I have thought for the longest time that if you need to depend on your horn to save your bacon on your motorcycle, you’re doing it wrong – an idea borne out by this Canadian maroon Troy posted on MO last week. In that situation, your horn just sounds like whining. The fat lady in the Kia has already sung, she beat you fair and square, and running to tell the policeman is only going to compound your shame.

In fact due to the nature of almost all motorcycle horns, they pretty much always sound like whining. Mostly your horn is there to beep-beep people ahead of you who don’t wake up when the light turns green, to tell your date you’re there, or to honk angrily while the garbage truck backs over you. Demanding your right to your space on a motorcycle is like a mouse demanding its rights from a cat. I mostly use my horn to beep-beep people somnambulating along in the fast lane as I zip past them, lickety-lanesplit, a polite reminder to quit being such an inconsiderate twat (in the British sense, of course) that happens too quickly for them to retaliate.

Recent events have made me begin to change my opinion. As more and more minority groups have demanded and, surprisingly, gained rights over the last decade (gays getting married, transgender people being allowed to pee, blacks demanding to not be shot, etc.), it’s got me thinking maybe it’s our turn.

Why should the biggest vehicles have the loudest horns anyway? If you can’t spot an 18-wheeler or a locomotive visually, should you be allowed to drive? And if you’re a blind pedestrian, do those huge vehicles need a horn loud enough to blow you out of your socks, given that your overcompensating hearing and vibration-sensing organs are that much more acute? In the case of a train, aren’t the tracks, for one, and the gates and flashing red lights, sufficient evidence for most people to deduce that a very large multi-wheeled vehicle could be coming along?

It’s backward, completely backward. It’s the smallest vehicle with the least chance of being seen that needs the loudest warning device. Along with mandatory heated grips, I may have to move that motorcycles from now on come with more serious horns. Something like a Stebel Nautilus might fill the bill.

Why have we put up with such feeble horns for such a long time anyway? Loud pipes shmoud pipes, they only blend into the general din and give people added incentive to run over us. The whole point of a horn is to tell the brainstem, “Hey! that’s a new loud and annoying sound, what could it be?!”

Turn down your speakers if you click on this at Howard’s Horns.

Turn down your speakers if you click on this at Howard’s Horns.

Now we face an entirely new threat: autonomous vehicles. According to this report, the driver of a Tesla S is the latest victim, driving happily along, according to another account I read, enjoying a Harry Potter movie:

“Tesla says the crash occurred while a Model S was traveling on a divided highway with Autopilot engaged, and a tractor trailer drove across the highway perpendicular to the car. Neither the software nor the driver saw the white tractor trailer, and no brake was applied.”

If the autopilot can’t see a tractor trailer across the road, your motorcycle might as well be an X-wing fighter, and no horn would’ve saved you. Still, it’s the feeling of empowerment that’s important, that you took some action even if your last great act of defiance was to honk your feeble horn.

I’ve scared more than one pedestrian while attempting to make a turn on the Africa Twin and various CB500s. Why, Honda? Why?

I’ve scared more than one pedestrian while attempting to make a turn on the Africa Twin and various CB500s. Why, Honda? Why?

To further complicate matters, it seems as if someone might be colluding with the motorcycle manufacturers to get us off the road one at a time: Lately they’re locating our horn buttons in places which require you to consult the owner’s manual before honking. After placing the horn forever at the bottom of the left switchgear, on a bunch of its newer models Honda and others have begun putting the turnsignal switch at the bottom, and the horn on top of it, resulting in me honking the horn every time I want to signal a turn. (Luckily, I seldom signal, preferring to advise following motorists of my intentions by skidding the back tire or with a series of swerves to get their attention. In the carburetor days, a well-timed backfire was a great way to alert people they were following too close.)

Group tests with new bikes and ones that maintain the traditional horn placement result in a comedy of honks and angry turn signal cancellations at wayward drivers as we swap from bike to bike.

