Do you use a bike bell?

Westminster council recently announced they were considering handing out bicycle bells to keep cyclists safe.

This is a fairly laughable solution to the problem that highlights how Westminster isn’t prepared to take serious action on safe cycling by re-considering the way we design our roads.

Bicycle bells come with all new bike purchases by law. Yet, how many cyclists continue to use them?

To bicycle bell..

There are times when bicycle bells are useful. A canal towpath is the example that springs to mind. There are many blind spots where you can’t see what is around the corner so a gentle ring of the bell will let fellow cyclists know. Also, when you are behind a pedestrian, you can use a bike bell to let them know you would like to pass.

On the roads, pedestrians occasionally step in to the path of cyclists. The bike bell is a way of warning them.

In all of these scenarios you could just use your voice and shout out instructions.

Whether that is more or less polite, is up to debate.

Or not to bicycle bell..

Perhaps the most compelling reason to forego a bike bell is that on the road, it makes no difference at all. I mean, sure it’d be great to think that drivers are paying attention to cyclists and listening for safety cues but let’s be serious. Even a motorist with no ill-will towards cyclists is listening to the radio, the navigation system or has their windows rolled up.

You could ring your bike bell for as long as you want, they won’t hear you.

Another good argument against the bike bell is that they are not placed strategically on the cycle for safety. Most of the time you have to change your grip in order to sound the bell, which can slow your reaction time if your rung bell is ignored. In this instance the bell may do more harm to you than good to the person you’re trying to warn.

Probably the biggest reason many cyclists have either gotten rid of their bike bells or opted out of the bell system altogether is because people can be clueless, especially pedestrians. While pedestrians are the main reason to get a bell, they are also one of the biggest reasons for not getting one.

They tend to suffer from the ‘deer in the headlights’ syndrome where instead of moving quickly out of the path of a speeding bike, they stop directly in your path. Which defeats the purpose of having warned them since you now have to quickly change your course to avoid a collision.

Is the solution to go for a bike horn?

Airzound bike horn

What if bike bells were more effective? I mean think about the power and jarring effect a car horn has. If a bicycle bell could be that forceful would they be a lot more useful?

Perhaps instead, Westminster should be handing out bike horns such as the Airzound.

These are more likely to be heard by drivers but they don’t exactly make for a very liveable city. Do we really want people sounding their bike horns all the time?

Do you use a bike bell?

Leave a comment below!

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90 Responses to Do you use a bike bell?

  1. Jack 11/06/2013 at 8:20 am #

    I had no idea they came with bikes by law these days. Mine is still on the bike, but I don’t think I’ve ever used it to be honest – I prefer to shout if someone needs to move out of the way!

    I used it when I was a kid – but that was because my bell had a picture of Dennis the Menace no it. Nowadays there are too many ‘firemen’ around.

    Agree that it’s a laughable idea by Westminster Council – if they think that’s all it’ll take to make cycling in London safer then they’re bigger fools than I thought they were!

  2. Countryman 11/06/2013 at 8:28 am #

    I have always installed and used a bell (or two), and, notwithstanding the possible downsides, especially the pedestrian “headlit deer” problem, they have on balance been more useful than the reverse.

    The only time they seem to have any use with motorists is when that door starts to open bang in front of you, and a good volley of rings may alert the disembarking car user.

    I choose bells for the loudness and clear sound (rather than the niceness of the tinkle) and use Crane bells, mainly the Riten, although the loudest and most useful on one machine is a revolving upright Bee Brand Chinese bell; alas, not easy to find in the UK these days.

    I have never had a problem in positioning and operating them easily and quickly. They are always handlebar-mounted, and I can sound them with a thumb without moving hands on the grips.

    • Kie7077 14/06/2013 at 11:01 am #

      Please don’t cycle in the door zone.

      Video shows why (these people escaped serious injury):

      You are also causing a problem for me, the other cyclist because drivers look at your unsafe cycling and think I should be cycling like that too.

  3. Brian 11/06/2013 at 10:06 am #

    I cycle on shared paths quite a lot, and a bell is really useful. Even if people don’t need to move it can be disconcerting for pedestrians to have a cyclist whizzing past out of nowhere from behind them, so a warning ping is just good manners. (Either that, or don’t oil your chain, so that everyone can hear you!) However, many walkers wear earphones, so won’t be able to hear you, and it’s always best to act as they are all deaf – as of course some will be.

    When you’re on a bike among pedestrians, you’re like a car driver among cyclists: their safety is your responsibility.

    • Brian 11/06/2013 at 10:07 am #

      … I mean, of course “act as if they are all deaf” …

  4. Alan Moore 11/06/2013 at 10:59 am #

    A bell is great for pedestrians: a polite way of announcing your presence, and makes it very clear that you’re on a bike.

    My bike is a Gazelle city bike and the bell is built into the left hand grip: the right one has a rotating shifter, just like a Boris bike; the left one is similar but rotating it rings a little built in bell. Quieter than most bike bells, but good enough for shared use paths, etc.

    Not much help with motor vehicles, of course. I’m thinking quite seriously about fitting a 12v rechargeable battery pack and a motorbike horn inside a front luggage box..

    • Stuart 11/06/2013 at 12:05 pm #

      I don’t like ringing a bell at people – it feels rude. I usually just ask.

      • Alan Moore 11/06/2013 at 1:21 pm #

        Actually a gentle tinkle isn’t rude at all.

        Shouting at them, as some others on this thread are suggesting, IS pretty rude.

        • Jack 11/06/2013 at 1:39 pm #

          Could be argued that pedestrians would prefer a rude shout as opposed to a tinkle, if it made it less likely that they’d be hit.

        • Stuart 11/06/2013 at 3:22 pm #

          I don’t shout; I just ask politely, saying please. Personally I find someone dinging at me quite rude.

