Some style-conscious cyclists may recoil in horror at the very notion of cluttering up their cockpit with a bell or horn, but for anyone commuting in busy city streets an audible means of alerting pedestrians and drivers to your presence is an important safety consideration.
While it is not compulsory to have a bell on your bike in the UK, it is the law in some places (including Germany and parts of the United States). According to the UK Highway Code, cyclists are advised to ‘be considerate of other road users, particularly blind and partially sighted pedestrians, letting them know you are there when necessary, for example by ringing your bell.’
While in many cases a quick shout or a polite ‘excuse me’ may prevent a collision, the reflexive habit of pinging your bell, combined with the fact that everyone knows that the sound means ‘bike approaching’ should help to avert accidents. As anyone who has ever ridden on crowded city streets or shared bike/pedestrian paths knows, the chances of somebody stepping into your path without looking are high, especially in the modern age of people being glued to their smartphone screens.
Additionally, a bell is strongly advised for children and teenagers, whether they are on family towpath rides or biking to school. Getting them into the habit of warning others of their presence will not only help to prevent accidents, but will raise their own awareness of the importance of safety and the need to be conscious of other road users.
There are two main types of bike bell to choose from – the classic cycle bell and the air horn.
• Classic cycle bell: The classic cycle bell is well-known to all and based on a design that dates back to the late 1800s. Mounted on the bars within easy access, it consists of a steel or brass bell against which a tab or ringer strikes, producing the audible ‘ding’. While older bike bell models used a thumb-pushed lever that activated internal gears to strike two metal rings off the rim of the bell (with all the action happening inside the bell), these have largely been replaced by a simple plastic tab on a flexible arm. When the tab is flicked by the thumb the striking surface hits the exterior of the bell and the ‘ding’ is heard. The method of mounting the bike bell to the bar varies, but most modern types forgo a fixed plastic mount in favour of hooks and an elastic O-ring, for ease of attachment and adjustment.
• Air horns: These use pressurized air to emit a powerful blast of sound, up to 120 decibels in some cases. Some bike-specific models feature an air reservoir that is mounted in the bottle cage, and refillable via a normal bicycle pump or mini pump. Be warned however- the loud trumpeting blast of one of these horns may not appeal to everybody, so they are a fun option only or reserved for those commuters who have had one too many close escapes and feel that a normal bike bell just doesn’t cut the mustard.
Whichever bell you choose, ping it loud and clear!