Urban Tribe - Ride with your kids in front.

Look out! This bike packs an airhorn (video)

Posted by on June 26th, 2013 at 9:51 am

People on bikes have always used creative tricks to get people in cars to pay attention to them on the street. But these days, the available tricks can get pretty professional-looking.

Here’s a quick look (watch the video below) at a Portland bike commuter who got so sick of cars cutting him off as he crossed Interstate 405 on his way from home to work in Northwest Portland that he’s discreetly installed an airhorn beneath his handlebars, right next to the bell.

Billy Volpone, who works as an account manager at Jive Software, said he can get about five or six good blasts out of the air bottle that attaches to his rack before he needs to refill the system. It uses a standard bike tire pump.

There are many varieties of bike-mounted airhorns for sale online and in specialized shops, but Volpone’s brand, the Air Zound, is available for about $30. (We’re also eagerly awaiting the Portland-born “Orp” which raised over $90,000 on Kickstarter earlier this year.)

When Volpone decides to open the horn at drivers, he said, they don’t usually know what they just heard.

But at 115 decibels, he said, they almost always look.

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  • Todd Hudson June 26, 2013 at 10:03 am

    I have one of these on my tallbike. And yes, it easily gets the attention of someone who is not paying attention.

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    • buny June 26, 2013 at 12:01 pm

      gasp! people don’t pay attention to tall bikes anymore?

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      • Caleb June 26, 2013 at 1:32 pm

        I believe Todd is more concerned with safety than with vanity.

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        • Todd Hudson June 26, 2013 at 2:26 pm

          I like riding a tallbike because I’m up high and can see everything! But it also means taking extra precautions.

          Also, building a tallbike over the winter was extraordinarily fun.

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          • buny June 26, 2013 at 3:40 pm

            ha, i just couldn’t resist, you basically set it up! how do you get on that thing?

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      • Matheas Michaels June 26, 2013 at 2:26 pm

        Oh that’s cute. Think you’re funny honey?

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  • LoveDoctor June 26, 2013 at 10:06 am

    I have the same AirZound horn, and it is deceptively loud. The trick is to use it pre-emptively with a couple of QUICK (and therefore less “aggressive”) toots if you feel a driver hasn’t fully appreciated your existence in the universe before a collision occurs. I’ve avoided a few right hooks and T-bones with this method. Unfortunately, it also gets used after the fact as a method to convey to a driver that they have already messed up. Although the AirZound works, it’s damn fugly and clunky to install. I’m eagerly awaiting my Orp Smorn, Tony…

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    • q`Tzal June 26, 2013 at 10:29 am

      Put the ugly bottle in a handlebar bag: it hides it completely, simplifies air line routing and protects the bottle against its #1 enemy: ultraviolet light.

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      • Pete June 27, 2013 at 9:53 am

        Good point. I had mine ziptied to the back of my seatpost (as my lights were on the back of a rack and I had no saddlebag). I used it on another bike on the bottom of the downtube. Handlebar bag doesn’t care about bike configurations though.

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  • yoyossarian June 26, 2013 at 10:10 am

    Glad to hear this is being used on the I-405 overpass coming from NW Portland! My daily commute to work takes me down NW Everett and cars will at least once a week pass me and then cut right in front of me as they beeline it for the freeway on-ramp. Hope a few of them are getting an earful of this air horn and realizing they’re not giving people on bikes as much space as they think they are, or worse, not noticing them at all.

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  • JRB June 26, 2013 at 10:15 am

    I am waiting for a horn that sounds as loud to a car driver as a car horn sounds to me when I am on a bike, but which won’t blow my ear drums out. I’d like to hear from the engineers out there whether such a thing is possible, a directional horn?

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    • q`Tzal June 26, 2013 at 11:36 am

      What you’re looking for is the LRAD (Long Rang Acoustic Device).
      It initially appeared to the public as a military doo-hicky for broadcasting super loud sounds at precise targets for deterrence.
      The company that makes it (http://www.lradx.com/site/) have broadened their potential customer base by realizing that old fashioned PA bullhorns are the surgical equivalent of a fragmentary grenade.

      Right now their products are a little too big for a bicycle but we can safety imagine the tech will miniaturize in a few years. Of course then you would have to be capable of safely aiming it while performing emergency maneuvers to avoid the driver that sorely needs a sonic kick upside the head.
      What a conundrum.

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  • Scott June 26, 2013 at 10:20 am

    The AirZound has been out for years. The HORNiT is waaaaaaaay louder (140db on loud), battery operated, has two volume settings, and is directional.

    It is louder than an 18 wheeler engine.

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    • JRB June 26, 2013 at 10:32 am

      That’s what I’m talking about. Actually, I think in my hands it may result in dangerous escalation so I’ll pass, but it is fun to fantasize about.

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  • q`Tzal June 26, 2013 at 10:26 am

    More capacity:
    The bottle can very safely be replaced with standard soda bottles of the 1, 2 or 3 liter shaped variety. I pressure tested more than 5 – 2 liter Mt Dew bottles to 110-150psi and left them in shade and eventually full sun (deep south) for over 4 weeks. They all held.
    They worst performance I’ve gotten out of a 2 liter bottle was around 10~11 months; I noticed some stress fractures before any failure. This was while being topped off daily to 100psi; Nebraskans are quite a bit less bike friendly.
    Conversely, if you aren’t afraid of a little work to adapt the cap, the SodaStream brand of carbonation bottles are the strongest I’ve ever seen. While i haven’t tested one to failure yet I wouldn’t be surprised if it could hold upwards of 175-200psi, possibly much higher.