        • Ross 17/06/2013 at 9:07 am #

          I dont care that people think im rude when they are walking down the cycle only lane. They always turn around and look at you like you are the one in the wrong no matter what you do

  5. Gareth Zahir-Bill 11/06/2013 at 11:43 am #

    Ok, so they are not redesigning all of the roads (some of which are 1,0000 years old) to accommodate cyclists, but you never know, this will probably do some good,…, its better than nothing,.. take the small wins when you can get them and keep plugging away at the big ones. A road redesign will probably cost 9 figures, free bells 4 or 5

  6. Michael 11/06/2013 at 12:34 pm #

    Don’t think it’s a legal requirement any more. You rarely get bells supplied with new road bikes – I certainly didn’t get one supplied on mine. I put one on when I’m on a canal path, to ring when going into blind tunnels. Otherwise not much use. Shouting often more effective with pedestrians, simply because it’s easier to work out direction from the human voice rather than a bell.

  7. SanskritFritz 11/06/2013 at 12:36 pm #

    I simply use the Fritzound, reliable, built in, never fails (except one case) :

    • Alan Moore 11/06/2013 at 1:19 pm #

      When an iPod zombie stepped out in front of me a couple of weeks ago without looking, a loud ‘Oy!’ was all I had time for. It made them jump out of their skin! Hopefully they’ll think twice next time.

      It’s not a nice way to handle things, though.

  8. Ben Brown 11/06/2013 at 12:41 pm #

    often ding my bell, but sometimes people do jump in your way rather than out of it so I prefer to cycle slowly and give more space than they need, also it does feel a bit rude but generally mothers with children appreciate it.

    It does annoy me how many cyclists don’t have a bell, often I ding for them as they approach someone.

  9. Andrea Perry 11/06/2013 at 1:46 pm #

    I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer to this issue, but I’m curious to know why shouting/calling out to pedestrians is considered more rude than just ringing a bell and expecting them to move. Also, what are cyclists saying when they do so?
    Personally I have never used a bell, but I saw plenty of cyclists doing so when I cycled to work every day along a tow path. The results were generally mixed, with some people moving quickly and others not. I chose to simply and politely call out excuse me, which I don’t think proved to be any better or worse than a bell. I also made sure to pass slowly & thank every person who did move for me.
    The worst scenarios were usually when they were walking towards me, but for some reason continued to walk 3-abreast and refused to move over.
    That said, my local bike shop owner has a horn/siren in excess of 100 decibels on his bike and that works a treat in traffic!

    • Stuart 11/06/2013 at 3:21 pm #

      I suppose I wouldn’t ding a bell at someone if I wanted to step past them on the pavement; I don’t really see the difference just because I’m on the bike. Also I am annoyed when someone dings a little bell at me rather than saying please excuse me, so, do as you would be done by…

    • Alan Moore 11/06/2013 at 4:11 pm #

      > I’m curious to know why shouting/calling out to pedestrians is considered more rude

      Because shouting is shouting. “Watch out! Coming through! Mind out of the way!”.

      I agree with Stuart that asking nicely is perfectly polite.. “Excuse me please”. However that doesn’t identify you as a cyclist.. so they don’t at first understand why you want them to move.

      A gentle ding from a distance – as opposed to vigorous GET OUT OF MY WAY style ringing – is perfectly polite, and instantly identifiable as an approaching bicycle, so they know what’s going on.

      (building up to loud ringing and “EXCUSE ME!” as the sheeple on the bike path fail to move..)

  10. barton 11/06/2013 at 3:59 pm #

    I find the bell extremely passive-aggressive. It’s like you cannot be bothered with a polite word, so you simply ding at someone like they are below your notice. I am sure the bellringers don’t see it this way, but that is how it always seems to me. And, there is also a bit of “boy who cried wolf” about the bell use in my area. People ding it for every little thing until one has no idea what the bell is trying to convey.

    I simply say, “on your [insert side]” or “passing on your [insert side]” loudly (but not with anger, just so I can be heard) and early enough that I can get it out again with more force if necessary (for the oblivious masses). And I always – ALWAYS – say a quick “thank you” as I pass them if they have acknowledged my announcement in any way (paying more attention, moving over as necessary, etc).

    There are some people though (walkers, runners, cyclists, bladers, boarders) who I simply want to slap upside the back of the head as I pass as their final warning……

    • Alan Moore 11/06/2013 at 4:13 pm #

      > People ding it for every little thing until one has no idea what the bell is trying to convey.

      A bell is for announcing your presence, the same as a car horn is supposed to be.

      You might then need to be more explicit, with an ‘excuse me, please’, if people don’t respond appropriately.

  11. Ben Brown 11/06/2013 at 4:24 pm #

    I just find saying more than one word isn’t very audible or quick. Someone on lfgss says they shout saveloy which is bound to turn heads, good middle ground I’d say


  12. Guy 11/06/2013 at 5:31 pm #

    I don’t understand why, such a long discussion on something so simple? I also find the article could have been better written. The author could have done more research and brought up better ways of understanding to bell or not to bell.
    A cyclist ding from a distance is just a simple polite warning nothing else, period, NADA MAS, nicht anders. anyway to make it short you MUST ding from a polite distance and not like the truck driver who blows his horn when beside you because he thinks he has priority. Why do you cyclists feel like you need to EXCUSE your presence on a bike path??? My answer to most of you who don’t understand bells, take a vacation in Amsterdam and learn to do like them. I remember going there with an english friend and he was dinging his bell and sending everyone bonkers because they couldn’t figure out why that crazy cyclist was dinging. I have two bells a small one and a big one and I also have a dutch bell which has two levels of ding si I can ding at a distance and ding again when I feel no reaction and then there is a ding dong which realy alarms people. I find calling out very rude just like excusing myself which some of you call polite I find sheepish or out of place politness.
    Cheers and happy riding and dinging along the way:-)

    • Mik 12/06/2013 at 9:58 am #

      Not my experience of Amsterdam at all where bell ringing was a pretty constant thing and seemed to always be from someone making no attempt to slow down or deviate line. Much more a ‘jump before I run you down’ type warning. Maybe I was just in the wrong bits and they were all tourists…

  13. Simon 11/06/2013 at 5:31 pm #

    A short ping from a distance is perfectly acceptable to all but the most sociopathic.

