Sunday, February 7, 2016


One of the advantages of riding a cheap mountain bike is that I feel like I have all kinds of license to add shit to it. Pretty much from the time I put two Beamer headlights from MEC on the handlebars several years back and realized that two headlights are not just brighter than one, they're also cuter (see my profile picture on this blog), I've generally taken up as much space on the handlebars as possible. It doesn't hurt that the cyberpunk fan in me likes the aesthetic of the clobbered-together, wired-up apocalypse-survival vehicle. Some days it helps to feel like you're ready for World War Z.

(On days when I particularly hate every human being behind the wheel of a car, I'm glad you can still access Bob Fishell's Spike Bike stories, which date back to the 80s and which still come flashing into my mind occasionally:

The year is 1998. The Federal Government is the puppet of a consortium of the 20 large corporations which run the country. State and local governments have been completely taken over by real estate developers, whose goal it is to turn America into one giant suburb consisting of subdivisions, apartment complexes, shopping malls, and office parks.Bicycles have been all but outlawed. The Bicycle Act of 1992 made it illegal to appropriate tax dollars for bike lanes, paths, etc., and included a provision that "those persons riding bicycles on public roads do so entirely at their own risk." The law was originally intended to stem the flood of imports of Japanese bikes before foreign trade was cut off entirely in '94.
However, the ramifications of this law were much more serious. If a cyclist were to be injured or killed by a motorist, the motorist could not be prosecuted or even sued. It is open season on cyclists. One man fights back....)

Some of my additions have been more successful: others - like the short-lived half-a-two-litre-Coke-bottle I bolted to the down tube in an attempt at a makeshift front fender - less so.

Right now, I have no room left on my handlebars, what with the gearshifts, two headlights, legally-mandated-but-essentially-useless bell, GoPro camera mount (thinking of moving that, now, because large swathes of the camera's field of vision now have things like headlights in the way), and my latest and proudest addition: a vintage AirZound airhorn.

Gifted to me back in December by a friend who dug it out of her workshop and handed it over in the middle of a solstice party conversation about biking, this little horn is noisy. Really, really noisy. It puts out something like 120 decibels.

Hooked up to what looks like a 500-ml air canister which you can refill with a bike pump and which sits nicely in the bottle holder, it screws on to the handlebars with a quick release clamp. A button on the top of the back end of the horn sets off an ear-piercing blast.

I have to ride with my left hand over the gearshift if I want to keep a thumb on the button through sketchy intersections, but it's worth it. If only because I then go through the intersections almost hoping someone will be a jerk. Because I will blow them off the face of Christmas.

I think I'm even happier that this horn looks pretty vintage compared to the ones on sale out there on the interwebs: adds to the 80's-tribute apocalyptopunk look.

Of course, as soon as you've hooked up an air horn to your bike, you start picturing what else you could put on it if it were legal (and if this really was the Spike Bike dystopia). It didn't take long before friends asked, on my Facebook post about the horn, when I was adding the flamethrower or plasma gun for rush hour. Discussion of the logistics of the flamethrower had another friend suggesting, "Better install it under your seat so it aims backwards and melts bumpers of the tailgaters. Pilot light should be shielded though so it doesn't fry your bottom."

When I told my brother about the horn, he suggested I could hook it up to a generator so it just sounded all the time when I was riding. I could just roll down the street cocooned in a protective cone of deafening noise. Not sure whether that image cracked me up more, or trying to figure out how long it would take before people - Ottawans in particular - complained to someone in authority about the "aggressive, bullying, noisy cyclist."

"Cyclist accused of being ACTUAL menace to the public: news at 11."

The friend who gave me the horn rides motorcycles: her wife suggested a "cow's-tail," which I had never heard of before but which, she explained, is a colourful leather braid, about two or three feet long, that clips to your handlebars with a quick release. If people get too close, you yank the braid free and can whack their windows with it. "Wakes up the texters," she said. "Maaaaaaaaay not be entirely legal though."

So I mentioned my occasional fantasy, of a three-foot-long horizontal stick attached to my back rack, with a spike in the end of it, so people passing too close would key themselves in the process. (Think about it: I'd have damaged their cars, yes: but only because they had, demonstrably, been breaking the law. Yeah, I bet I'd still get sued. Interesting legal conundrum though.) 

Naturally, #ottbike rose to the occasion:
Sure, a flag might be less aggressive, but we're in Spike Bike mode here. (I have also considered the much less confrontational route of marking where a metre from my bike is, on my GoPro, then filming a commute and counting how many people pass inside that distance. Not that I expect any major action from it - like tickets or anything..)

To be a bit more serious, I've found it kind of amazing how many questions I've seen online about whether or not it's legal to put an air horn on a bike. (Hint: if you can buy one at MEC, they're not illegal.) Really, in the Ontario HTA, there aren't many restrictions on what you can attach to a bike: there are more rules about what you must attach: a silly bell, front and rear lights, those "strips of reflective material" that no one but no one actually has on their front and back forks. But the idea that an air horn - essentially, just a noise maker like a bell, but at a volume that will penetrate to the interior of a car and be salient to a driver in the way that a bell, or your shouts, won't be - would be illegal for some reason just speaks to how submissive people think cyclists should be. Don't take up space, don't block traffic, don't make anyone slow down. . . and for heaven's sake don't be as loud as a car.

Tough. Got an air horn: not afraid to use it. Just be glad it's not a flamethrower.

1 comment:

  1. Actually, for my riding, the bell is very useful! A driver in a closed up car won't hear much, of course, but there are so many pedestrians that step out into the bike path without looking in downtown Montreal.. the bell usually does a good job of grabbing their attention. Sometimes though, the air horn has tempted me...