Investing in a loud motorcycle horn is a great way to increase your chances of being heard in an emergency. A motorcycle horn needs to be loud enough to be heard over the constant noise of your bike’s engine, pipes, and the noise of surrounding traffic. On the highway, the biggest threat to bikers comes from long haul trucks and vans with limited rear view. Your horn needs to be loud and sharp enough to alert the drivers of these big vehicles, should they fail to notice you when they are changing lanes.
Car drivers can be fairly oblivious to bikers at the best of times. Cagers are faced with many distractions: radio / media players; GPS voice and visual route navigation, cell phone calls, and eating their fast food while driving, not to mention the fact that modern cars are well-insulated against noise coming in from outside.
Fortunately there are a wide range of attention-getting motorcycle horns on the market. Cross-comparisons are being made here between the top brands, Stebel Nautilus Air Horns, Pro Pad Mini Beast Air Horns, Rivco Air Horns, and Stebel Magnum Electromagnetic Horns so you can select which one best suits your needs.
The Loudness Factor
A stock standard motorcycle horn generally has a maximum output of about 85 dB (decibels), which is incredibly weak. That decibel level is comparable to the sound of city traffic while inside your car, so you can quickly understand why stock motorcycle horns can be very ineffective. Loudness should be your primary concern. The horn should be loud enough to overpower the sound of environmental noises, your bike’s engine and pipes at high speed, and still be heard by the driver up ahead.
Stebel Nautilus Air Horns produce an incredible 139 dB, which is in the range of the sound of a jet engine, and are rated as the loudest motorcycle air horn on the market. Stebel Nautilus Air Horns are designed as universal horns, and will work on any 12-volt motorcycle out there.
Propad Mini Beast Air Horns, which contain a Stebel Nautilus Motorcycle Air Horn, easily replace the stock horn and cover on many Harley-Davidson motorcycles. Even though they contain a Stebel Nautilus Air Horn, the cover just slightly muffles the sound, so they are rated at 128 dB. Make no mistake though – 128 dB is still far more than adequate when you need it most.
Rivco Air Horns also operate at 128 dB. That decibel level is comparable to an air raid siren. Rivco Air Horns come as two separate parts – the air horn compressor, and the “trumpets” where the sound comes out, and are connected by a tube.
Stebel Magnum Horns are an electromagnetic horn, rather than an air horn like the horns mentioned above. Stebel Magnum Horns are available as a pair, with one high-tone and one low-tone horn. The combined dual tone produces 139 dB, just like the Stebel Nautilus Air Horns. Also available are the Stebel Magnum Harley Replacement Horns as either a high-tone, or low tone, which produce 136 dB by themselves. However, due to the way the human ear perceives tone and the way sound waves travel, the high-tone is perceived to be a bit louder than the low tone.
Styling and Design
In addition to loudness, another factor in purchasing an air horn is the look of it, especially if it will be installed in a location where it can easily be seen, as is the case with most Harleys. The look of the horn, including finishes with heavier gauge steal and chroming, adds to the cost, but will also add to the visual appeal of the horn.
Stebel Nautilus Air Horns have a look all of their own. Stebel’s approach to function gives you a horn that has the air compressor and dual high/low horn integrated into a single, compact unit. On most metric motorcycles they will be installed in a location where they won’t be seen, so the standard Stebel Nautilus horn is black with a zinc-plated compressor. However, if you do install a Stebel Nautilus in a place where it will be seen, the NovaChrome version is also available when appearance is important, as shown in the picture here. It should be mentioned that Stebel Nautilus Air Horns cost half as much as a Rivco or Mini Beast Air Horn.
Propad Mini Beast Air Horns are available in a large variety of styles and finishes designed to match the look of your Harley. There are 4 different Mini Beast styles available: from the tear drop design shown to the left, to two different twin cam versions that match the existing twin cam air cleaner and provides great symmetry between the right and left side of the bike, to a finned-oval shape version designed to match the look of the engine. All of the designs are available in chrome, glossy black, and matte black finishes to match your Harley perfectly. In most cases they require no modification of the stock bracket and easily replace the stock horn and cowbell cover on most Harleys.
Rivco Air Horns feature twin “trumpets”, which are designed to be displayed, rather than concealed. All Rivco Air Horns are available in a chrome finish. Rivco’s Harley FL, FX, & XL and Multi-Application Air Horn versions are also available in a satin black finish if you have a blackout look to your bike.