    I’m a little concerned that no-one here has mentioned saying “Thank you” as they pass at a respectful speed. I’m sure you all do, it must go without saying…!

    • barton 11/06/2013 at 6:37 pm #

      You’ll find that I mention that I do (3:49pm posting)….

    • RobbieC 13/06/2013 at 11:04 pm #

      I make a point of doing that too

  14. Iain 11/06/2013 at 7:58 pm #

    I’ve various uses for bells, with peds on/around shared use I often find they panic, so a “I’m coming don’t wander into the lane” ding sees them leap up a lamppost as if the Tour de France peloton is approaching the flamme rouge! There’s the odd junction where pedestrian flows conflict with trafflic lighted cycle moves [not that the lights are visible to those crossing your path…] so a ding as you move off [like a tram] can work. Should you ding when about to overtake another cyclist in a lane? Or is that the cycling equivalent of the car driver horn blaring, lights on full trying to intimidate his way past? A bell is unique to bicycles [and classic emergency vehicles, but you don’t get many of them in use these days!] the automatic thought is “it’s a bike” if we all had air horns we’d be potentially confused with trucks etc, and in general the world would be a much noisier place!

    I do think the modern bicycle should really have things like rechargeable lights built in and an electric bell would be good too [like a tram so instead of a “ding” you’d get a nice “drrrring” by simply holding the button in. Thinking of the crossing situation where peds hear motor vehicles but not bikes, it’s easier to brake and hold a button in, than brake and flick the bell.

  15. Adam Bowie 11/06/2013 at 10:14 pm #

    I work in the West End, and a bell is an essential addition to my Brompton. Of course it’s next to useless for motorised traffic, but there are an awful lot of people who seem to wander into the street without actually looking to see if anything’s coming.

    Ironically on my commute, pedestrian traffic is far more dangerous than vehicular traffic.

    I do agree though, that when someone does something very late, you have to shout a warning. You have no time for anything else.

    Quite a few people seem to use bells to indicate that they’re overtaking another cyclist. I’m not sure about that, as when I hear a bell, my automatic response is to go “on alert” to see if there’s a pedestrian about to step in front of me or something.

    My only real issue in the West End is that bells are also used by the cycle pedicabs that trawl around the area trying to get tourists to ride on them.

    • Kie7077 14/06/2013 at 11:13 am #

      “Quite a few people seem to use bells to indicate that they’re overtaking another cyclist.”

      Using your bell as a warning that you’re there is a correct use.

  16. Andrea 11/06/2013 at 10:40 pm #

    I do use a bell as often and as ‘nicely’ as I can because I’d love for it to be the only sound on our roads!
    As for pedestrians I like to treat them the way I’d like motorists to treat cyclists. It’s all a question of respecting the more vulnerable (however inept they may be). I am (always) going to lose to a car but a pedestrian would (in most cases) lose against a cyclist. Moreover a pedestrian is not a road user and doesn’t have to follow any rules of the road but, as a road user, I should pay even more attention to them!
    But more to the point a bell doesn’t make my cycling any safer. Maybe it could be used by councils in their pedestrian safety policy but not for cycling safety policy. Cycle safety can only be improved by restricting motor vehicle traffic. Westminster Council are willing to hand out bicycle bells but at the same time are outright dismissing proposals for 20mph hour zones. That is unconceivable and unjustifyable. Their policies sound good but have no good intentions, and if Westminster do it… all councils will probably follow.
    So, buy and ring your own bells people and show your presence ’cause that’s all we got!

  17. Mik 12/06/2013 at 10:09 am #

    My current bike is around 8 months old and didn’t come with a bell. Although it’s possible the shop asked ‘shall we bother putting a bell on?’ and I just said ‘no, I’ll only take it off anyway’.

    After reading the comments here I had a good look at the set up on the handlebars during the ride home and there’s no way I could fit a bell that would come easily to hand and not make shifting harder. The grip – brake – shifter set up on my hybrid doesn’t allow it, I can see how you could do it with drops or a single speed though.

    The only use I could think of for me would be for peds stepping in to the road, I’d prefer to share the road with a car than the pavement with a pedestrian and pick my routes accordingly, when it just makes sense to use a shared use cyclepath I give way to pedestrians and ask “excuse me, can I get past” if they are filling the width and add a “thank you” after I’ve done it. I’d find just dinging a bell at them poor manners, I’ve already slowed down because I’m not going to presume they are going to get out the way whatever speed I’m doing.

    When someone is about to do something that puts me in danger (a ped stepping out, a car pulling out) then I shout. It’s quicker, safer and louder than ringing a bell. I tend to end up with ‘Oi!’ merely because it’s quick and ambigious. It seems to do the job. It’s not as well mannered but I can justify that to myself because I was going to be in danger and pointing that out isn’t a bad thing.

    So I’m unlikely to every trouble my LBS for a new bike bell, I guess if I find myself constantly riding in the West End (or somewhere with silly levels of Ped traffic) I might reconsider.

  18. George 12/06/2013 at 12:25 pm #

    There’s another reason folks have bells. Like car horns (but to a lesser extent), their stated aim of warning people comes secondary to the desire to angrily let somebody know they have made a mistake, and to ‘teach them a lesson’.

    I’d be dishonest if I claimed I hadn’t felt smug when a pedestrian has looked at me apologetically when a ring of my bell stopped them from stepping into the road without looking. And in a less synical way, perhaps this does teach people to look out for bikes, in some cases.

    But a shout also does the trick!

    • Alan Moore 12/06/2013 at 2:41 pm #

      And smugness aside, that’s exactly what a bell is for. Ding ding.. the universal language for ‘there’s a bike coming!’

