Ding Ding – The Unheard Bicycle Bell

Bicycle bells are now attached to the handlebars of bicycles sold in the UK, but do they work?

The answer to the above isn’t that straight forward. Bicycle bells are designed to be used to warn people of your presence, this basically means you can use it on two road users, pedestrians and cyclists. I personally have never found my self in the situation where i need to use a bell, if I need to make someone aware of my presence i will use my voice. It has the advantage of you being able to control the volume easily and being able to use a polite tone, such as ‘Good day, please may I pass’

That doesn’t mean the bell doesn’t have it’s use. Look at the video below, a bicycle bell is used by a pedestrian on pedestrians and he films the results. It’s amazing to see how people move out-of-the-way but in reality, how many cyclists have had this experience? I expect only a handful

Clearly the bicycle bell has its place, but is that place on the handlebars of every bicycle sold in the UK?

With the current boom in cycle commuting, I would guess that most bikes sold are either going to be used off-road or on the road during commuting. This will mean that most interaction with pedestrians will be whilst they are around roads and whilst they are walking to and from work.
This means that if you are trying to get the attention of a pedestrian or cyclist during this time, the sound of your bell will be competing with traffic noise and the music that some pedestrians will be listening to. I would expect that the bell won’t be heard and you will be wasting your time by dinging it, It’s certainly not a sound I hear often and I spend many hours on the road around other cyclists every week. A question to ask, is how does the dopler shift affect the sound of the bell when using it on a pedestrian that is about to step out in front of you.
I’ve also seen some cyclists try to ding their bell at vehicle drivers, it really isn’t loud enough for them to take notice, and they certainly won’t react in time to avoid any danger. If you wish to use something against a vehicle, I would suggest using the aizround which punches out about 115db compared to around 80db for a bicycle bell. It’s also a sound which vehicle drivers are more aware of.

The bicycle bell has its place, and that is on the handlebars on some bikes, the ones which are taken on shared footpaths by considerate owners who wish to be polite to other users of the footpath. The government think that putting a bell on a bicycle will change the behaviour and attitude of cyclists towards pedestrians, the bell will not achieve that.

In conclusion, I suggest to ditch the bell, use your voice but above all, look out for people more/as vulnerable than you. Take care when cycling around pedestrians, as they can move unpredictably.

26 thoughts on “Ding Ding – The Unheard Bicycle Bell

  1. FWIW Cycle King in Croydon are doing Airzounds for £20.99 in their sale. Spotted it hanging above the counter whilst I was in there the other day 🙂

    Fully agree a bell is pretty much useless in rush hour traffic, using your voice is much more effective and I have even heard of some cyclist using whistles. This obviously presents it own problems as you’d either need to ride with it in your mouth or have it dangling and risk not being able to get to it in time.

  2. Bells have to be fitted to the vast majority of new bikes because of British Standards which require it. They also require reflectors on the bike and the wheels. The only exceptions are essentially if the bike is to be sold for racing, but even the likes of Condor do sell the bikes with the required kit.

    1. Funny you mention about the reflectors as that is often legal problem (if you had a REALLY anal officer) with most clipless pedals – most have no room for reflectors. I know there are some that offer a flat pedal on one side that do have the reflectors on.

      Funnily enough I did notice that the unicycle I picked up earlier this week (my New Years Resolution :-)) does have reflectors on the pedals, but no bell….

    2. Got to love British Standards. I do see the point in the bell, i just don’t see why every bicycle has to come with one, as the majority are probably never used OR used in the incorrect manor.

      On the reflector note, i actually have removed all of mine from all my bicycles. I personally don’t see the point in the front and rear one when I run some high powered lights.
      The side ones are very good but the design of sum mean that they can break whilst the wheel is turning and cause some pretty big issues when they hit the frame. For that reason I have removed the refelectors on my wheels, but i am looking at getting some 3M reflective tape to put on the spokes of my wheels to give me that side visibility.

    1. As far as i’m aware, and correct me if i’m wrong. There is no law about having one on your bike, just that there must be one attached at the point of sale.
      If i recal correctly, Labour tried to bring in a law in 2005 to give the police powers to fine any cyclist that didn’t have one.

    2. You are legally allowed to remove the bell after the completion of sale. This has been disgussed on the CTC site a few times in the past. The legislation is that dealers/shops must provide a fitted bell.

      IIRC the dealer can get around the legislation if its a custom build or the customer requests the removal, that may need checking though..

  3. all my bikes have bells. more use off road than on, and even off road the walkers’ commonest reaction is to look up in the sky!

  4. I use a small pathway which is free of cars, but as I approach it my vision is obstructed by large trees. I am unable to see pedestrians walking in my direction and they are unable to see me. I ring the bell before entering the pathway, otherwise we will crash into each other. It seems useful for that, but my I do use my voice as well when I am behind people.

