Bike Bell

Your Bike Bell: Important Safety Alert or Really Obnoxious?

Bike Bell
Bike Bell


The greenway and shared paths are relatively new for me.  My first ride on the greenway came with a lesson on passing etiquette that left me confused. Would utilizing my bell be rude?



Ring the bell or Holler?

It was  a beautiful day.  My wife and I had joined a friend for our maiden ride on one of the paved greenways.  I was very excited about getting out and riding on the trails.  Utilizing the paved paths is one of the reasons I decided on getting a trike.

 For some reason I met this new experience with some trepidation.  Not over- the- top anxiety, but I was noticeably anxious.  I was slightly aware that there were some rules of etiquette to follow and I am generally uncouth.  I am not some keen cyclist.  I am just some non-athletic fat guy riding his on the greenway for the first time!  I was going to be sharing this path with seasoned veterans wearing the proper brand-named attire and schooled in the arts of bike path.

Our friend versed us on a few basics.  It was common sense stuff really and she did a great job of making me feel at ease.  Well, that is until we got to the passing  the walkers and runners part.  Not verbatim but close enough our friend says,

When you pass someone you should pass on the left and announce it by saying, ‘On the left!”, which some people consider rude.  You can also ring your bell which some people consider rude.

Rude?  To alert someone!  One of my bike accessories is rude!  You try and utilize a safety alert and it’s rude!  I didn’t vocalize any of those things, they just ran through my mind rather quickly.  I am sure that I responded with an, “I got it!”.  I guess we will soon see if I “got it.”

As it turns out we had a great ride and I found the veteran users of the path to be very pleasant.  I did find the need to pass several people and decided that day that I preferred ringing my bell as opposed to a verbal announcement.  I felt more comfortable ringing the bell and people seemed to respond to the bell more positively.

A little time has passed since our maiden ride and I have some personal experience sharing the paths with others.  Again, most of it is common sense stuff but passing can be problematic for me.  I find that people are sometimes confused by the noise of the bell and dart not unlike a squirrel in unpredictable directions.  I have had people walking in a group scatter like pigeons when they heard the bell ring.

I would like to state that it is high on my list of priorities to not hit anyone while biking.  Furthermore, I prefer not to scare anyone.   Still feeling less than stellar about my passing alert skills, I felt that I needed to get the thoughts and opinions of others who utilized shared paths.  There are lots of great resources for learning about cycling on the internet.  There are articles written by people with years and miles of cycling experience.  I was able to find a few posts which addressed the topic of utilizing a bell for passing.

It’s a bike bell not a siren

Early on I had decided to use a bell instead of vocalizing.  I did this for no reason other than it was more comfortable for me and seemed more effective based on my experience.  I know personally that I had responded more positively to people who used their bell when they passed me.

One of the most common problems I have encountered while passing is the “scatter.”  I ring my bell and the response is for people to: disperse, scatter, go their separate ways, stampede, break-up, disband.  Ambulance drivers don’t get the response with their sirens that I get with my bell.  I rang my bell to get the attention of the pedestrian or group of pedestrians.  As far as getting their attention: goal achieved.  Getting the response I wanted: not always a winner.

I read a post in London Cyclist that doesn’t address my “scatter” issue but does bring up another behavior that I have experienced.

Probably the biggest reason many cyclists have either gotten rid of their bike bells or opted out of the bell system altogether is because people can be clueless, especially pedestrians. While pedestrians are the main reason to get a bell, they are also one of the biggest reasons for not getting one.

They tend to suffer from the ‘deer in the headlights’ syndrome where instead of moving quickly out of the path of a speeding bike, they stop directly in your path. Which defeats the purpose of having warned them since you now have to quickly change your course to avoid a collision.

 Curated from Do you use a bike bell? 

Alright, so I am not alone in having some negative experiences with the bike bell.  I won’t be opting out of using a bell but I have experienced people stopping, moving to the left side of the path, or scattering in different directions when there is a group of people.

Varied Opinion

 In my reading about using a bell I found an interesting post by Chris Tackett at TreeHugger who says:

The distinct, piercing tone of a bell can cut through the cacophony of urban noise better than a human voice can, on its own. This, I’ve found, can give people in your way a faster reaction time than if you were to yell ahead to them. Also, the “ding ding” + “on your left” announcement is, I think, a nicer, safer way to pass someone than simply yelling “on your left” out of the blue. Or worse still, not alerting them that you’re passing at all.