  19. Toria 12/06/2013 at 3:36 pm #

    To those who think ringing a bell is rude/lazy, not according to Debrett’s…

    “Debrett’s top tips for safe, shared towpath use are:

    • Cyclists must be aware of pedestrians at all times. Remember that pedestrians have priority – ring two tings on your bell to warn them that you are approaching. Pass people carefully and slowly, and never cycle too quickly.

• Pedestrians should allow cyclists to pass wherever possible. Don’t forget to listen out for the two tings warning you that a cyclist is approaching.

• Both cyclists and pedestrians should be considerate to each other, as well as both being extra careful at bends and entrances along the towpath. A smile and polite ‘thank you’ is courteous if someone has let you pass.”

    If anyone tuts at me, I tell them to go check Debrett’s.

  20. Anna 12/06/2013 at 3:43 pm #

    I often ping my bell when cycling through shared pedestrian areas like canal paths and parks etc just to alert people that I’m sneaking up behind them on the bike. Most people respond well to a friendly “ping” and move out of the way, and if not, I usually just say “excuse me” followed up by a “thank you” as I go past. Never bother on the roads though. I tend to just use my voice as that’s much louder 🙂

  21. Alex Baines-Buffery 12/06/2013 at 3:47 pm #

    I personally favour the spoeky-dokey, those tiny bits of plastic that you put on your wheels. I’ve got them on my mountain bike wheels and if you slow down below a certain speed. They start making a tinkling noise. As soon as you speed up the centrifugal force spins them to the outside of the wheel and they no longer make a noise.

  22. Liz 12/06/2013 at 4:01 pm #

    I’ve got a bell on both of my bikes – a traditional ‘ding-dong’ type bell on the town bike, and a stylish Crane bell on the tourer. As you say, they’re completely useless for getting the attention of drivers, but they’re very useful when you’re among walkers. I don’t think they’re rude – I usually ring my bell from a fair distance away to give people time to move out of the bike lane. When I’m out of town on a trail or bike path I always say thanks when someone moves over to let me past, but if I try and get out a whole sentence like ‘please excuse me, bicycle coming through’, a) I don’t think people would understand as easily as they do with a bell, and b) it’d probably just come out as a jumbled out of breath wheeze. So I’m sticking with the bell. I think people who find them rude are perhaps a little too delicate for inner city living.

  23. Alan Burkitt-Gray 12/06/2013 at 4:54 pm #

    I’m a regular cyclist, commuting in London, and – via hire boats — an occasional narrowboater, and I must say that cyclists on towpaths without bells are discourteous and dangerous. If I’m working a lock or mooring a boat I need my eyes on the lock and/or the boat and I really don’t want to have to keep a watch for the loon on a bike who is going too fast and not using a bell.

    I’d also point out that the canals are the property of the Canal and River Trust, successor to the old British Waterways, and BW’s stated policy — which I assume that the CRT has adopted — is that cyclists use bells. That means having them installed and using them when approaching a boater or a pedestrian. Cyclists are there by permission of the CRT and should abide by the CRT’s terms and conditions. If cyclists became a danger to the prime users of the canals, the boaters — who pay hefty fees for their boats — then the CRT would be quite within its power to withdraw permission for cyclists to use towpaths at all.

    Meanwhile I find a bell absolutely essential to daily use commuting into and out of central London — on shared use paths through parks, for instance, when approaching dog walkers or parents taking small children to school, or on quiet roads when pedestrians are about to step out into the road.

    And a bell, as someone says above, says ‘bicycle’ to most people. I once encountered on my way home a fellow cyclist blowing a whistle. I was completely mystified until he overtook me and I identify him. The whistle noise was meaningless.

  24. Carl Burgess 12/06/2013 at 5:23 pm #

    I’ve always found politeness works wonders – on the shared paths or in parks a ring of the bell followed by an ‘excuse me’ and a thank you on passing always works (plus gives me the feeling of moral superiority if they haven’t exactly moved or if i get a little tut or comment).
    However on the road a bell is pretty useless especially if you motoring along or people jump in front of you as you go through lights , then i alsways use my shout – it gets results and stops others from following.

    Westminster though seem to be trying to do the bare minimum that they can get away with. Giving away the bells is nothing about road safety but just so they can tick a little box at the end of the year to say that they have tried to improve cyclists safety (meanwhile completing ignoring the reasons for why a cyclists needs a bell in the first place!

  25. Marta 12/06/2013 at 6:43 pm #

    Ok – the biggest mystery of my cycling in London solved! People don’t use bells because they think they’re rude! Gasp.

    In many places around the world where I cycled, I used the bell to warn other CYCLISTS that I was about to overtake them – and others would do the same. Extremely useful when there’s lots of bikes on the road where people over- and undertake you constantly at high speeds. Oh wait, that sounds familiar! Right, that’s my daily commute in London!

    I really miss being able to use my bell and not feeling like I’m the only one on the road doing it, and also I miss other cyclists using theirs to warn me they’re coming my way. This is why bikes have bells, and cars have horns – to warn. The fact that people honk because they want to express anger is another issue. But the fact that cyclists need to use bells is really quite obvious. Shouting at people as an alternative is kind of funny but gets a bit tiring after the first 10 minutes of your ride in Central London.

  26. Mrs McGuigs 12/06/2013 at 7:43 pm #

    I have a ‘I love my bike’ bell , it stays !

  27. Caroline 12/06/2013 at 8:22 pm #

    For safety & fun!, coming soon!

  28. bsk 13/06/2013 at 2:09 am #

    @ Mik “there’s no way I could fit a bell that would come easily to hand ”

    This is one of the cruxes of the matter. If I was pushed, I’d have to opt for brake rather than running my hand across the handlebar to find the bell.

    The last time I used my bell, the two pedestrian chavs I was trying to warn (on a narrow non-car bridge) took umbrage that I didn’t speak to them instead. They were willing to exercise violence. I gave up & left post haste.