  5. I still don’t understand why bicycles are sold with lights fitted as standard. Motorbikes are sold with a horn and lights so why not one with pedals. Makes more sense than fitting reflectors as they are virtually invisible to most drivers. Bells? Well, you only have to drive a car to realise how unobservant most pedestrians are. I swear I could knock down 2-3 Croydonians per week from crossing roads without checking the traffic.
    I find riding a bike socially around trails etc that voice and a polite and clear “excuse me” works wonders.

    1. I think motorbikes tend to be engineered to either a standard, or lights are specially engineered for the motorbike in question.

      Motorcycles are mostly road use, cycles can end up on tow paths, woodland MTBing routes etc. I think cycles would be quite limited if they all came with lights – the whole BS approval standard would need to be addressed and many independent manufacturers of lights would be disadvantaged if they had to adapt to these, or even run out of business whilst the big boys went for brands they liked…

      ..phew. Thats my tuppence on that.

  6. I have an old style horn fitted to my bike – great for frightening pedestrians! Great for using on the road as well.

  7. Gaz i,m with you a gentle word is safer than using a bell.I am an Addo fella and even I am not that brave

  8. Whilst a bell does produce around 60-80db of sound, the downside is that the frequencies produced are such that they can be blocked out by car windows and often headphones.

    This is down to the fact that the frequencies produced range from 1khz to 18khz, there are very little in the way of bass frequencies produced. Bass will pass through car windows better (an easy experiment to do is to sit in a car, windows up and get a mate to ring the bell, then get said mate to trigger a sound with significantly more bass but at similar dB range – a childs toy horn, the same thing you’d see the Marx Bros using in the movies)

    My experiences of cycle bells have ranged. I like them, and like their sound. Sadly others don’t quite see (or rather hear) them that way and think of them as impatient. I find this especially on shared use facilities where I have used them over recent years.

    Use them in traffic in any time other than summer (when car windows are often open in all but the decent air conditioned cars) and you’re taking a risk. I honestly think its better to shout an audible warning if you need to as you have both hands ready on the brakes.

  9. on my mountain bike in places like richmond park, towpath, canal path, wimbledon common, where paths are shared with cyclists, runners and walkers, I use my bell a LOT…. not to tell pedestrians/jogger to move so much, but so that they know I am there and will maintain their line and not suddenly veer across path.
    also to alert dogs for the same reason – a dog that hasn’t heard you can very easily move suddenly into your path, and a surprised dog is a dangerous one (once a dog I inadvertantly frightened by whizzing past at close range, actually chased after me, caught me, and bit my foot while I was still pedalling!)

    on my road bike, however, I rarely have cause to use my bell, and even when I do want to use it rarely manage to — on a road bike it seems impossible to mount a bell in a postion where it can be easily reached – whether you are on the hoods, or the drops.

  10. The advantage of a bell is that it’s shorthand for bicycle like flashing white & red lights.

    On the canal towpath British Waterways are encouraging “two tings” to annnouce your presence and request to pass but when you see those little white iPod wires, you know it isn’t going to work,

    I have got an Air Zound and it is impressively loud.

    I removed the spoke reflectors from one of my bikes when I got relfective sidewall tyres.

  11. I’ve both a bell and an AirZound on my commuter. I mainly use a shared-use off road path and the bell mostly does its job, as OldGreyBeard and botogol say, to alert other path users.

    For a while I didn’t have a bell and I found people were generally very ignorant to vocal warnings, anything short of a full throat bellow just doesn’t seem to work half the time.

    The AirZound works a treat in traffic but I’ve also had to occasionally use it on pedestrians and cyclists; often little old ladies walking their dogs, and younger people with earphones and personal music, who just don’t hear the bell. Either way, you have to be careful because there’s a chance that someone hears the bell and veers right across the path into the space in which you were intending to pass them. It happens to me every so often. In some circumstances it’s safer to just pass by without warning.

    I think it’s worth learning how to sing so you can project a loud warning shout at a car when necessary 😉 You’re unlikely to be able to find the Airzound button in an emergency situation.

  12. Airzounds are great! Dozy,early morning pedestrians,cyclists,car drivers and ipodders are all instantly woken up! Only prob on a 1hr commute, it may not last on one pump up to 100psi! (I used to get hoarse by the time I got to davis st!) Bells are better on quiter journeys,so I still use one.

  13. Just to re-iterate what has already been said – AirZound is the way forward: http://www.airzound.co.uk/ have had one for a year now and not only is it very loud and satisfying to use(!), car drivers seem to think you are a motorbike – which is great.

    The noise / volume is excellent, and you can pick them up for as little at £15 online – google it!

    As an ex-cycle courier I can’t recommend this product enough – is a real life saver……get one will be the best £15 you ever spend, guaranteed.

  14. Bells are also a requirement on bikes sold in Australia, but in traffic a total waste of time… generally a loud voice works better in warning drivers especially if there is a car window open. I have watched some of your videos and have heard a horn being used, one sounding like a car I think would be suitable.
    As I also ride on numerous bike paths and I use the bell all the time to warn slower riders and people… as none of us have rear vision mirrors installed I find it the best way… as I pass I always acknowledge with a greeting, always helpful as I use the same paths on the commute to work and I pass the same people.

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