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  • Editz June 26, 2013 at 10:59 am

    How about a 120db Nightsun Pursuit Siren?


    A car horn draws 12V I think, so if you’re willing to lug around one of those water bottle sized batteries, you might be able to wire something up.

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    • q`Tzal June 26, 2013 at 11:22 am

      Well, their website says explicitly that they WILL NOT SELL TO CIVILIANS only law enforcement.
      That aside Oregon law specifically prohibits whistles and sirens on bicycles (I’m guessing unless you are law enforcement).
      THAT aside, pneumatic power sources offer instant full power, no over heating at full load (in fact decompressing gasses cool) quick charging and simplistic troubleshooting if there are problems.

      In the case of the AirZound it is effectively IPX67 in that submersion in 3ft of water won’t affect its long term usability.

      I’d like an electrical version of the AirZound with similar specs if only to see how much it would cost and to make winter horn use easier; I had trouble maintaining air bottle pressure when Nebraska’s winters would drop below -20F°. 1 maybe 2 quick bursts and it was done.

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  • q`Tzal June 26, 2013 at 11:46 am

    WARNING: the AirZound, like any loud noisemaker, sounds MUCH louder in the orthogonal glass and metal canyons of downtown. It also reflects so well off hard surfaces that the sound lingers and is hard for others to locate by the din alone.

    The few times I’ve had to use it (after turning off Broadway) the sound reverberated for so long as to add more confusion after a stop dead shock.
    There are very few places where this will occur in Portland just be warned it might be less than useful when surrounded by high rise buildings.

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  • Adam June 26, 2013 at 12:17 pm

    I think the bigger issue here, is why are PBOT not doing something about the horrific intersection that is NW 15th & Glisan (where the turnoff for the freeway ramp onto I-405 is located).

    This is a seriously sketchy intersection. Car drivers start flooring it on NW Glisan and peeling off onto the freeway onramp without a second glance for bikes and peds. It’s horrifying. How about a striped crosswalk here for peds, and a green bikelane for bikes?

    Is it really worth someone’s life, because you can’t be assed to put down a few cans of paint on the road, PBOT?

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    • Reza June 26, 2013 at 1:41 pm

      I similarly bemoan the lack of useful bicycle infrastructure investments on this side of the river compared to the Eastside, but the City has looked at this area before. What you are looking for is on page 40 of last year’s Pearl District Access and Circluation plan here: http://www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/article/410811

      New curb extension at the NE corner of the intersection, and new green-colored bike lane on Glisan before and through 15th. Now just looking for money to get it done…

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      • CPAC June 26, 2013 at 3:46 pm

        I agree improvement would be nice, but in the meantime, why not ride up Johnson instead? It’s much nicer, and lower stress. (If they made 14th & Johnson a 4-way stop, it would be even lower stress).

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        • Adam June 26, 2013 at 5:10 pm

          Because there is no freeway crossing at Johnson. I do cut over to Johnson once I’m over I-405, but Everett & Glisan are the only two crossings.

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          • Emily G June 26, 2013 at 6:01 pm

            Johnson doesn’t go over 405, it goes under it. I used to ride it from 9th to 17th to go to work.

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  • Peter Buck June 26, 2013 at 12:22 pm

    I installed the AirZound for my daily commute in Beaverton, but I found that after the first few times using it I unconsciously trained myself to ride more defensively and now I rarely use it. It was well worth the cost as a training device, though!

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  • GlowBoy June 26, 2013 at 12:42 pm

    I rode for a while with an Air Zound a decade ago, soon after I started regular bike commuting. It really is loud as hell, and at least wakes people out even if they don’t immediately understand that it came from a bike.

    I eventually stopped using it though, because I’m fortunate enough that events where I really needed it ended up being pretty rare, not even occurring on a monthly basis. If my commute still included going past that I-405 onramp, that calculus might be different, and come to think of it I’m pretty sure I used the thing at that very location more than once.

    Ultimiately I found that the human voice can be equally loud, requiring no additional maintenance, space on the the handlebars or use of a water bottle cage.

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    • Pete June 27, 2013 at 10:00 am

      I stopped using mine for the same reason; on the rare occasions it would have come in handy my hands were on the brakes instead of the horn, and my lungs were being emptied at the driver.

      One night I was working late and the lights were off in the bike storage room at my client’s. As I lifted my bike down from the hangar I accidentally learned just how loud this thing really is!!

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  • Maks June 26, 2013 at 2:47 pm

    ugh. i was expecting it in action. *bummed*

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  • Scott June 27, 2013 at 4:40 pm

    I love this!

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  • mark kenseth June 30, 2013 at 12:07 am

    I like the idea for one reason, but dislike it for two reasons. Yes, I wish I could honk at a car once in a while; however, I don’t want to be a car while on my bike (having to bike by car standards), and I think there’s already an abundance of “noise” in the city. I was hoping to get rid of horns on cars, not create more horns.

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