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Cycle Bells
Are they really needed?

I don’t like cycle bells.

I find the dingling of a cycle bell of a cyclist on a cycle path to be an arrogant statement. In my mind it is no different to the motorist leaning on his vehicle’s hooter and demanding that all and sundry dive out of his way and leave the path ahead clear for him.

On a cycle path or other area where I may legally routinely come into conflict with another cyclist or a pedestrian I’d rather say a polite “Excuse me” than to ring my bell and make them jump. This is even more the case on a bridleway where I’d like a horse and rider to pull over to let me past. A vocal warning given early is less likely to worry the horse than a bell.

In a situation where I come unreasonably into conflict with a pedestrian, such as them stepping out in front of me without looking on a main road I’d rather take an evasive action over all other actions. I’m reminded here of the first pedestrian fatality of a motor vehicle accident, the driver of the vehicle said “I sounded my horn but he didn’t jump out of my way”. A voluminous warning is all very fine as long as it is both sounded in time and is actioned by both parties. A sound warning on my part has to be coupled with evasive action; and hopefully if I warned early enough evasive action on the part of the pedestrian. This is again why I favour either a vocal warning such as a shouted “look out!” or something louder than the tinkling of a bell.

Finally I come to the area that is my main thought. A bicycle is a vehicle and should be on the road. As each new model is brought out cars are being manufactured to be more soundproofed. What is the point of ringing a quiet tring-a-ling when you see a car with its windows closed and stereo pumping starting to pull out of a side road ahead of you? A loud shout can usually still be heard inside the vehicle, but a better warning can be given by fitting a loud horn to your bike. I have an Air-Zound fitted to my main commuting bike and this has saved incidents on many an occasion.

However I must repeat that having a warning device on your bike still doesn’t replace common sense, observation or the act of continual self preservation that must go on when you are riding.

If you see a potential hazard up ahead, for example a car about to pull out of a side road, then by all means sound a warning to alert the driver to your presence. At the same time though you must be planning how to avoid a physical contact. Once you have sounded your horn or bell (if fitted) you need to ensure both hands are back on the bars and you are ready to steer around the hazard or to brake and stop.

It is best to have two plans. The first usually takes into consideration the possibility of the driver stopping across your path, but before it completely pulls out of the side road. The best route therefore is to pull out (if safe) and ride around him. The other option is that the driver will ignore you and pull out regardless. Here you have to plan whether they will pull out widely and slowly, leaving you a wide path down the inside which you can pass them; whether they will pull out slowly enabling you to take the same escape route as if they had stopped across your path; or whether they will pull out rapidly meaning you need do nothing more than slow and follow them.

Remember that although a bike accelerates quickly, it is an effort to replace any speed you may lose through braking. My preferred path in these cases is to keep going and to ride around the hazard. If I misjudge it and the driver does accelerate away while I’m overtaking them, it’s no hardship for me to drop back in behind them as they pull away. I don’t like to flick past on the inside for obvious reasons. It is dangerous.

So back to my main point, what is the point in fitting a bell to a bicycle? It adds nothing in terms of safety to the rider, it adds nothing in terms of safety to others around the rider. If anything its sole use is to add emphasis to the false point that bicycles are nothing more than wheeled pedestrians which create danger to other pedestrians.

By all means fit a bell to your bicycle if you want to, just don’t expect it to be as an efficient warning device as you think when you come to need it.

Ride safely now. Keep those eyes open.

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