velosynth release#001 from velosynth on Vimeo.

Bicycle transport is cheap, environmentally sound, and quiet – a little too quiet. Since bikes don’t make noise, it can be difficult to hear them coming. And since a bicyclist should be focused on the road, any visual feedback to the bicyclist is potentially distracting. What’s the solution? How about a box that easily straps to a bike and makes sounds? Sounds can provide feedback to pedestrians, fellow cyclists, and other people sharing the road. They can also make distraction-free sonification of data the cyclist might want, as opposed to requiring that a rider take their eyes off the road to read a display. Using network features, you can even communicate amongst a crowd of cyclists.

The Velosynth is an open-source (Creative Commons-licensed), hackable sound gadget that attaches to a bike. To measure speed and acceleration (essential for making vroom-vroom-style sounds when the bike is in motion), the device uses a magnet and sensor combination on the wheel. There’s also a three-axis accelerometer, built-in amp, and Arduino-compatible brain. You can buy the device as a US$100 kit or get a pre-assembled device.

EFFALO, despite the silly and tongue-in-cheek video, are a serious “hyperlocal” maker of new designs to explore interaction, environments, and DIY hardware and fabrication. The group is based in Portland, Oregon, and includes monome community regular Michael Felix, aka “%.”

The EFFALO crew aren’t just looking for publicity, though; they hope that they can get help, including bright ideas for how to make this project useful, from hackers, designers, and musicians. The Kickstarter project they’ve started isn’t just a beg for money, either – it’s effectively a preorder page for kits for hackers or pre-built devices for non-hackers. A few kits are left, though I expect they won’t last very long after this post.

The potential of a bike-mounted synth also shows how transformative mobile sound synthesis can be. Sure, today’s digital synths aren’t far removed from those available twenty or thirty years ago. But whereas early synths required big budgets and big rooms, making them useful to sound studios or academic research facilities but not much else, sound today can be a commodity. Just as with the display, mobile sound synthesis may have uses far beyond just making unusual music. (That’s why yesterday’s mention of batteries wasn’t just a random post.)

Case in point: Velosynth isn’t alone. Electric cars face a similar challenge; their silent operation means that producing synthesized sound becomes a safety feature. That issue appeared just last week on the superb design blog core77:
An update on “vroom tones” for electric cars

Of course, unlike conventional motors, it’s possible to actually design the sounds transport methods make. That can mean producing sounds that are less disturbing to neighbors and that are simultaneously more effective for localizing where the vehicle is relative to the listener. Another project to watch: the makers of the upcoming OP-1 synth by Teenage Engineering have also engineered an electric bicycle, meaning some sort of interaction between the bike and the synth is possible.

All the details on Velosynth:

For more tunes by %, check out

Previous posts on the relationship between bikes and electronic music:
Music Sequencing as Bicycle Wheels, Rubik’s Cubes at Fest in Argentina

Maker Faire: Giant Bicycle-Part DJ Looping Reel-to-Reel Tape Deck

Music for Bicycles: Ensembles, Symphonies, and Bikelophones

Nutcracker Suite Played Exclusively on Bicycle Parts

More Musical Mayhem, Instant Art with Bicycles

  • Dioxide

    Oh man. It's getting so I can't stand the open source circuit bending crowd and this just epitomizes it. I mean there must be some good stuff being done as well, but is this really "potentially useful"? It'd probably tell me about its potential uses somewhere in the article I didn't bother to read. If this lot didn't have clouded perception from vegan-diet induced vitamin deficiency then they'd probably be able to see what a waste of time and effort this kind of thing is.

  • Dioxide

    Oh and BTW, the headline sounds like something from The Onion.

  • andrew zero

    @dioxide: More for me then. And sometimes it's fun to build things with little to no mass appeal or no widely accepted purpose.

    I bike daily. This combined with the speakers in my helmet should make for some funny rides.

  • phortran

    I think it's fun and that's enough reason to do it. I can understand questioning the usefulness of something but personal attacks aren't very nice or constructive to the discussion.