  29. Watdabni 13/06/2013 at 11:36 am #

    I am not much of a bell user. There is no doubt that bell use can be impolite. i have seen many cyclists dinging their bells incessantly in pedestrian priority areas. That is rude. A single timely ding to warn of one’s presence is not. My usual tactic, especially on pedestrian priority areas such as canal towpaths, is just to wait discreetly behind people without saying anything. They invariably notice me quite quickly and almost always give way immediately. I say ‘Thank you’ and cycle on. But then I am a very relaxed sort of cyclist who doesn’t see the need to get from A to B as fast as possible. Shouting at people is definitely rude.

    The other reason for not using a bell much is, as others have noted, the fact that one is often unlikely to be heard anyway – especially by motorists or those wearing headphones. I would not recommend the use any sort of horn. All that will happen is that you might get the attention of the motorist but you will also give near heart-attacks to anyone else in the vicinity and they will not forgive you for that. I probably use my bell less than a dozen times a year.

    Put shortly, I have found the best thing cyclists can do is just to cycle in a manner which ensures that they are prepared for any eventuality. That’s all. I know some might argue that all responsibility should not rest with cyclists and I do not entirely disagree. However, it does not work if one wants to be safe. I have never been knocked off my bike in 50 years of cycling and I believe this is because I take a highly precautionary approach to my cycling.

    My last thought is that this rather silly idea of the Council’s was probably thought up by someone who is not a cyclist – otherwise I very much doubt the idea would have seen the light of day.

  30. michael 13/06/2013 at 7:17 pm #

    I have one but I don’t use it – pedestrians, if they aren’t simply unable to hear it due to ipod use, seem to regard its use (even a single ‘ding!’) as inherently rude and aggressive – which in turn makes me hesitate to use it when I really should.

    People don’t seem to realise its just a way of warning them I’m there (so they won’t step into the road/stray randomly and diagonally into my bit of the segregated path), and seem to interpret it as “get out of my way peasants! I’m coming through!”

    So I tend to just shout ‘excuse me, sorry’ in the most apologetic tone I can muster instead.

    Doesn’t really arise with ‘fellow cyclists’ as I don’t often encounter any – still less overtake them.

    As ever, motorists don’t have the same compunctions about sounding their horns aggressively. But then they are safely insulated from any reproaches (I think there’s something dehumanising about driving, once inside a car its as if one is no longer a human interacting with fellow humans).

    (To save the effort of constantly doing the affable/apologetic voice, some sort of amplified synthisised speech device might be better – either set it to declare ‘terribly sorry, excuse me, sorry for existing’ or ‘get out of the way, plebs!’ according to taste. Or perhaps ‘exterminate!’ like a dalek?)

  31. RobbieC 13/06/2013 at 11:11 pm #

    I used to cycle to the station via Long Acre in the evening, I found that on these busy shopping streets bells do not really grab people’s attention. I moved up to a horn which I found was pretty effective (oddly not when I was cycling in france) at alerting people to my presence.

    I think using a bell on a shared path and the like is better – it is less aggressive than a horn which is really a noise of last resort. I sometimes wish there was a ting ting equivalent noise that I could use when I am driving

  32. RobbieC 13/06/2013 at 11:17 pm #

    I have found pedestrians sometimes just don’t listen and on some occasions my polite ” ting -tings” have been ignored: when i do pass if there is space I hear… ‘shoulda rang your bell’ or the like. My stock response to this now is ‘meet me halfway – switch on your hearing aid’

  33. john 14/06/2013 at 10:16 am #

    I’ve noticed the whistle is on the rise, last week seen two people with them! People do stop as they think it’s a police officer, not that the police use whistles any more!

  34. David Speight 14/06/2013 at 10:24 am #

    I ride on the Monsal Trail four or five times a week, and the bell is indispensable. When you’re approaching people, children, horses, dogs from behind it alerts them to your presence. Most people seem to appreciate this, and it’s surprising how many cyclists pass pedestrians at high speed without warning them.

    The trail has a number of lengthy tunnels, which are lit but gloomy, and most cyclists don’t switch front lights on to alert pedestrians they’re approaching. I’ve even had other bikers warn me that my light is on!!!

    All seems like common sense to me…

  35. Rob 14/06/2013 at 10:28 am #

    I cycle and ping all the time, whether to alert peds or fellow cyclists I’m coming past them, when approaching juntions, just follow up with a thank you as you whizz past. My default hand grip when approaching any situation other than long straight road is right hand fingers on brake, left hand thumb cocked on the bell.

    I’ve had no bell rage…

    ting! 🙂

  36. Chris 14/06/2013 at 10:33 am #

    I did once have one of those air-Zound horns; The alarming volume was totally out of proportion to the sze of vehicle, being akin to some road train. It used to frighten the bejasus out of any rabbit in the headlights pedestrian stepping off the pavement into the cycle zone. Initially watching pedestrians heart rates double in a split second amused me no end, however on maturer reflection, this did little to promote harmony between cylists and the other road using community. That and the fact that I recognised it was only a matter of time before some burly yobbo lamped me one.
    A simple ting, ting, or a Morning Campers seems a much gentler way of warning folk of your presence. Vehicles are a different challenge – alerting inattentive drivers away from their phone screens, fags, arguing kids, map consultation, and all the other driving distractions is something I have yet to solve!

  37. Kie7077 14/06/2013 at 10:57 am #

    If you’ve got enough breath to shout at pedestrians then you’re going too slow!! 😉

    Bells are not rude, it’s a courtesy to use one.

    Airzound for annoying people who manage to hog the whole of a bike or shared use path whilst listening to loud music via earphones.

    Actually, anyone who cycles fast should get an Airzound, it’s a lifesaver, literally.

  38. Giles 14/06/2013 at 10:59 am #

    I have a large Pashley-esque Ding–Dong bell on both my town bike and my weekend bike – neither at all Pashley-esque. They are loud and have a low tone but sound lazy and unagressive while being heard a ways off by pedestrians and thru closed car windows so I don’t scare the living daylights out of either and so don’t (usually) invite retaliation.

