Bells are the rare bike accessory that hasn’t really changed much in the past century or so. While shifting and braking and other bike tech has evolved considerably over the years, many people still use bells that would seem right at home on a high-wheeler. (I personally have two bells I use almost every day — both made of brass that’s dinged with a low-tech, spring-actuated lever.)
Then there’s the Orp, a product invented and designed right here in Portland by Tory Orzeck that’s decidedly modern in its looks, feel, and sound. I’ve been using the Orp since last summer in all sorts of conditions and I’m finally ready to share my impressions.
You might recall our first report on the Orp nearly two years ago. That was before Orzeck and his crew at FUSE, an industrial design firm, raised over $100,000 on Kickstarter to make the product a reality.
Orzeck is a former designer for Nike and GE Plastics who wanted to create a better bike bell as a response to two tragic right-hook fatalities in late 2007. “In both cases,” reads the Orp website, “the riders were neither seen or heard by the drivers. Tory wondered if there was a way to make cyclists more visible and maybe more “hearable” to drivers.”
I can relate to the “more hearable” part. I often feel impotent dinging my bell in the direction of people in nearly sound-proof cars as creep onto my path.
As Orzeck set out to design a better bell, he figured it might as well include a light too. So the Orp, which they tout as “the world’s first combination dual-tone bike horn and beacon light,” was born.
The Orp stands out from the myriad other light and bell options on the market. It’s got a distinctive shape due to its flat facade and rubbery body that clings to your handlebars like a raptor’s claw. The guts (electronics) of the Orp are tucked inside a high-impact polycarbonate shell that is surrounded by soft silicone rubber.
There’s a little fin at the rear of the unit called the “Wail Tail” (get it?), which is how you turn on the horn. Flip the tail up for the “friendly” sound (76 decibels) and, when things get serious, flipt it down for the loud sound (96 decibels). If you can’t mount the Orp close enough to your fingers, it’s got a built-in remote switch port. The remotes aren’t out yet (Orzeck says they’re coming soon), so I wasn’t able to test one out, but that’s a very promising feature.
There are two LEDs on the Orp which have a max output of 87 lumens each. A recessed button at the top is where you turn the Orp on and off and cycle through the steady and blinking light modes. The Orp is rechargeable thanks to a micro-USB port just below the Wail Tail.
During my test period I used the Orp in all types of environments: busy downtown streets like SW Broadway and 4th Ave; higher-speed roads like SW Terwiliger; and the off-road fire lanes in Forest Park.
As a light, I found the Orp useful more for safety than helping me find my way. I also appreciated how the light strobes when I turned on the loud horn, giving me a visual presence in addition to the audio warning.
The horn feature is really where this product stands out. I’m a huge bell believer. I ring them a lot during my daily riding. I love the classic “ding-ding” sound of my brass bell. It’s a universal sound that everyone immediately knows is coming from a bicycle. The Orp’s sound is different.
(I mounted it sideways so I could reach it quickly with my thumb.)
The friendly Orp horn is more like a bird whistle: a quick “ta-tweet-ta-tweet.” I like how it pierces through urban white noise with a distinct sound. The funny thing is, it’s not nearly as well understood as a traditional bike bell. In Forest Park, when I’d use it on walkers on Leif Erikson Road, some of them would first react by looking up in the trees. They thought it was a bird, not a bike coming behind them!
The tweeting horn worked much better for me on city streets. When I used it approaching a busy intersection, walkers would look up from their phones and people getting into cars parked in the lane next to me would look over their shoulders.
Then there’s the loud sound. It’s exponentially louder than a regular bike bell, and infinitely more annoying. And that’s a good thing when you want to grab someone’s attention. I can’t describe the sound, but you can listen to it in my little YouTube video above. The Orp’s loud horn came through for me on more than one occasion. In one instance, when I thought, ‘OK, this product is legit,’ came when I used it on SW Terwiliger. I was riding north approaching the notoriously dangerous SW Condor intersection, when I saw a potential right-hook developing in front of me. I slowed down a bit, then slammed down on the loud horn: “BLRRRRRRRRR!” At that instant, I saw the woman in the car fling her head over her right shoulder in fright. We locked eyes. She stopped. Then I rolled through with a cheeky grin and a wave.
The loud horn is my favorite feature of the Orp.
I also like how it comes in all sorts of neat colors, including glow-in-the-dark green.
Like any product though, I do have a few minor quibbles. I found it hard to tell sometimes if my Orp was on or off. This is important because it’s embarrassing/annoying/startling when the super-loud horn goes off when you don’t want it to (or when you have to move the Wail Tail to plug in the USB cord). When you push and hold the top button, the Orp lets out a different sound to tell you if it’s being turned on or off. I often had trouble hearing the sound and wasn’t sure if it was awake or asleep. I’d also love this product much more if the friendly sound was some variation on the classic bike bell “ding-ding” or jingle. The “tweet-tweet” whistle not only fooled those walkers in Forest Park, but there were times when I felt self-conscious about using it downtown because it sounds like a catcall.
Those minor things aside, at $65 retail the Orp is a solid investment. Have you used one? I’d love to hear what you think.
Disclosure: Orp is a current BikePortland advertiser.
— You can find the Orp for sale at local bike shops and online at Orpland.com. Orp is giving BikePortland readers a special discount through December 25th. Use code ORP4BPO (o’s not zeros) to get 23% off (making it $50.05) and free U.S. shipping.