Curated from Why every bike needs a bell : TreeHugger

As I read that it made me think of the way I actually execute a pass on the shared path.  I use the bell and then vocalize as I approach.  Not usually an “On the left” but more of a, “Hey, How are ya’ll doing?”   I almost use it as a way to “reach out” to the person being passed as a friendly gesture as not to be rude.  I personally don’t think that using “On the left” is rude, it’s just doesn’t flow as easily for me as the bell.  However, not every cyclist or pedestrian is as laid-back as I am on the subject.

I rang my bell at a guy and he lost it. He said, “You’re supposed to say on your left!” I told him this was a universal indicator and just more pleasant. He said, “‘Oh, you must be one of those new commuters. I also told him a bell was universal, what if someone doesn’t speak English.

Curated from On Your Left and Ringing a Bell – Bike Hugger

I feel bad for the cyclist having to experience that.  It has never happened to me but that is exactly what I feared on my initial bike path ride.  I feared that I would get a reprimand from some experienced rider or path user that felt the need to school me in the arts of bike path.  The response his “bro” gave is on the mark in my opinion:

……mentioned it to my bro Chris DiStefano who told me this:

…So to the point, a bell is most certainly used to alert people on the path of your presence. I’ve have one on all my city bikes and have never had a confrontation over it. Also, if you’re gonna say, “on your left,” it’s done as a courtesy when passing. It does not mean, “Give me your line,” and/or that the cyclists in your way should move or slow down. Like a bell, it’s a courtesy, and much different than flashing your lights in the left lane at the car in front of you, right?

Curated from On Your Left and Ringing a Bell – Bike Hugger

Defending the Bell

So there are at least two schools of thought on the bike bell.  The school of bell nay and the school of bell aye.  One rider even experiencing a verbal reprimand from another cyclist for belonging to school aye.   In talking to my wife about this issue she said that the bell or, “On the left!” was fine.  However, she hated that many cyclists fly past you on the shared paths without any type of alert.I did find the following post insightful and can understand her frustration in have someone not warn at all.

I got the bell after talking with an older woman who said she loved bicyclists but was fed up with them zooming past her with nary a warning on her daily walks across the Broadway Bridge. When she was a girl in the ’40s, she told me, every single bicycle was equipped with a bell, and every person in her generation still automatically reacts to that sound by moving to the right to make way for a cyclist passing on the left.

People her age are some of the most vulnerable when it comes to pedestrian-bicycle conflicts. She pointed out that older folks often can’t hear verbal cues, such as “on your right!”, and that it takes them longer to process the meaning of verbal input. A bell, however, is easily heard and automatically interpreted.

Most of us may no longer have this same reflexive understanding of a bell meaning “cyclist on the left.” This is probably because most cyclists don’t even seem to have bells anymore. The result is that whenever cyclists and pedestrians share close quarters — on bridges, on sidewalks, and on multi-use paths like the Esplanade and the Springwater Corridor — confusion often reigns, and the chances of a crash go up.

I propose that we bring the bike bell back into style. Every new bicyclist ought to be sold on the advantages of this cheap yet effective device. All children’s bikes should be sold with bells. Heck, all bikes should automatically come bell-equipped. Those of us with bells ought to use them and model their use to others.

A bell can be understood by anyone, of any age, in any language. Widespread bell use increases traffic safety and road sharing far more effectively than expensive infrastructure or a public education campaign.

Curated from Passing etiquette: In defense of the bike bell –

Revelations: None Really

I must admit that after reading several posts on the subject of the bell that I did not discover any startling revelations.  I did however find validation for my use of the bell and will continue to use it.  I will also continue to verbally announce as I get closer.  I definitely will not opt out of alerting pedestrians all together.  I would rather be found guilty of being rude, obnoxious, or for startling a pedestrian than to collide with someone.

I do find that reader comments are some of the most enjoyable and insightful words written.  I would appreciate your thoughts on the subject of passing, using a bell, or verbal alerts.


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