I love everything about the Yamaha FZ-07 except where they put the horn. Once you adjust, though, you can express your displeasure with right blinker and horn in one fluid motion. It’s all a mute point, really, since you can’t hear the FZ’s horn at speed with earplugs in anyway.

I love everything about the Yamaha FZ-07 except where they put the horn. Once you adjust, though, you can express your displeasure with right blinker and horn in one fluid motion. It’s all a mute point, really, since you can’t hear the FZ’s horn at speed with earplugs in anyway.

It just makes me scratch my head and wonder why, and all I can come up with lately is vast right-wing conspiracy. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn the people who suppressed the 200-mpg carburetor are behind hiding the horn button. Motorcycles are really the only thing that stand between self-driving everything else, which means more people driving and burning more fuel, and more profits for Big Oil and Big Electricity. When you can go on a road trip and watch Harry Potter movies, well, there are no more reasons to stay home. (Remind me to patent the glovebox microwave oven and Big Gulp dispenser.) They need to get us motorcycles off the roads first, in the name of safety of course. We mustn’t let them do it.

Thank God the Euros refuse to go gently. The Ducati Multistrada has some of the best switchgear in the business, including being backlit – and they still managed to put the horn where it belongs.

Thank God the Euros refuse to go gently. The Ducati Multistrada has some of the best switchgear in the business, including being backlit – and they still managed to put the horn where it belongs.

My best advice remains the same as always: Ride like you’re invisible. To that I’d like to append, and carry a really loud horn if at all possible. One where you can find the button in a hurry and make the fat lady in the Kia at least wet herself a little bit. Simple pleasures.

  • http://www.motou.info Gabe Ets-Hokin

    My CB350 cafe disaster project had exactly one button on the handlebars, the killswitch, and that didn’t work. I would just scream at people when they violated my right of way.

    • john burns

      is it still running?

      • http://www.motou.info Gabe Ets-Hokin

        Some hipcat bought it, and I think he knew what he was doing and was able to get it to run right.

  • Ser Samsquamsh

    Surely some of you have driven a cage and noticed it is hard to see out of? Especially when you are playing with the infotainment and all that other distracting crap in there. I occasionally give a friendly beep and wave to people who genuinely did not see me. Usually I get a sheepish look in return. If not: out comes the roofing hammer.

    • c w

      Have they started limo tinting the windshield where your are?

      And, no, I don’t mean just the strip across the top.

      • Ser Samsquamsh

        We have Brodozers around here. Limo tint windscreen = stay clear. Same as the bumper held on with string.

  • Donnie

    I’m pretty sure that I’ve never honked in anger at anyone. I was always too busy trying to navigate myself out of whatever predicament I had myself in at that moment to find the button. Call me weird.

  • Old MOron

    I almost never use my horn. Just too many things with higher priority. But I can imagine that sometimes a horn will be your last defense. In that case, you want a good loud one.

    Speaking of loud horns, I think they are appropriate for trains. It takes a long time to get those things stopped, so they need to alert others of their presence from a long distance. Imagine you’re a conductor, and you see some doofus near the tracks 1/4 mile ahead. You’re not going to get your train stopped in time if he doesn’t move, so you need a horn that he can hear.

  • Alexander Pityuk

    I’m a strong believer that the first thing anyone needs to do in a shitty situation is.. BRAKE! Not hope for a good outcome, not wait trying to dodge, not beep. Just f*g brake. Everything mentioned above is auxiliary and welcome if you can do it whilst braking hard.

    • throwedoff

      Braking is not always the appropriate response. It depends on the traffic situation as well as your location to the offending vehicle. There have been times that I have accelerated away from an impending accident while braking would have sealed my doom.

  • Starmag

    In my experience beeping my worthless Japanese horn at an oblivious cager just serves to piss most of them off, ( if they even hear it ), not wake them up or make them apologetic. Maybe this is why aftermarket horns have always been a tiny market and why OEMs don’t make much of an effort.