  39. Chris B 14/06/2013 at 11:19 am #

    I’ve used a bike bell for years. Generally useful for warning pedestrians and before blind corners in underpasses. Also when cycling back from Fulham FC through crowds of people. Most comments from pedestrians are friendly when they hear the bell (as long as I don’t ring it continuously – which pedestrians deem to be aggressive!)
    A horn however would I am sure shock the living daylights out of them and be deemed to be far too aggressive. A bell is useless in traffic for cars. Perhaps there should be a multi purpose bell-horn available. Perhaps there already is……….

  40. Ed 14/06/2013 at 11:48 am #

    “I don’t shout; I just ask politely, saying please. Personally I find someone dinging at me quite rude.”

    Completely agree Stuart. As happened to us recently walking along a SHARED rural path with our young daughter. It was perhaps 2 metres wide. As pedestrians we have right of way.

    Minding our own business obviously not looking behind us – you don’t tend to do that when you are walking. Next thing we hear a very loud bell ringing a bell and made us jump out of our skin.

    Turned round and saw a cyclist who had obviously slowed down as no room to pass. Of course we moved out the way but WTF. He just cycled past and naturally, didn’t say thank you.

    Surely it’s a lot easier and more polite to just say “excuse me please”! Well – works for me anyway. I really think cyclists are their own worst enemy.

    Also if on a shared path and pedestrians or dog walkers are coming towards me and make an effort to move aside or control their dog I always say thank you. Manners cost nothing.

    Bells also look sh1te. My advice is to rip the bell off your new bike and throw it in the bin and learn some decency and stop being a bell.

    • pm 15/06/2013 at 8:30 pm #

      “I really think cyclists are their own worst enemy. ”

      Nah, I think you’ll find that’s motorists. You know, the guys who kill and maim us. I find that sets the bar quite high when it comes to being enemies!

      Also I don’t, personally, care about being “rude” when pedestrians, given the choice of a clearly marked cycle lane and a separate footpath, choose to ignore the footpath and walk several abreast along the cycle path with their back to the direction of traffic.
      If being ‘dinged’ at is so traumatic, why not just walk on the footpath side rather than the cycle path?

      Non-segregated shared-use paths are entirely another matter, but probably best avoided entirely by cyclists when there are pedestrians out-and-about because its tiresome constantly saying ‘excuse me’ and waiting for people to make space every few yards.

  41. Jude 14/06/2013 at 12:00 pm #

    I use my bell to warn people that I’m coming – for example, if there are pedestrians in the road ahead of me. But because I need to move the position of my hand to ring it, I can’t brake and ring my bell at the same time. So those times when I really need to use my brakes – when someone has just stepped out in front of me or is about to – I just use a fairly loud, ‘Watch out!’ or words to that effect. If it’s a really close call then it’s usually more a strangled ‘Arghh!’ sound than any coherent words.

    I don’t think it’s rude to use my bell. However, given the response I get – or rather, lack thereof – I do often wonder why I bother with it.

  42. Nick 14/06/2013 at 1:29 pm #

    The jury’s out on the effectiveness of bells, but I recently did a 150 mile ride on the towpath, and I’d like to share my tip when negotiating (most) pedestrians, without putting their backs up.
    I dangle an old fashioned cycle clip (the type made of spring steel for preventing chain oil from getting on your trousers) from my handlebar.
    It jangles away, on the part of the bar that is just bare metal, and I feel like Moses crossing the Red Sea, as pedestrians magically stand aside. Once past, slowly and always with a thankyou and a cheery wave, it’s easy to clip it around my wrist. It works most of the time.
    I suspect that, psychologically, the sound is interpreted as relatively unoffensive, rather than as a “command” to move out of the way.

  43. John Cossham 16/06/2013 at 12:42 am #

    I’ve got a little bell… it’s a polite way of alerting pedestrians. But I’ve just purchased an EcoBlast 115dB rechargable air horn and it’s REALLY good, VERY loud. I recommend it. Great for ‘communicating’ with people driving large lumps of metal.

  44. Nicholas Fripp 18/06/2013 at 12:24 pm #

    I agree a bell is useless in warning motorists, but can (sometimes) be effective with pedestrians – or ‘pop-ups’ as they are known to couriers – for obvious reasons.

    Recently, I was riding down a road I know well – it has good sightlines and ends in a junction with a main road containing a bus lane, so I had a clear route in. On this occasion, the car lane was jammed, as usua,l with stationary traffic, so I was preparing to do my usual fast leaning turn, just to show off the superiority of bikes over cars.

    At that moment, I saw a woman striding along the pavement in the usual pose of the blithering idiot, gabbling into her mobile. I watched her step off the kerb without breaking step, or of course looking. I rang my bell – no response. I whistled (I have a very loud and piercing whistle) ditto. I then yelled (My voice is even louder!) and she paused her gabble to give me the ‘Death Stare’ – you know the one. I returned it and she looked away, stuck her nose in the air and carried on walking.

    OK, thinks I, if that’s how you wanna play it, fine by me. I HAD been intending to whizz past her (very ample) backside and yell BOO in her lughole (which had, of course, her phone stuck to it) but figured I’d lost the element of surprise, so it was time for plan B – a close pass in front of her nose, giving her a filthy look and filthier word as I did so.

    At that point, the silly woman started to run. I was too close and going too fast to stop safely, and I’d run out of road space to manouvre, so had to go to plan C and bodyslammed her out of my way. it helped me as she was on the apex of my turn, so was able to continue without mishap (to me) and heard an aggrieved beep from one of the cars stuck in the traffic jam. I looked back to see her lying flat on her back with her legs in the air, and yelled “Look before crossing the road, stupid!”

