How bikes are becoming more like cars

Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on December 5th, 2012

Source: BikePortland

A sound systems, 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.

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.