The biggest design advantage of the Stebel Magnums Horns is their size. Some motorcycles just don’t have enough space to install a larger horn – this is often the case on sportbikes and bikes with cowlings. The Stebel Magnums are very compact, and come as a separate high tone and low tone, so finding room to fit two smaller horns is often easier than finding room to fit one larger horn on bikes with limited space. Since they are usually concealed the standard version comes in black, but a chrome version is also available for applications that will be visible, and a more stylish look is preferred. Stebel Magnums Horns are the least expensive of all the horns mentioned in this article.
Ease of Installation
You probably don’t want to spend a whole lot of time installing your horn. If you can do the installation yourself, you can save a fortune on shop rates, so ease of installation is the final factor in choosing a horn.
All of the horns mentioned in this article require and come with an electrical device called a relay (unless purchasing a single tone Stebel Magnum Harley Replacement Horn), which allows these high-amperage horns to be installed without damage to your low-amperage stock horn wires. Since these horns are much louder than stock horns, they naturally require more power than a stock horn. Installation of any of these horns without use of a relay presents two issues. One, the horn will never honk as loud as it can, as it will never be able to draw enough power across the stock wires that it requires. And two, installation of a high-amperage horn without the use of a relay can potentially cause an electrical fire. Not to worry though – if you just follow the installation instructions that come with your new horn neither of these will ever be an issue.
The biggest time factor in installing a Stebel Nautilus Air Horn will be mounting the horn. In most cases you can easily install the Stebel Nautilus in the stock location of your existing horn, as Stebel Nautiluses use a simple one-bolt mounting system. However, in cases where you cannot fit a Stebel Nautilus in the stock location, mounting the hardware or the horn itself may require additional fasteners, or brackets. You may have to fabricate a mounting bracket from a strip of aluminum or stainless steel, to fit your particular model of motorcycle. When it comes to wiring, fortunately a Plug-N-Play Wiring Harness for the Stebel Nautilus is available to make wiring a cinch. The Plug-n-Play Harness comes pre-wired to a relay, so the only thing left to do is attach your stock horn wire(s) to the harness, and hook the harness up to the new horn and your battery. Wiring the horn using the Plug-n-Play Harness can take less than 5 minutes.
Propad Mini Beast Air Horns ship with all the hardware, plug-n-play wiring that is pre-wired to the relay, and the easy-to-follow instructions you need to install the air horn without much hassle. The whole mounting and wiring process can take less than 30 minutes for someone who is handy. In terms of time and installation costs saved, a Mini Beast Air Horn is worth buying for most Harley owners.
Rivco manufactures a wide variety of motorcycle-specific air horns, including a Multi-Application Air Horn which fit on many Harley, Honda, Indian, Kawasaki, Suzuki, Victory, and Yamaha models. Rivco also offers air horns designed specifically for Harley FL, FX, & XL Models, Honda GL1500, Honda Valkyrie GL1500, Honda VT1100, and Yamaha Royal Star. Installation time varies from model-to-model, mostly due to the different mounting requirements each bike has. The wiring of any Rivco Air Horn is quite easy though, and all necessary wiring components are included.
Stebel Magnums Horns generally require the most installation time of all the horns mentioned in this article since you are mounting two horns, which may require some creativity in finding locations. There is currently no Plug-n-Play harness on the market for the Stebel Magnums, so you will need to get all of the necessary wiring components locally. If you are not electrically savvy, Stebel Magnums Horns are best to have a local professional install. If you are replacing your stock Harley horn with a single tone Stebel Magnum Harley Replacement Horn no relay or additional wiring is needed, which makes installation as simple as removing your original horn and replacing it with the single-tone Stebel Magnum Harley Replacement Horn.
Please note that anytime you do electrical work on your motorcycle, you need to have the know-how to prevent injury to yourself or costly damage to your motorcycle’s electrical system. If you are not comfortable with electrical work, and wiring diagrams look like Greek to you, the cost to have a professional install your new horn is well worth it.
No matter what type of motorcycle you own, chances are it still has the wimpy stock horn on it. Upgrading your stock horn to a loud air or electromagnetic horn will help keep you safe on the road. With the wide variety of styles and designs available on the market, you won’t have a problem finding a new, loud motorcycle horn that fits your both your needs and aesthetic.