  • @dioxide
    here's a concept..
    get out there, and talk to some folks who are involved in the electronic music scene, who are inspired, creative and driven to do things….
    get involved yourself
    if you did, you wouldn't have such spiteful things to say…
    you'd realize that everyone won't hate on you for what you do….
    and that everyone else isn't the asshole…. you are…
    just an open suggestion.

  • I didn't like the sound coming from the demo, but it definitely seems creative. All I can think about when i see this is the song "gold and a pager" being manipulated by pedal speed, lol. Or we're en route to vuvuzela 2.0

  • dioxide

    @edison I am "out there" and already involved with people in the electronic music scene thanks, so your point is invalid. Note though: that's "music" and the name of this blog is "Create Digital Music" not "Create Digital Sound". Obviously Peter is completely free to post whatever he likes here, it's just that I don't have to like it and what's more, there's a comments feature where people can comment on blog posts. This is way too geeky for me and I consider myself a geek of sorts. This post isn't actually related to music tech, just technology, sound and electronics which covers a wide range including alarm technology, audio branding and everything to do with sound and technology that is not music related. I come here for the music technology content and for the most part don't comment because what I see is fine. This article is one for Open Source Electronics Monthly though. Which is great if you are someone who loves open source electronics. It's just that I'm not. I'm a musician and as much as I love technology some things make me want to snooze.

    Well Edison, it's nice to hear that you have an opinion too, and your patronising advice and line that "everyone won't hate on my for what I do". But in real life they will. That's because everyone has different tastes, everyone thinks something is shit and that something is great and that varies from person to person. Thankfully we don't all like the same things. If you do meet anyone who thinks that everything has some merit and nothing is better than anything else, my advice would be to run in the opposite direction from this confused individual.

  • "…somewhere in the article I didn’t bother to read. If this lot didn’t have clouded perception from vegan-diet induced vitamin deficiency then they’d probably be able to see what a waste of time and effort this kind of thing is."

    that, is the "opinion" you chose to share…
    it is my opinion, that your "opinion" sucks…
    because it's not opinion, it's hating…
    why wouldn't you just not say anything, if this isn't your topic of interest?
    you defend yourself… detailing the finer points of what is "tech"…. but throw around vegan diets as an insult??
    go ahead, talk…. im just talking back at you, like you're talking…
    im sorry man… ive been called out before on here, for back-talking to haters…
    who gives a fuck what people think…
    its how they act…
    so you're point is invalid
    anyway… it's my opinion that if you were "out there"… you'd have the decency to not belittle people for their efforts…
    this project is genius… michael felix is the homie…
    ain't no carnivores talking cancer helping nobody hoss…
    stay gold

  • dioxide

    Yeah it is hating I guess, or a strong dislike at least. Don't you hate anything?

    "who gives a fuck what people think"
    Well you clearly care what I think, I've no idea why. Why not state your own opinion instead of taking issue with mine? Your first post didn't say anything about what you thought of the post or project. Speaking about hating things, another thing I hate is people who make out that they're liberal and reasonable when they're not at all. Anyone who is truly liberal would happily allow people to think whatever they like. Why take issue with what I think, just because I said what I think? I was once open-minded about the whole homegrown electronics / open source thing but now having seen a lot more of this type of thing, the novelty factor has gone and I have formulated an opinion of it. An opinion I'm guessing you're not likely to agree with.

    Traditional magazines have a relationship with their readership. Whether you think that applies to blogs or not is up to you, maybe there is enough content out there now for blogs not to care if their readership aren't interested in their articles. I mean I might well be the only person in the world who doesn't think this is at all related to electronic music, but hey, I can still tell people what I think. My comments weren't personal to the guys who made the video, I'm just registering my disinterest in the whole thing. I have now watched the video and it didn't disappoint. A nice fun project for them (hi Michael!) but it bores me to tears. Horses for courses. Big deal.

