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Jonathan Lansey founder of Loud Bicycle

Podcast: Jonathan Lansey Makes Bicycles Honk

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Bicycle safety is an important topic. You should feel safe riding your electric bike. A Boston-based company, Loud Bicycle, believes that one of the ways to improve safety is to speak the language of the road. And what they mean is that they want to make your bike honk.

Recently, we recorded an interview with Jonathan Lansey, one of the founders of LoudBicycle for The Electric Bike Podcast from EVELO.

You can listen to the podcast right here and follow along with the transcript below.

Armando Roggio: If you’re like many of our listeners, you both ride a bike and drive a car. So, have you ever been on your bike and had a sudden urge to honk? Maybe, someone was about to pull out in front of you or back into the bike lane without looking. Sure, you could ding a bell, but it would simply not do. You wanted to honk.

This is The Electric Bike Podcast from EVELO, and I am Armando Roggio. In this episode, we’re going to speak with Jonathan Lansey, the founder of the Loud Bicycle horn company. Jonathan, thank you for joining us for this podcast.

Jonathan Lansey: Absolutely, glad to be here.

A Car Horn for Your Bike

Armando Roggio: Jonathan, why not start by telling us about your company and how it got started.

Jonathan Lansey: Yeah. I bike to work, and I also have driven. And, I have … There’s one point where I really wanted to honk. So, there was a car that was about to cut me off dangerously, and I felt like I had the urge to honk, but I couldn’t, obviously, because I was on a bike.

But then, I’m kind of an engineer, so I actually went ahead and built one. So, I built a car horn that I can honk just like a car on my bike, just kind of as a one-off to see what would happen.

Armando Roggio: Where do you find components to build a car horn for your bicycle?

Jonathan Lansey: Oh, AutoZone.

Armando Roggio: Okay, that makes sense.

Jonathan Lansey: Yeah, so, I took the original car horns came right from AutoZone, and the original battery came from an RC airplane. So, I just kind of hacked it together with some rubber bands and things, Yeah, and it worked really well.

Armando Roggio: How did you go from having a custom horn that you made for your own bicycle, to having a product that you now have for sale?

Jonathan Lansey: That’s a great question. We actually have, we’ve been funded by lots of people all around the world, who really believed in it before it existed. And, this is, of course, through Kickstarter. So, we ran a Kickstarter campaign with a fairly ugly version of the horn. It was, basically, me, I had my little brother, who I forced to help me out with the 3D modeling. And yeah, we basically, presented the concept. And, 600 people signed on, and that’s what got us going.

Armando Roggio: So, was that 2014?

Jonathan Lansey: The beginning of 2013.

Armando Roggio: So now, you’re six years into this company. Safe to assume, the loud bicycle horn is not ugly anymore?

Jonathan Lansey: That’s true. Actually, so, the very first thing we did after the Kickstarter was, joined up with Chris Owens, who’s an industrial designer in Austin, Texas. And actually, he worked with us on the campaign, as well. But, he’s just a genius, and he turns what was a fairly ugly product that looked a little bit phallic, and turned it into something that just looks really clean and nice, and new.

But, we also have a second product, now. So, we have two car horns for bicycles, and the new one, we really learned a lot from the experience designing the first one. And, this one, we worked with Chris as an industrial designer from the very beginning, and so, it really looks beautiful the new mini horn.

The Loud Bicycle car horn for your bike.

Drivers Recognize the Car Horn Sound

Armando Roggio: Why is it helpful, or, why is it a good idea to, essentially, have a car horn on a bicycle?

Jonathan Lansey: Yeah, it’s actually, it’s one of these things that, people just have a really fast reflex when they’re responding to the sound of a car horn. So, it’s well trained. It’s well-practiced. When they hear that sound, they don’t even need to think about what’s happening. They just react.

And also, the auditory reaction times are even faster than visual. So, people just react so fast. And, it only takes a couple of seconds. So, the difference in fatalities, if you’re going, let’s say, 40 miles an hour to 20 miles an hour, is huge. And, just a few seconds is all you need to make somebody go from almost dead to completely safe.

And so, that’s why reaction, so, this reaction time is so important, that’s why it’s so important to have that sound initiate the reaction as fast as you can.

Impersonating Automobiles

Armando Roggio: That makes sense. So, you’re commuting in Boston. You’re riding your bike. You have to use your loud bicycle horn to avert a problem, and now, there is a driver looking around and expecting a car.