    One week later, i was going down the same road, and say the same woman in the same pose. Heigh ho, thinks I, and tinged my bell. It was as if she had seen a ghost and (turning a nasty sort of cheesy grey) leapt backwards out of my path. The upshot of all this: BELLS DO WORK FOR PEDESTRIANS (sometimes)


    • Chris 18/06/2013 at 12:40 pm #

      Are you mad, or just plain dumb?
      This is exactly the sort of agressive cycling that does nothing to support the sensible cyclist’s cause. We are loking for a stronger voice at the road users table, and this sort of behaviour does everything to undermine that lobbying.
      All you have done is reinforce the negative stereoype non-cyclist’s have of a typical cyclist.
      Please cycle with some more consideration for your fellow human. If you dont, in the eyes of the non-cyclist, you are simply getting what you deserve in the seemingly inevitable event of a crash.
      Dont turn the use of the roads into a war between the various users – we cyclists will always come off worse because of our vulnerability.

      • Nicholas Fripp 21/06/2013 at 10:52 am #

        You plainly cannot draw a line between consideration for others and being a doormat. The person I bodyslammed had shown no consideration for MY rights, ignoring my early warnings and threw my final one back into my face. I treated her with the exact same consideration she had shown me. She would not have behaved as such to a driver of a car.

        I did NOT go into the encounter planning to knock her over, but when she ran into my path I was not going to suffer from her stupidity – instead I showed her the consequences of her behaviour. If I had been driving a car, none of this would have happened.

        • Chris 21/06/2013 at 11:08 am #

          Ah, you seem to be dwelling on the rights of being a road user, and forgetting your responsibilities – something of a moot point one feels in the event of an accident involving injury, and its consequences.
          It still remains that from your account of the event, you appear to have deliberately body’slammed a pedestrian, who was simply being inattentive – an everyday occurence, to which ou reacted with aggression. Have you never made a mistake, or is everything you do perfect?

          Get some Zen into your life, and stop being so angry my friend.

        • Nick 21/06/2013 at 12:13 pm #


          “I was too close and going too fast to stop safely”
          “bodyslammed her out of my way”

          The maximum fine for dangerous cycling is £2500.

          “I looked back to see her lying flat on her back with her legs in the air, and yelled “Look before crossing the road, stupid!”

          Failure to stop at the scene of an accident can lead to a maximum fine of £5000 and six months inprisonment.

          But Nicholas, do want to know who is really paying the penalty for your shockingly arrogant riding style?

          The answer is the majority of cyclists out there, who have to put up with hatred from motorists and pedestrians, because of the antics of riders like you. You belong in jail.

        • Chris 21/06/2013 at 12:42 pm #


          You have missed the Victorian charge of cycling furiously; in my juvenile moments I confess this is one I woudl secretly be quietly proud of……………

    • Mark 24/06/2013 at 1:35 pm #

      are you aware that the law states when a pedestrian steps into the road to begin crossing they have right of way……?

  45. Jon 18/06/2013 at 12:57 pm #

    When I am on my bike I prefer to treat pedestrians as I would treat a cyclist when I am driving. On a shared road I expect to wait behind the cyclist until an appropriate opportunity to pass safely arises. On a shared path, I do the same. I don’t shout or ding my bell expecting them to move, just as I don’t expect a motorist to come up behind me tooting his horn expecting me to give way.

  46. Nick 18/06/2013 at 1:14 pm #

    Chris, either Nicholas is a troll or he needs to be arrested but, either way, cycling sites do attract people who can only see things from the cyclist’s perspective, in the same way that Clarkson attracts motorists who believe the roads were built for cars.
    As cyclists, we must be aware that moving fast in town can catch pedestrians and other road users by surprise and, if a motorist behaved with that sort of arrogance, we’d all be baying for their blood.
    It we want people to be more accepting of cyclists we must, as cyclists, make irresponsible cycling as socially unacceptable as smoking in a crowded pub garden. But if the majority of forum contributors try to justify their need if speed, with the depressingly common combination of ignorance and arrogance, then it’s unlikely that any of us will live long enough to see attitudes change towards cycling that we so desperately need.

    • pm 19/06/2013 at 5:07 pm #

      I agree, except what I see is that a large proportion of motorists behave with that sort of arrogance most of the time. Its just so normal its rarely even noticed. I encounter multiple examples every single journey, on bike or on foot.

      Personally, I _do_ sometimes feel a bit irritated with pedestrians, simply because they rarely give cyclists the same respect they give cars. Its really not the unpredictable behaviour in itself that annoys, its that the very different way pedestrians will react to cars as opposed to cyclists emphasises how much the world runs on power rather than moral rules. The sad fact seems to be that you get respect if you pose a threat.

      Nevertheless, I personally think there’s a clear moral heirarchy of precedence which runs pedestrian>bike>car. As a cyclist I always cut pedestrians ‘slack’, even if I’m inwardly groaning or muttering something about the Green Cross Code.

  47. Trevor 20/06/2013 at 9:53 am #

    We have an excellent cycle path network in Stevenage, but here’s one reason why a bell can be useful at times:

    • Giles 20/06/2013 at 5:32 pm #

      Maddening … but … the logic of cycle-lane alongside sidewalk alongside road is that the roadspace should be delimited and each type of user should keep to their own bit, which arguably heightens the chance and effect of accidents when one type of user strays into the territory that another considers theirs by right. It’s at least arguable that too much street furniture, lights, lanes, controls &c makes roads inherently unsafe because it makes everyone complacent and inattentive to what’s going on around them. Where all users have to share the whole streetspace and are given fewer cues as to where ‘their’ territory is, everyone behaves more cautiously, everyone is safer … and the streetspace is a more attractive place to be. It’s not a slam-dunk argument, but a debate worth having –

      • pm 20/06/2013 at 8:04 pm #

        I absolutely disagree with that philosophy. Its a fad which is just insufficiently thought-through by its proponents (and I find it a bit annoying for that reason).

