Put a Bell on Your Bicycle

There are few things dorkier than putting a bell on your bicycle. Once you do that, it can only lead downhill into a world of helmet mirrors, handlebar tassels, and high visibility ankle bands. But you should put a bell on your bicycle. It makes life easier for you and everyone around you.

It is universally uncool for any cyclist outside an eight-year old on a Huffy to have a bell on their bicycle. It is somehow better for a cyclist to yell “on your left,” “behind you,” or nothing at all as they zoom past pedestrians, hikers, dog walkers, baby strollers, or horrible drivers.

Cyclists argue about bells all the time. They’ll spend countless hours on message boards and making comments about how bells are lame. People have opinions on bells. A bell is ugly, they’ll say. A bell adds weight to the $5,000 carbon fiber road bike frame you think makes you faster as you canoodle around the local park. A bell will make you look like a Fred, an all-around lame person who might as well install a basket for organic vegetables from the farmer’s market.

Yet, In my experience, bells can improve the lives around you. If you’re on a mountain bike trail, a bell alerts hikers so they can step aside. If you’re in a city, a bell provides a clear signal to pedestrians and cars alike that you exist. It fixes the issue where a cyclist cries out, “on your left” when they pass a pedestrian, who intrinsically turns to their left, often accidentally stepping to the left as well, spooking both the cyclist and themselves.

Even if you’re an entitled cyclist and feel like you have the right of way all the time, a bell can make your life better. You can ring a bell from 10, 20, even 30 yards away, signaling your arrival to everyone in the area so they have plenty of time to get out of your way. You can ring your bell when you pass a car who obnoxiously opens their door into the bike lane. You can use it to warn other, slower, lamer cyclists that you are coming up behind them. You can ring as it as you bomb that descent around blind corners on your mountain bike, forcing everyone to know that you, king of the mountain, are descending at top speed.

Personally, I find a bell best for mixed-use trails, where dogs, human, and tiny humans run around free. It’s useful in the city too, especially in a place like Los Angeles where people tend to veer between lanes randomly in cars or suddenly run into the road for no reasonable reason on foot. Plus, there’s an odd sense of pleasure in ringing a bell right as you pass a car whose door is ajar in the bike lane.

I’d argue for the noble nature of the humble bike bell more so than the entitled one, but it doesn’t matter to me what your reasons are. The world is filled with arguments, with people from all walks of life screaming at the sky and civilized behavior grinding to a halt. The last thing anyone needs is a cyclist screaming into their ear as they buzz past them. A bell is a civilized heads-up. A bell makes your bike ride more whimsical and friendly. Ring your bell and you are instantly joyous.

Bells are not as lame, cheap, or ugly as you might think. Knog, a company best known for its hip bike lights, also makes a bell that doesn’t look like a bell at all. Prefer luxury? The $50 Spurcycle bell is the one you want. It’s loud, unobtrusive, and fits on any handlebars. Ridiculously priced? Yep, but it’ll work well with your high end bike frame. You can also pop into your local bike shop and grab whatever they’re selling for $10-$20. Trust me, you’ll make everyone, including yourself, a little happier on the road.

Illustration by Sam Woolley.

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