By Chris Tackett
August 9, 2013
… The need for a basket or panniers, a nicer seat, or even a helmet are, in my opinion, all up for debate on whether they are necessary, but I think there’s no debate that every cyclist needs a bell. Bells, along with lights, are not just for your own safety, but they make cycling safer for other cyclists, pedestrians and car drivers. And, I think, they can help make the flow of an urban transportation system work as well as it can.
How can a little bell do all of this? In my experience, a bell does a better job of communicating than I can vocally and when you’re riding on busy roads or crowded bike lanes where tenths of seconds and inches make the difference between a dangerous crash or a safe commute, there isn’t a lot of room for error.
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.
I’ve found a bell also does a better job of alerting drivers of my presence, so they don’t cut me off or open their doors. A strong bell sound seems to be better heard from inside a car than my voice is. And I can ring a bell in quick succession to alert them in an easier way than I could yell.
And on a system scale, I think using a bicycle bell in the right way makes cycling safer for other cyclists, as well, because by using your bell, you are training pedestrians and drivers to listen for the distinctive ding of a cyclist. If cyclists were all yelling in the same way that cab drivers yell here in New York when there’s someone in your way, there would just be more noise and confusion and potentially more accidents. This last bit is just my hunch, but it makes sense to me.