Jonathan Lansey: Oh, yeah, it’s actually hilarious. So, the thing is, it doesn’t matter, really, it’s sort of like, a hack. You’re hacking into their system, and it doesn’t matter what they believe, because they do believe that there’s a car right there. What matters is how they react. And, they react without fail in a way that keeps the person biking safe.

Armando Roggio: Have you ever had a driver get upset with you for impersonating an automobile?

Jonathan Lansey: Oh, I’ve had so many weird reactions. But so far, no one has actually had … I, personally, have not experienced a bad reaction. But, in the words of one of our backers, I’d rather face an angry driver, than a friendly EMT.

But, I could talk about a couple of them, because they’re pretty funny. In some cases, let’s say, a car, person driving is in a parking spot. And without checking their rearview mirror, maybe they had the windows down, they’d just start pulling out. And then, at this point, I was right next to them with their windows open. Honked the horn, and they just believed that a wizard was standing there. Yeah.

Oh, and other times, let’s say pulling out of an intersection or something, I’ll give a quick, friendly honk. And then, the person driving will give a friendly wave. And, for just a couple of seconds, everything seems totally normal, but then a second later, they’re like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, what? What was that?”

So, it’s just one of those things where people just have this reflexive reaction without thinking about it. And then, later, it dawns on them, wow, I just didn’t run over a person biking without even thinking.

Armando Roggio: Which is the goal, right?

Jonathan Lansey: Exactly, that’s the goal.

The Loud Bicycle Company

Armando Roggio: So, the loud bicycle horn sounds like a fun and great product. If someone wanted to buy your product, where would they find it?

Jonathan Lansey: So, right now, we’re only selling through Loudbicycle.com. Or, you can search for the “loud bicycle horn.”

Armando Roggio: You need to put the horn on Amazon or something.

Jonathan Lansey: Yeah, we’ve so far, been really struggling, actually, to make enough horns to keep up with the demand. And so now, but as of this month, we actually, just got back in stock, and we’ve got a lot of stock. So, we’re now going to start working with other partners. Maybe not Amazon initially, but yeah, that’s coming soon. But for now, everyone can get it at Loudbicycle.com. And, we actually have two-day shipping included for the U.S.

Bicycle Safety

Armando Roggio: So next, let’s talk about bicycle safety. You’re a commuter. What do you think is the current state, if you will, of bicycle safety? Are there things a rider can do? Are there things that we can do as a society?

Jonathan Lansey: I think the most important thing to do is, to ride your bike. There’s a lot of things that you can do, to be perfectly safe on your bike. You know you don’t necessarily need a horn. You can just, you don’t even need a helmet. There are ways that you can ride defensively and carefully, that yeah, and the more people that ride, then, the safer it’s going to be for everyone.

Because right now, we’re in this weird state where, our infrastructure is … at least, in America, and numerous places around the world, as well, the infrastructure has been designed and built primarily, for motorized vehicles, like cars and trucks. But, bicycles are becoming a lot more popular now. And so, suddenly, we have this influx where the bicycles are mixing with the people driving. And, that’s where it can be dangerous.

And so, that’s really what the problem is, the infrastructure is not in a state where it can support the uses that the people would like to use it for. And so, I think that the real long term solution is going to be moving to someplace like, or moving our infrastructure to mirror something like Copenhagen.

So, we’ve sold horns to, essentially, every country in Europe. Lots, but not a single one to anywhere in Denmark or Copenhagen. Even though there are more bicycle riders in the city of Copenhagen than the entire United States of America. And the reason is, because people just feel safe there. And so, the horn really is kind of a symptom. The fact that it’s popular is a symptom of a poor infrastructure that we have here. And, our vision for the future is actually, to make it so that America has safe infrastructure for people biking, and then, we’ll just turn all of our car horn bicycle horns into plowshares.

Armando Roggio: So, that was a Biblical reference.

Jonathan Lansey: It was, yeah.

Armando Roggio: That’s pretty awesome. I am not sure that we’ve had anyone slide a Biblical reference into the podcast before, so I am impressed.

Jonathan Lansey: Put that footnote in there.

Armando Roggio: I will, I will. It’s interesting that your ultimate goal is to have that level of infrastructure because if the U.S. in a sense, became like Copenhagen in terms of bicycle usage, Loud Bicycle would be out of business.