  • i would think by the reaction to your post, you'd realize that the thing i "hate" is internet haters
    i just told you why i care what you think…
    because you're acting like a wanker…
    by posting hate..
    what is your point?

    as far as what i think about this project…
    that's why i came to the comment section, to leave my congrats and admiration for a really fun approach. this kind of experimentation, and open collaborative effort, is the same attitude that gets us new controllers, new software capabilities and new noises…

    next time dioxide…. don't ruin it…

  • dioxide

    My point is to respond to your accusations of not being involved in the electronic music scene, of being a troll, an asshole, a hater and now a wanker.

    Now if I was a troll I would have gone directly to the Reaper forums and starting baiting all those freetards in their natural habitat (actually that sounds fun!). I honest don't care if you think I'm an asshole and a wanker, so far I'm not seeing any reason to rate your opinions very highly.

    I don't like being called a hater though. It implies some kind of jealousy of the person my hate is directed at which couldn't be further from the truth. I'm not having a go because I want to take them down or belittle them, it's just that I genuinely believe that most of this kind of thing is mediocre drivel. And the reason this stuff is all covered by CC and not copyright is that the creators know that this stuff is barely worth protecting.

    Now how about some intelligent points from you instead of just name calling? You could have just left your comment full of "congrats and admiration" instead of throwing insults because you don't agree with me.

  • "I don’t like being called a hater though"/
    "Yeah it is hating I guess"

    "I’m not having a go because I want to take them down or belittle them"/
    "If this lot didn’t have clouded perception from vegan-diet induced vitamin deficiency"

    "if I was a troll"/
    "what a waste of time and effort this kind of thing is"

    "Anyone who is truly liberal would happily allow people to think whatever they like"/
    "baiting all those freetards in their natural habitat (actually that sounds fun!)"

    "Yeah it is hating I guess"/
    "I have formulated an opinion of it"

    "I’m an asshole and a wanker"

    "Now how about some intelligent points from you instead of just name calling?"

    please see everything i have posted previously….

    ok im done…
    seriously dioxide… no hard feelings…
    it was just a slow work day…
    thanks for making it go by quicker
    and all the best to you…
    the internet is not serious
    if we ever meet… i owe you a beer…
    it will probably be an organic vegan beer though…. be forewarned

  • dioxide

    If that's you winning then keep on winning winner! LOL.

  • thanks man…. i will

  • I took a music course a while back and we had to give a performance. One guy used his bike as an instrument and when he first said it I thought he was going to do something like this. Cool to see that someone actually pulled it off. It is a little more expositional than compositional but still could be cool.

  • dioxide

    i have no girlfriend.. or friends for that matter. edison.. your the closest thing i have to any human contact.. please keep talking to me.

  • dioxide

    pleeeeeeeease…. i'm so lonely

  • galapagoose

    so excited to see this project get off the ground!!

    sund doesn't have to be annoying ((or even audible)) to the pedestrians and cyclists around you —— the device is open and hackable, and is designed to do what you make it do. i wish people would stop hating because they're upset that there will be more noise on the roads (have you listened to the noise your buick makes?).

    instead, let's think about the amazing way this can augment the riding experience for the cyclist. imagine road-training in a group with constant audio feedback updating your progress. imagine pulling up to an unknown cyclist at a traffic light and you being introduced via your bicycle. imagine being directed on your route by rich audible tones and not a cold generic GPS system.

  • stk

    Awesome. I'm so all over this.
    I cycle pretty much everywhere, can't wait for human-powered on-road synth'n'beatbox battles.

    Hack it to blast out Merzbow noise spurts at lame cage-drivers too m/

  • Damon

    You don't have to have an overly active imagination to see this idea is rife with potential. I don't know what that is, but smarter persons than I surely will.

    And as far as deliberately cheesy tech fast talk zoomwow salesman promotional videos go, this one is memorable in a good way.

    "Rife" is a silly word for a lot of something.

  • I remember a presentation at STEIM showing bicycles with generators attached directly to speakers. They had a very loud square wave sound with pitch controlled directly by speed. No sensors, no digital electronics … all back in the early 70's.

  • Feh

    Oh, hipsters. Is there anything they can't suck the soul out of?

  • Edward

    God … I can see this sort of contraption becoming popular here in San Francisco and I dread that day. I make no judgement on the utility or musical aspects of the device, but I do not want to hear other people's noise.

