Special gravel coverage

Portlanders get amped up with bike sound systems

Posted by on July 1st, 2010 at 12:17 pm

Bowie v. Prince Ride-14

Spotted this sound system at the
Bowie vs. Prince ride.
(Photos © J. Maus)

I can remember a time when bike-mounted sound systems were a novelty. When someone rolled up with tunes blaring they’d be met with oohs, aaahs, and a crowd of smiling onlookers. The smiles are still there, but the novelty has warn off a bit as bike sound systems have become much more common.

While riding around Sunday Parkways and all the parades and mobile dance party rides of Pedalpalooza it was obvious that, although they’ve become more popular, the systems are far from standardized. There are about as many set-ups as there are people using them and they range in sophistication and size.

Prom and Dropout Bike Club Ride-19

Brian Smith’s bike at the recent
Prom/Dropout Bike Club ride.

East Portland resident Brian Smith has been rolling with a sound system for four years and he’s helped many people set up systems of their own. Smith says the trick is balancing how loud you want it to be with the weight. I asked him to describe his set-ups:

“My first one was 300 watts into two 6×9’s and a 12″ sub, and a 80Ahr big marine battery. I currently just have 400 watt amp into 2 6×9’s and 10 sub, with extra 100 watt channel wiring for adding on if I feel like hauling it.”

Smith has taken bike sound systems to a new level with a mobile rock show he puts together with his friends from Dropout Bike Club called the “Monsters of Rock by Bike.” Smith gets together with musicians, links up several bike-mounted sound systems, and the result is a mobile, bike-powered, live music dance party. He’s also been known to set up an FM transmitter and is still trying to perfect the mobile pirate radio station concept.

I went through my photo archives and found a few examples of local set ups. Check them out and start planning your own. Once you’ve added tunes to your ride, your life will never be the same!

Sunday Parkways North Portland-33

The handiwork of Michael Jones,
as seen at Sunday Parkways North Portland.
sound system-1

Deserves a closer look.
Bowie v. Prince Ride-1

Another one on a Larry v. Harry Bullitt cargo bike.
Sunday Parkways NE-52

Nick Sande at Northeast Portland Sunday Parkways.
Tour de Fat parade sprockettes and more-19

Tour de Fat bike parade.
Pedalpalooza Kickoff Ride 2009-48

A low-tech version.

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  • Anonymous July 1, 2010 at 12:45 pm

    Sorry to hijack the topic, but the Pride Ride last Friday tested my resolve. No less than 15 of these sound systems cranked to 11 down SE 16th at 12:30 in the morning. Bike boulevard abuse wins no friends!

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  • sparewheel July 1, 2010 at 1:18 pm

    I think the counterculture aspects of biking in PDX are overemphasized. We need to be smarter about how we advertise biking if we are going to achieve a 25% modal share.

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  • Dutch July 1, 2010 at 1:29 pm

    To anonymous. Apologies for being too loud, but your blame is being misplaced. That was not the pride parade, but in fact the North Freak cycling collectives annual Lit and Loud ride.

    There were 10-20 sound systems, along with tons of other noise making, and light making devices and around 500-600 people. We hold it on a friday night as that is typically a night that people stay up later. We also are just riding thru neighborhoods at that hour. When we actually stop and setup and party down we do it in places in portland that are no where near earshot of residences.

    I can only offer an apology, as in an effort to try and make community fun happen for many, we are going to inconvenience some as well. It might not be possible for a number of reasons for yourself, but one solution is to just join in on the fun and ride with us, or at least cheer us on.

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  • peejay July 1, 2010 at 2:20 pm


    Your concerns are duly noted…or would be had you posted these comments in an appropriate story. This story is about mobile sound systems.

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  • Anonymous July 1, 2010 at 3:17 pm

    Sorry, but cruising, bike mounted, blaring sound systems are no better than cruising, car encased, blaring sound systems.