        The idea of ‘sharing’ between people driving large, fast moving vehicles and pedestrians or cyclists is daft. It just doesn’t work – the motorists simply reclaim the space for their exclusive use and everyone else learns to stay out of their way.

        There’s a reason why all those signs and street furniture got put in in the first place – its because without them motorists will just follow the rule of ‘might is right’. Taking them out again doesn’t solve anything it just recreates the original problem.
        (this is why in some places where its been tried the signs have slowly crept back in again, in a desperate attempt to get motorists to actually give way to pedestrians trying to cross)

        Its been discussed at length and as far as I’m concerned the arguments against it are pretty conclusive. It _only_ works if there’s not mucht through-traffic. And if you have very little through-traffic you don’t really need ‘shared space’ anyway. Remove the through-traffic by bollarding off the road at one end, say.

        As far as pedestrians walking in the cycle lane goes – I would say what’s needed are clear kerbs and markers. Plus a sufficient flow of cyclists. Where those are present pedestrians tend to see the cycle lane as a mini-road and don’t walk in it.

      • pm 21/06/2013 at 11:13 am #

        Saying it again because I feel strongly about the money that has been wasted on some of these schemes.

        Shared space evangelists totally misdiagnose the problem. They look at how the urban environment has become more unpleasant, and note that it correlates with an increase in signage and street furniture. What they totally ignore is the factor that has been driving both these things – the steady, and huge, increase in the volume of motor traffic.

  48. Chiara Milano 20/06/2013 at 4:54 pm #

    Bell + horn + rich vocabulary of insults:
    Italian pedestrians need to be constantly reminded of what those cute, smooth, red paths marked with bycicle white cutouts are for, and that bicycles are vehicles

  49. Nicholas Fripp 21/06/2013 at 11:23 am #

    Chris, the pedestrian was NOT just being “inattentive” – if it was just that, I’d have avoided her with ease. She ignored me, and when she finally acknowledged my existence, she blatantly threw any rights I had back in my face. I was merely responding ijn like manner.

    If someone insists on making their stupidity my problem, I return the favour. I have enough problems and stupidity of my own, so am happy to exchange in whatever manner. This philosophy is fully outlined in my forthcoming book “Zen and the Art of Bicycle Riding”

    • Chris 21/06/2013 at 11:33 am #

      Touche Zen.

      I look forward to reading your forthcoming book, especially in respect of what Zen might have to say on consequences of escalating hostility between different road users.

      It is an unfortunate fact of life that as a race, we seem to be hard-wired to react to much of life’s trials with agression and hostility. I am as guilty as the next man, but the trick is surely to resist this instinct and smile in its face.

      I know a good publisher is your interested…………..

  50. Nicholas Fripp 21/06/2013 at 12:43 pm #


    Typical – you cherrypick a few comments out of context and react to them alone. I refer you to my other posts – and go pick something else

    • Nick 21/06/2013 at 3:03 pm #


      You’re right, I did cherrypick. I forgot to point out your deliberate plan to pass a pedestrian as close as possible whilst yelling in her ear, and I completely failed to point out that your actions may well have fallen foul of Section 5 of the Public Order Act. So, in fairness to yourself, and to help readers decide whether you should stay off the road for the common good of cycling in general, here’s your complete post:

      “I agree a bell is useless in warning motorists, but can (sometimes) be effective with pedestrians – or ‘pop-ups’ as they are known to couriers – for obvious reasons.

      Recently, I was riding down a road I know well – it has good sightlines and ends in a junction with a main road containing a bus lane, so I had a clear route in. On this occasion, the car lane was jammed, as usua,l with stationary traffic, so I was preparing to do my usual fast leaning turn, just to show off the superiority of bikes over cars.

      At that moment, I saw a woman striding along the pavement in the usual pose of the blithering idiot, gabbling into her mobile. I watched her step off the kerb without breaking step, or of course looking. I rang my bell – no response. I whistled (I have a very loud and piercing whistle) ditto. I then yelled (My voice is even louder!) and she paused her gabble to give me the ‘Death Stare’ – you know the one. I returned it and she looked away, stuck her nose in the air and carried on walking.

      OK, thinks I, if that’s how you wanna play it, fine by me. I HAD been intending to whizz past her (very ample) backside and yell BOO in her lughole (which had, of course, her phone stuck to it) but figured I’d lost the element of surprise, so it was time for plan B – a close pass in front of her nose, giving her a filthy look and filthier word as I did so.

      At that point, the silly woman started to run. I was too close and going too fast to stop safely, and I’d run out of road space to manouvre, so had to go to plan C and bodyslammed her out of my way. it helped me as she was on the apex of my turn, so was able to continue without mishap (to me) and heard an aggrieved beep from one of the cars stuck in the traffic jam. I looked back to see her lying flat on her back with her legs in the air, and yelled “Look before crossing the road, stupid!”

      One week later, i was going down the same road, and say the same woman in the same pose. Heigh ho, thinks I, and tinged my bell. It was as if she had seen a ghost and (turning a nasty sort of cheesy grey) leapt backwards out of my path. The upshot of all this: BELLS DO WORK FOR PEDESTRIANS (sometimes)”

    • kie7077 08/10/2013 at 2:06 pm #

      I’m with you on this one, the daft moo got what she deserved, you as the cyclist would of come off far worse due to your momentum and being on a bike.

      If she didn’t want to get run over then why did she walk in front of you?

      The combination of her major bad attitude and stupidity got her what she deserved.

      But having said that, you probably should have slowed down, I wasn’t there on the bike so I couldn’t say for sure.

    • kie7077 08/10/2013 at 2:07 pm #

      PS, get an airzound, I’ve stopped buses with those things.

      • Nicholas Fripp 09/10/2013 at 10:47 am #

        What I want is a hooter that makes the noise of squealing brakes – that’s the only sound that gets through to the terminally stupid.

        • Alan Moore 09/10/2013 at 3:41 pm #

          Ha! Yes. Air brakes, specifically, with added sound effects of a truck bearing down on them..

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