fits their needs than one type of tool be made and we are all expected to adapt our needs to the tools specifications. When only one type of tool is made it will invariably be designed for those with the highest disposable incomes- there is a larger profit margin in sports cars than minivans, and the rest of us will suffer. Now I may never use a quadcycle or a carbon race bike any more than I would buy a Honda Goldwing with a trailer or a Hayabusa, but I think it is great that they are out there- because the more bicyclist there are on the road, the more people driving will be biking (or know someone who bikes regularly) and the more our presance as vehicles on the street will be seen and respected.

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  • xor bitwise December 7, 2012 at 9:38 am

    3D-printable bike dashboard:

    http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:29860

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  • Ryan Meier December 8, 2012 at 10:53 am

    The center console thing looks interesting, the rest is some combo of too big, too heavy, too expensive, too easily stolen, or not useful enough.

    I already have f/r lights, f/r fenders, pump, lock, and seatbag hanging off my bike…that seems enough.

    I thought about a phone mount but decided it’d be too distracting, both safety wise and enjoying the ride wise.

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  • Robert Allen July 30, 2013 at 8:33 pm

    I saw a mini car like body that was pedal powered while I was riding into a head wind. I’m sure he was having a much easier time than I was. I’m doing a charity ride from Big Bear Ca. to Mammoth & that would be a great help for this old man. Anyone know who the manufacturer is? Please let me know.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

    • Alan 1.0 July 31, 2013 at 11:20 am

      many manufacturers, look up velomobile

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