  • @dioxide:
    Sound design is most definitely related to electronic music. Mobile sound design… yes. Arduino… yes.

    Now, whether anyone would actually want this thing, or whether it's a solution in search of a problem, that's another matter. It appears to be a real problem on electric cars, at least; bicycles are more of an open matter. Then again, "need" and this site don't always go hand it hand. (And I did say "potentially" useful.)

    But I at least defend the role of mobile synths and sound design on this site. I know I have a very, very literal name. If I were "XLR8R" (and I do know those guys, would you be asking if this … accelerates things? Or if I would need to make every word into l33tsp34k?

  • Pingback: Bike Mounted Synthesizer Uses Speed and Acceleration To Create Audio Feedback - PSFK()

  • @ feh…
    yea… mine as well keep it going..
    im up for more…
    (if this is dioxide… youre a damn addict)

    i love how recently, anyone can throw out hipster, for anything…
    in fact the word itself has lost all meaning…
    the term originated in the 40's in the jazz scene… and typically meant some one who follows what is "hip"
    shit, i've had someone once (maybe it was you?) call my MIDI controller a hipster…
    I.E. "i don't like that hipster lunchbox"
    what does that mean?
    the way you've used it here… it's just kinda like… "those guys, that are cooler than i could be…. are soul suckers"
    which brings me to the next part of my rebuttal…
    "….anything they can’t suck the soul out of?"
    are you speaking of the bicycle synthesizer DIY scene…?
    because i didn't realize that it was such a meaningful soulful movement already..
    i mean, please enlighten us on the rich history and top players in the game… so we can all do our homework and the hipsters wont ruin it…
    dang…. the way some of you guys put shit down on here is crazy….
    so from here on out… i'm dubbing a term for bitter, hating electronic musicians….
    feh….you are a synthster…
    sorry man…

    ok … now im really done…
    2 down… none to go…
    i win again

    @ peter…
    it does measure the acceleration of things… i think he loses on both fronts…

  • BirdFLU

    HA! As soon as I saw Bicycle, Synth and Hackabale in the headline I knew it had to be here in Portland.

    I'm no lover of hipsters. But because these folks are in Portland, I'm coming to their defense and saying that it's more likely that this project is just a natural convergence of interests than a hipster wank fest. It's hard to explain, but if you lived here or spent a couple of weeks here you'd know what I mean.

  • Well, I'd love to someday reclaim the word "hipster" from its 1940/50s Bohemian roots, but suffice to say —

    Using a name for someone else as a way to bring them down or to make an argument for you is called "name calling." I'm sure we all do it on occasion, myself included (heck, I've probably used hipster in derogative terms), but it isn't terribly constructive.

  • TechLo

    Last year here in Portland there were several "bicyclist attacks driver" incidences in the news. What an Oregon driver could have done to offend a cyclist must have been a rare mistake (though I think the cyclists were drunk in just about every case), as drivers here are the most passive, slow, "No, you go first" group of drivers I've ever seen, and I've driven extensively in almost every state in the lower 48.

    ***New term alert***
    Chipster = any hipster (non-judgmentally speaking) into arduino or microchips of any fashion.

  • @TechLo: so what you're saying is what the cyclists will invent next in Portland is an open-source, hackable, 3D-printable photon torpedo, with which they will take over the city?

    I want mine with a cloaking device, please.

  • rhowaldt

    @Peter: i just read all the comments on this post, and am now very tired. i wasted 4 years of my life in the pointless opinion-clashing that came to be known as 'discussions' this side of Socrates, and the hype is still not over. the reason i am speaking to you is that i wanted to voice my appreciation for the way you respond to some of the stuff that people post in comments: calm, eloquent and non-offensive. it is very clear who is the one running this website, and i wouldn't want it any other way.

    @Velosynth: always nice to see people who actually execute their strange ideas. everytime i see something like this i wonder why i do not kick my own butt to make one of my own ideas happen. keep up the good work.

  • I want one, and program it to play increasingly fast breakbeats depending on the pedalling speed 😀 It shouldn't be impossible, what are the options for cheap sampler boards with Arduino?