  • Craig Hoffman

    The full exhaust system on my bike is quiet when just crusing along. If I ever do want to say “screw you” to another motorist (a rare occasion) I do it with the pipe. An unexpected 11,000 rpm throttle blip makes quite a statement. Loud pipes may not save lives, but they can be better than a stock Japanese horn – hehe…

    The guy in the video is another sad example of the “Helmet Cam Justice League”. Looking for trouble in an otherwise easily avoidable situation so he can whine on the Internet about how he has been wronged by a low speed merging fat lady in a Pruis. Pretty pathetic dude. Step away from the motorcycle, turn in your man card…

    • Alclab

      Agreed! It’s a Honda Civic though… ;P

    • throwedoff

      On my DR650 or my ’06 Bonneville (both with carburetors) all it takes is a quick switch off/switch on of the kill switch to produce a wicked backfire (sounds like a gun shot) as both bikes have after market exhausts. It gets peoples attention in a heart beat!

      • Craig Hoffman

        Haha! Used to have an ’83 XL600 with a Supertrapp on it, would do the same thing, like you said, it sounded like a gunshot, a very large caliber one 😉

    • Ted

      My thoughts exactly in that last paragraph, well said.

  • Campisi

    Honda’s just trying to enforce it’s classic “Nicest People” slogan. By the time your thumb finds the horn button, the moment has passed. You’ve even cancelled your turn signal.

  • james cadros

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  • Steve

    I wired in a relay and the high and low FIAMM freeway blasters on each of my bikes – a fairly simple operation. When I hit the button it sounds like a 1970s Buick and people definitely look to see who or what is there. I do smile for a spilled coffee in the lap of the surprised cager. However, honking and standing your ground on your bike is a death wish. I use the horn to remind poorly driving cagers that there are others using the road, but I still brake and get out of the way. Some of the time they move back over and wave to say sorry, as they were not looking and did not see you, but the jerks will keep moving no matter what, and many will laugh at you like the jerk fat lady in the video. Its not worth your life to keep your lane, and the horn is to make others aware of your presence, not to make them move. As anyone can see on youtube, bike/cager confrontations never end well for the bike, be it from ignorance or road rage. Ride safe.

  • John Parker

    id have rev-bombed the crap out of her with my Hindle exhaust since her window was down and wipe that stupid smirk off of her face. the horn does sound pretty whiny though.

  • JMDonald

    I have only had to use my horn once in the last thirty years that I can remember to warn off an idiot woman sliding over into my lane to make a right turn at the corner ahead of us in San Clemente. Otherwise I have used it on occasion to discourage a pedestrian a time or two thinking about running out into the street in front of me. I am not sure but I think the industry insisting on the road runner beep beep horn sound is related to government regulations somehow. I like the Rodney Dangerfield golf cart horn myself. Trouble with that one is no one would take you seriously.

  • ZigmundLeChat

    with all of the new electronic features on a bike, for many, it’s like texting and driving.

    On my ’02 BMW 1150 RT, the horn button is in close proximity to the left turn signal. I frequently beep the LOUD horn at people instead of turning on the left turn signal.

    My ’06 Tiger has a Roar Runner sounding horn. I’m getting air horns to mount on the engine guards. In Utah too many people tailgate, text and drive, or swat at their 8 kids in their mini-van.

  • STAN

    Awesome accessory .I love loud horns.Bull horn the idea.🙌

  • George Erhard

    My Triumph Sprint 1050 has a weak-ass horn (soon to be changed out for a SoundBomb – got the horn, just need to do the install) so my usual “alert people” move is to gear down and get some high rev deceleration crackle going. Or pull in the clutch and rev it real good – a Trumpet Triple engine can scream pretty loud when you do that.

    As for the video, a lot of people are saying that the rider is weaksauce for getting the offending lane camper pulled over. I disagree. If it takes a TICKET to dissuade people from driving like asshats, then let the ticket writing commence.

  • Bananapants Ficklefart

    I never find it in time (unless I’m putting my left hand back on the bar then I hit it every time). Power-to-weight-ratio is my horn. Buh-BYE, cager.