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  • Roma July 1, 2010 at 3:27 pm


    How is this not an appropriate story? This is a story about “bike mounted sound systems”. Bicycles with sound systems are definitely not status-quo. A normal (mainstream) cyclist doesn’t ride around with speakers attached to their bicycle blaring music, so I don’t see why the term counterculture can’t apply here.

    That said – when I think of people with sound systems on their bikes, I’m reminded of this Bike Snob quote: “…if I wanted to listen to music I don’t like while surrounded by thousands of drunk people I could simply go to a Bon Jovi concert–at least there it’s far less likely I’d get hit by a unicyclist.”

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  • Tonya July 1, 2010 at 3:54 pm

    Bike mounted sound systems are great when used appropriately. But as anonoymous(5) points out, they are no better that the annoying, lound sound systems in cars when used inappropriately.

    I have seen (heard) more and more cyclists use some sort of external sound system on their bikes, and I find it really annoying. If your music is so loud it impairs my ability to hear the traffic around me, then it’s a hazard. I would rather people would wear earbuds and be a hazard to themselves than have external sound and be a hazard to everyone around them.

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  • Anonymous July 1, 2010 at 4:04 pm


    Anonymous(1) here. I was misinformed on the theme of this ride. I do appreciate your apology. In the interest of maintaining goodwill, maybe the Lit and Loud ride should consider excluding quieter residential streets from its route past 10 PM or so? And the bottleneck caused by 500-600 cyclists funneling into a one-lane street is equivalent to a 15-minute stop – yes, it’s Friday but, you know, kids and all? Thanks –

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  • peejay July 1, 2010 at 4:32 pm

    As owner of one of the sound systems pictured above, I’ll just relate the effect that it has on passers-by: 98% smiles. And maybe 25% dancing. So, I’m ok with that. Nonetheless, it could be overdone, I suppose.

    But, I’m not excusing my right to decline the rôle of full-time ambassador of the “bike community” to the general populace. Doesn’t pay enough. Sometimes I just want to dance.

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  • jv July 1, 2010 at 4:44 pm

    Actually, I would beg to differ on the car vs. bike sound system differences. While some are arguing that they are no different, I generally find many bike sound systems to be more annoying.
    They often do not incorporate enough low end bass (which require larger subwoofers and amps), but instead sound tinny and high-pitched (like cheap 6x9s). Bike sound system designers should really take a cue from the pro-audio world and step things up even more – crossovers, multiple amps, and capacitors. I want to hear some ground shaking bass! The other point is that usually car stereo systems travel by a bit quicker, while bike trailer sound systems mosey by…so a given resident will hear them for a longer period of time.

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  • peejay July 1, 2010 at 4:56 pm

    Good point, jv. I have an 8″ tube sub, but I feel I should step it up to a 10 or 12. Also, it’s important not to overdrive your system. The key is good impedance matching on the preamplifier inputs. Typical iPod/iPhone outputs may not have enough signal level, causing people to set power amp levels too high to compensate, leading to distortion.

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  • dutch July 1, 2010 at 5:22 pm

    taking large group rides with lots of sound systems on quieter residential streets vs larger arterial roads is a tough question that has good points on both sides.

    When we ride on the larger streets that are louder all the time, we are now blocking traffic for 10-20 minutes, as well as putting ourselves at much larger safety risk from motorists (at midnight on a friday there are lots of car drivers who have had a couple to drink, combined with the fact they are not going to be pleased with having to wait 15 minutes to get to their destination).

    It is far more dangerous for the cyclists, in summation. However, we still do that frequently, because beyond the safety risk, I definately want the louder, more annoying rides, to be held on the louder, more annoying streets (case in point the WNBR route).

    Riding in residential streets we are more annoying to the general populace, which I do feel very much sorry for, but if I have to make the choice of safety over annoyance, I will take safety essentially every time.

    The good news is, we dont do things on that scale very often. We have group bike rides every friday night, but we are always using different routes, and typically they are much smaller (summer MMR’s get pretty huge, but even then its only 200 or so people).

