Belling The Bike
“Custom and local ordinances have made the use of a bell a necessity, and therefore bells have always been used by wheelmen since the early days of the sport.” – The Modern Bicycle and Its Accessories, 1898
In Copenhagen, not a day that goes by that you aren’t belled by another cyclist. If you ride too slowly, or fail to move to the right, or really you just happen to be in someone’s way, chances are they’ll give you the bell. Not ferociously, in the way that we tend to give someone the car horn here when they’ve done something stupid in traffic, and not politely or half-heartedly. Rather just in a straightforward way, to say, “I’m here, you are in my way, move along.”
When I got a new bicycle recently, it took me quite a few weeks to get a bell, and in the end I didn’t find a bell I wanted (and wanted to spend the money for) so I just moved an old bell from an old bike. In the weeks that I had no bell, my hand moved reflexively to the place where the bell should have been several times a day. City cycling without a bell seemed impossible, and slightly more dangerous than it should be.
Yet, surprise, surprise, the majority of cyclists in this city (Portland, OR) don’t seem to find a bell as big of a necessity as I do. How many times have I felt nothing more than a scary whoosh of a air and the sensation of the hairs standing on the back of my neck as the only indication that another cyclist is passing? Almost daily.
For passing is just something cyclists do.
We can’t help it – we’re all impatient, and besides, if you’ve got your momentum on, who wants to slow down? Passing is inevitable, and so should buying a small bell. Bells take up little real estate, and can be a little expression of your personality – your ride’s ringtone.
A few assorted places do have regulations for belling the bike – in the UK, for example, New Jersey, Ontario, Canada and Western Australia, not to mention New York City. I don’t advocate for another law to tell us what to do. We should just do it.
Bells are civilized everyday cycling.