  • spiff

    I had to rotate the switch gear forward to get my thumb to find the signals and not horn. Hard to be cool when you keep beeping at everyone.

  • kenneth_moore

    You’ve inspired me to go out and buy one of those “La Cuccarachia” horns. Every roach-coach in South Florida has one (they must be required by the county health code). Even if it doesn’t save me from a wreck, I’m sure that the moment I sound it, dozens of outdoor workers will instantly turn in my direction and be witnesses to the crash.

  • throwedoff

    Luckily the small city I live in (population 200k) is not cursed with crushing traffic problems. Most of the motorcycle accidents are self induced (a cruiser rider with alcohol involved). Excess speed for the road conditions or failing to negotiate a turn are the biggest culprits for the guys that go down. Occasionally there will be a car or pickup involved, but fifty percent or more of those involve the motorcyclist running into the back of them. Very seldom do we hear of a motorcyclist that was taken out by a vehicle turning in front of the bike. A few years ago I watched a sport bike rider on the interstate get taken out by some teen girls in an SUV. The driver moved from the far right lane to the far left lane hitting the bike rider (he was in the center lane on the left side). After realizing she had hit something, she tried to steer back to the right, over corrected and rolled the SUV onto it’s side. Luckily everyone walked away, but the bike rider was road rashed from his calves to his chest front and back because all he was wearing was his helmet, a tee shirt, and shorts. His bike (equipped with sliders) came out appearance wise much better than he did!

  • Spicky

    One of the many things I love about the GL1800 Goldwing .. is the horn. I havnt heard a louder one on a motorcycle, and that includes the Stebel. If the cager is sleeping too soundly to see the Wing, it sure wakes them up in a hurry!

  • Andy C

    I ride like everyone else is blind and can’t see me and I use my horn as if everyone else is deaf.
    Only useful when they don’t see the light has changed from red to green.

    Otherwise it’s up to me and my riding abilities to get myself out of sticky situations. My thumb can’t locate that damn switch anyway…
    And helmet cams? I guess they’ll be useful to the next-of-kin, when they want to file a wrongful death lawsuit.

    • fzrider

      I know it was a lol type joke but it’s exactly why I always travel with my camera running.
      If my death is ever Wrongful..I want my killer to pay.

  • Gee S

    Every used motorcycle I have ever purchased got scheduled for an immediate Fiamm Freeway Blaster dual-tone horn upgrade.

    The only new motorcycle I have ever bought — my K1200 — had them factory. 😉

    A wise old biker I knew when I was young — https://rollingphysicsproblem.wordpress.com/2015/01/03/riding-with-paul/ — taught me early on to always look at automobile drivers and determine where they were looking — either directly or in their rearview mirrors — to determine the degree of threat they represented with lack of attention. That was and still is good advice.

    Being from Noo Yawk originally, I extended Paul’s advice to include “if they are not looking, MAKE THEM LOOK!” And that’s where the Fiamms come in.

    Running back roads or suburban streets someone who is clearly looking in the wrong direction or down in their lap at a phone is clearly a level one threat.

    Pushing that button is a lot easier and cheaper than a trip to the hospital.

    If that makes me a noise polluting jerk — when riding my sewing machine quiet BMWs — then I am happy to be a jerk.

    I loves ya like a brother, Burnsie, but in this case you are wrong. The horn is just one more tool in the manifold arsenal of defensive driving.

  • Tim Sawatzky

    I went on a trip to Vietnam and there they use the horn for passing, they use the horn for merging, for saying get out of the way, for saying I’m here, for saying hello, for saying everything. They used it so much I couldn’t use it when I got back home.

    After the horn aversion wore off, I realize that I do wish my bike horn was louder, it’s terrible riding a cool cruiser with a nice rumble and then honking at someone with a feeble “beep”. It’s embarrassing. I’m thinking I need something louder. It my be my next upgrade.