    We are not a bunch of jerks who havn’t the car for anyone but ourselves. But that doesnt mean that sometimes we knowingly do things that will annoy/piss people off, because there just simply is no other way outside of not doing the kind of things we like to do. Sounds lame, and it kind of is, but it is also the way of life, and we are definately not the only people doing things that way (I could make a strong analogy to car drivers frequent lack of respect/consideration for bicyclists).

    we do try and take considerations and make things less harmfully impactful though (we always choose our end points to be places that are away from residences)

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  • BURR July 1, 2010 at 6:10 pm

    I still remember when the guy with the bicycle sound system got beat down and pepper sprayed by the PPB at the September 2002 Bike Summer Critical Mass ride for ‘creating a public disturbance’ or some such.

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  • Amos July 1, 2010 at 9:52 pm

    Dude. Michael Jones, I bow to the new king of all bicycle sound systems. Somebody on the loud and lit ride had a tube sub in a tall bike sound car that kicked some serious ass as well.

    Oh yea, and AYHSMB. I can’t wait to get my system built up.

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  • KeystoneKop July 2, 2010 at 1:23 am

    There are no “good points” about this whole concept. Just because *some* people laugh and smile at your self-indulgent attention seeking crudity does not mean there aren’t a hundred others behind closed doors that need their sleep, Friday or not. Hmm, airline pilots, ambulance drivers, cops, the guy who works at the Plaid overnight, kids with toothaches, a terminally ill grandparent in hospice, need I go on? What a bunch of jerks. I cannot believe the positive press BikePortland gives these creeps. I just don’t get it….

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  • Paul Tay July 2, 2010 at 5:35 am

    Bring da NOISE! Homies LOVE it when I roll up to their pimpmobiles at da red wit Geto Boyz’ “Trigga Happy Nigga!” Work of art, fo’ shor! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZMUkeBFnU40

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  • Red Five July 2, 2010 at 6:31 am

    It ain’t cool in some stupid Honda with a coffee can exhaust and it ain’t cool on a bike.

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  • Marco July 2, 2010 at 9:48 am

    In Boulder, CO we have been cruising with bike sound systems for about 10 years. And we get about the same results as reported by peejay. A very small minority of people object to the music but overall they LOVE it, especially when it’s being carted around by bike. The key is to try and practice a bit of sensitivity to your surroundings. My iPod is mounted on my bike frame and I try to respond quickly by dropping the volume when we are in a quiet residential area, or when the po-po is spotted.

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  • FELIX July 2, 2010 at 10:00 am

    Roma: Bon Jovi, Really?

    Red Five: Ain’t ain’t a word.

    Bring the NOISE!

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  • 007 July 2, 2010 at 10:02 am

    Great, more NOISE POLLUTION. One of the reasons I don’t like cars.

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  • del July 2, 2010 at 10:09 am

    Hey you kids! Get off of my lawn!

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  • bearcub July 2, 2010 at 10:22 am

    rediculous. if you’re going to bed at 10pm on a friday night, thats your fault. if you want peace and quiet, move to the ‘burbs ya kook!

    Dutch may be on damage control, but speaking from the “we like fun” sector, it’s only gonna get louder and more awesome from here on out.


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  • Sleepless July 2, 2010 at 1:43 pm

    You rode through my neighborhood on Friday night and woke up myself and my infant shortly after midnight. Sleep deprived new parents all over SE are cursing you. These rides have NO place in residential neighborhoods.

    As for Dutch’s point that residential neighborhoods are safer than busy streets, I would concede that point IF the ride were actually somehow necessary. Taking large group rides at midnight with lots of sound systems is not mandatory. It is not an either/or situation. If you choose to do it at that hour, stay out of the neighborhoods please.

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  • Tranzport July 2, 2010 at 1:57 pm

    On a completely different topic. I’m hosting a vuvuzela ride tomorrow morning at 6am. Come join!

