Hornit makes the world’s loudest bicycle horn: The Hornit dB140. Loud enough to be heard by pedestrians, as well as car, bus and lorry drivers. I caught up with Tom de Pelet, the founder of Hornit, to find out more about it.
Hello Tom, can you tell us the story behind Hornit. Do you remember the exact moment when you thought “We’re going to need a louder bike horn”?
It was more of a slow burner than a single event, although I did once go over the bonnet of a car doing a U-turn on Bishopsgate on my way home from work. Almost every day I rode in London I’d wish I had something to actively get a driver’s or pedestrian’s attention rather than relying on people to see me. It was the handful of unnecessary daily occurrences which were completely avoidable that made me think an effective bike horn would massively improve cycle safety and make cycling in a city far less stressful.
The Hornit dB140 is very loud (140 decibels). What else is around 140 decibels, so we can compare and get an idea of the sound intensity?
They say a jet engine is 140dB. A car horn is 110dB. As it is a logarithmic scale the human ear will perceive 140dB as eight times louder than a 110dB car horn.
Can the Hornit dB140 be heard by drivers who annoyingly (and dangerously) drift into cycle lanes? This is possibly the most unnerving experience for road cyclists, certainly for me.
Yes. The Hornit dB140 is specifically designed to be heard by drivers. We’ve filmed with London United and Downton, the haulage company, to demonstrate that it can be clearly heard by bus and lorry drivers as well. It is particularly effective when drivers and pedestrians are doing something that subconsciously they know to be dangerous - stepping out into the road, changing lanes, pulling out of a junction, turning left or right, opening a car door. Even if the driver or pedestrian is not paying attention, the sound will get their attention and cause them to look and see the cyclist in advance of the dangerous situation developing and once they’ve seen you, you are safe.
Is it safe for cyclists’ ears?
Yes - provided it is used as intended. The decibel reading by the cyclist’s ear is 104dB - the equivalent to a rock concert. Average use is 6 one second blasts per day so the exposure is relatively low. As with all vehicle horns, however, it should be used responsibly - to avoid an accident which is likely to be far more painful that any ear discomfort.
How do pedestrians react to a blast from the Hornit dB140? I bet they make way very quickly.
Interestingly it depends on where the pedestrian is and which country you are in. If a pedestrian steps into the road without looking it is extremely effective (subconsciously they now they are doing something dangerous), but a pedestrian right next to them walking along the pavement will very likely ignore it, just as you ignore a car horn you know is not directed at you. Pedestrians in the UK subconsciously feel they have complete right of way even when walking in a cycle lane to the extent they would not flinch even if a truck horn was let off behind them which can be problematic. In Japan a bike bell on a pavement will cause all pedestrians to immediately move out of the way.
I can imagine the Hornit dB140 would useful for emergency response teams on bicycles. Has this ever been done?
That’s right. The St John Ambulance response teams in the UK use the Hornit dB140 on their bikes. During the Olympics in London 2012 one of the riders emailed us say that he used the Hornit dB140 in Hyde Park to respond to a call and that it was like ‘the parting of the Red Sea’. The Hornit dB140 is also used by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
What is the Mini Hornit? How does it differ from the Hornit dB140? And where can we get them from?
The Mini Hornit is primarily a fun toy designed for children’s bikes and scooters. It has 25 different sound effects and white and green lights. It’s not loud at all as it has to be 100% safe for children even when right next to their ears. They are available in loads of toy, gift, bike and gadget shops and websites as well as a number of major retailers.
Tom you completed the Ironman UK in 2005, congratulations! Did you have a Hornit on your bike for the cycling part? I can imagine it coming in handy when you’re being blocked by slowpokes.
I always had a Hornit prototype on my bike when I was training which was particularly useful in and around London, but in the event itself the roads were closed to traffic and every gram counted! I’ve never actually used my Hornit in anger on a cyclist - I prefer to let my legs do the talking!
My last question, if you could have any bicycle, past or present, what would it be?
I’ve just had a custom Hornit track bike made - using a Brick Lane Bike La Piovra frameset and rear carbon disc wheel. It was built lovingly by Cloud 9 Cycles and is a work of art. I love it so much I even took it to Interbike in Las Vegas.