Jonathan Lansey: That would be wonderful. You know, I think that would make the world a better place. But for now, there’s a real need. So, for example, I personally, I like to bike pretty fast. And, sometimes the people driving, especially when they come from, let’s say, outside the city, they’re used to people like most, kids riding their bikes on the sidewalk. They don’t realize just how fast I’m going. And that means that it can be really dangerous.

You know, if a car misjudges the speed, just like if they were to misjudge the speed of another car. Now, the thing is, is that, when you’re using the roads, we like to think of the horn as, really, just kind of speaking the language of the people driving. So, it doesn’t even need to be aggressive. It’s just kind of the language that people use to communicate on the roads.

Electric Bikes

Armando Roggio: I like your point about speed. Obviously, this is the Electric Bike Podcast, so, we focus on electric bikes, which are a great equalizer, hill flattener. It’s not hard to be going 20 miles per hour on your electric bike. So, I guess, talk to us a little bit about electric bikes.

Jonathan Lansey: I think electric bikes are great. So, the key with bicycles are, you know, they keep the air clean. They keep people healthy. But, with electric bicycles, it allows … Oh, and it’s just a more compact use of the space in a city, so, people driving usually, single occupancy cars, they take up a lot of space. And, an electric bicycle can get you there, sometimes, as fast and as easily, without taking up all the space in a city. And, parking, as well.

So, I think electric bicycles are great for those reasons.

Problem Solving

Armando Roggio: Jonathan, you’ve already mentioned some of your engineering experience. You are also a data scientist. Do you think there’s a connection between tech and cycling? Do people interested in technology also tend to have an affinity for alternative transportation?

Jonathan Lansey: Well, let’s say … Yeah. So, in tech, you’re typically solving, you’re optimizing things, solving problems in creative ways. And, cycling, I mean, I’m obviously, I don’t know if biased is the right word here, but I have strong opinions about cycling. And for me, it’s certainly optimized my commute. It kind of solved the exercise, which is the best thing you can do health-wise. Solved the exercise and the commuting, all in one go.

So yes, so for me, cycling is really, the optimal way to get around. And, in technology, you’re often looking for optimal solutions, so it’s kind of maybe, the kind of person that is working to make things optimal is the kind of person who will come to realize that cycling is the best way to get around.

Armando Roggio: It’s problem-solving in your work, and then problem-solving in your life, in a sense.

Bicycle Community

Jonathan, as we start to wind down, are there other things you would like to share with the folks listening to the podcast? It can be about anything you’d like.

Jonathan Lansey: Sure, in Boston, we have this really fun thing called The Boston Bike Party. And, it’s essentially, where bunches of people get out there on their bikes, and we ride really slowly around the city. And, we just have a good time. And, there’s a couple of these in different places around the world. And, it’s pretty fun, so a just shout out to them. And, if you’re in a city, you might want to check out if there’s a bike party in your city, and maybe, go ride.

Armando Roggio: Do you think events like that one are one of the ways we will get more attraction for cycling? You know, build a community, if you will, around it?

Jonathan Lansey: Oh, absolutely. It’s weird because in other countries, let’s say, the Netherlands, nobody really is a cyclist, and there is no real separate bicycle riding community because that just is the way that everybody is over there. It kind of is the culture of the country. And so, I think it’d be great if … Or, how do we get to that point? Well, I would imagine that it starts with a cycling community which just grows and grows and grows until eventually, everybody is in it. And then, now it’s your default culture.

So, I think that with Bike Party, it definitely does draw people in, because they realize how they can see very clearly, the joy that comes from riding a bicycle. And then, want to have that for themselves.

Oh, and actually, one other last thing, we have a website called nicecycling.com, and that kind of, it captures the ethos of how we would like to, what our ideal world would look like. And, it was a partnership of Friendly Design Company. And, we actually include a copy of this with every horn. But, it basically, it gives general instructions for how anyone, with the horn, without a horn, anybody can actually, with following these rules, can remain really safe on their bike. So, nobody should be afraid to bike.

So, that’s nicecycling.com.

Armando Roggio: Jonathan, this is a great site. Thank you for sharing that, and thank you for joining us for The Electric Bike Podcast from EVELO. For our listeners, I hope you will check out the EVELO website at evelo.com. You can use the contact form there to send us your suggestions and comments about this podcast.

Also be certain to check out The Complete Electric Bike Buyer’s Guide, if you have not already is worth a look.

Thank you so much for listening. Have a great rest of your day.

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