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  • Ely July 2, 2010 at 2:08 pm

    Noise is a fact of city life. I’m not going to yell at my neighbors for setting off midweek fireworks before the 4th of July, and I’m not going to get pissy about the once a year loud & lit ride. Life is too short. Also, earplugs work really well.

    btw sleep deprived PARENTS made their own bed. I put up with other people’s obnoxious music AND other people’s screaming toddlers in the middle of the night. Both are their choices not mine, but I deal with it, for the opportunity to live in a vibrant LIVING city. With earplugs. 😉

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  • Roma July 2, 2010 at 2:34 pm

    “Noise is a fact of city life.”

    Right – and I’ve only seen people complain who live in *residential* neighborhoods, which are usually very quiet at night.

    “but speaking from the “we like fun” sector”

    Probably the most ridiculous comment I’ve ever seen. You know people have different definitions of “fun”, right? I think having band practice in my backyard at 1:00am would be pretty fun. I guess my neighbors should lighten up. Please.

    There are noise ordinances for a reason. I wouldn’t want my neighbor breaking out the gas powered leaf blower at 10:00pm any more than I want to hear whatever your bicycle sound system is blaring.

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  • Marcus Griffith July 2, 2010 at 2:48 pm

    Bike sounds system are much cooler than car sounds system but both can cause headaches for the unappreciative bystanders, esp the sleeping type.

    Not too long ago someone biked past my place at one am blaring techno on two ghetto blasters strapped to a plastic bucket. It was made worse by him stopping to smoke. There is a special hell that blares Britney Spears for all eternity for people like him…

    Having a bike sound system is cool, being a good neighbor is cooler.

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  • D.R. Miller July 2, 2010 at 3:16 pm

    My experience with the BandWagon mobile sound system (RIP) that I built several yrs. ago w/heroic last-minute help from Alan Folz (before what I think was the first mobile dance party Pedalpalooza ride), is that people pretty much love a mobile bicycle sound system, and the reason is precisely the human scale and speed of the “platform”. It is inherently different in that sense than someone cruising down the street in a car, shut behind tinted windows, booming to no one but themselves. Rocking a bike-based system is inherently a social and interactive act, an act of direct and umediated community relationship. This is a good thing. It is also reason to consider the implications of one’s actions, weigh the balance of pros and cons in maintaining the social contract, and proceed accordingly. To beats that bring out the dance in everyone.

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  • Anonymous July 2, 2010 at 5:30 pm

    When I’m at home late and I hear a musicified bike going by, it makes me HAPPY! I LOVE the little interlude of fun going by.
    On the other hand, 3 days of three garbage trucks at my intersection each week make me want to slit somebodies throat. Also leaf blowers, weed eaters, lawn mowers, beeping ups trucks, and a week of the sound of a fine old house being crushed followed by months of new construction sounds…
    Give me a break! I’ll take some music anytime!!! over all the crappy noise that we stupidly accept.

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  • Anonymous July 2, 2010 at 5:32 pm

    D.R. Miller @ 28 – Well said!

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  • Paul Tay July 3, 2010 at 9:45 am

    Much ado ’bout NUTTIN’. Gaaaaaaaaaaaaaawd, I LOVE PDX! Bring da NOISE!

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  • Mr DeJerk July 3, 2010 at 11:53 am

    I can’t believe the FR808 isn’t mentioned!

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  • Bob_M July 5, 2010 at 7:56 am

    The apologies sound like disengenuous crocodile tears. “I’m sorry, but tough sh_t, we are here to stay, so get used to it” (I paraphrase)
    Dutch claims that the noise does not purposefully annoy/piss off people, but that it is just unavoidable collateral damage. It is easy for me to picture impoverished hipsters and unwashed white rasafarian wannabees purposfully annoying bourgeois families. Now take your hip hop, country, disco, metal and techno-pop and get off of my lawn

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  • anon July 5, 2010 at 10:28 am

    Man, I only read the comments on this article because I was SURE this was one topic that people wouldn’t find drama in. Way to go, guys.

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  • aljee July 6, 2010 at 3:02 pm

    that’s my system up top!

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