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?
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?
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?
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As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.