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The Yellow Jersey Talks "Bells"

As the third of my life’s three stages (don’t want to dwell on this but suffice to say I am no longer a teenager) is approaching at increasingly higher cadence, I often find myself subscribing to the adage that ‘the old ones are always the best’. With this in mind I would like to set the tone for the second of my reflections on cycling in the second city with a ‘knock knock’ joke that I remember from my youth

The Yellow Jersey image

‘Knock knock!’ ‘Who’s there?’

‘Isabel’

‘Isabel who?’

Is a bell necessary on a bike?’

Once you have stopped rolling around the floor with laughter I would like to explore this tricky conundrum in a slightly more serious manner.

Opinion on this accessory is as varied and diverse as that relating to whether Wiggo would be even faster if he lost the sideburns! The level of contentiousness is such that the current law requiring all bikes to be fitted with a bell before they are sold is one of a host of current regulations likely to be scrapped by the Department of Transport in response to a ‘Red Tape Challenge’ launched last May. As there was never any accompanying rules stipulating that bells need to remain fitted once the bikes were ridden it was about as effective as bar ends with pink pompom streamers would be on Chris Froome’s time trial bike. Consequently large numbers are quickly removed on vital aesthetic or weight saving grounds.

During the extensive research phase for this feature it quickly became apparent that this is a very hot topic, featuring regularly on a variety of cycling related web-sites! One of the principle aspects of the debate relates to whether the use of a bell constitutes either:

  • a little tinkling noise which is meant to sound like "excuse me, I am sorry to bother you, but you may not be aware of my presence, so if you could just take care for a moment I'll pass quietly by the side of you. Thanks”
  • OR actually a “MOVE OUT OF THE WAY YOU OAF, you are slowing me down and I’m more important than you!”

Before I go any further with this debate I had better declare that I subscribe to the ‘doesn’t make the bike faster so what is the point’ argument. Having said that I have recently had the opportunity to loan a bike which did come fitted with the little round annoyance and so feel that I am able to comment on the pro’s and con’s with some degree of impartiality.

As the loan bike also came fitted with riser bars and luxurious 35 mm tyres (far more comfortable than the 28mm Continentals on my usual machine) I occasionally ventured out of the comfort zone, offered by my usual commute of dual carriageways, on to canal towpath, shared space paths and even subways. During these occasional ‘off road’ excursions I am surprised to admit that the often maligned bell did have its uses. Flying down the A34 at 20 mph plus in the bus lane is one thing but hammering down a canal towpath with the regular hazard of blind bends is just plain dangerous! I quickly established that a precautionary use of the bell to alert any fellow cyclists, dog walker and the odd cider drinker coming in the opposite direction was a much more expedient option than the possible outcome of having to swerve to avoid oncoming traffic!

A similar argument also applied when negotiating the city centre’s subways. The regular requirement to throw yourself in to hairpin bends without knowing what may be just around the corner is also less hair-raising if preceded by an audible alert.

Another excellent use (albeit one that may not prove universally popular) was the perverse pleasure obtained by quietly cycling up behind any ignoramuses walking in a bike path and giving them the shock of their life by ringing the bell as loud as possible.

In conclusion I find that I have slightly begrudgingly worked my way around to the opinion that bike bells do have there uses. When cycling in environments shared with other cyclists and pedestrians, bells if used expediently (so probably a good idea not to use it as a way of initiating mass heart attacks), can be a useful piece of safety equipment.

Having said that, its use is limited when trying to ‘communicate’ with white van man when, rather than have to slow down, he overtakes you at 40mph, cuts you up, slams his brakes on and turns left 2 yards in front of you!

3 Tips on the best use of Bike Bells

  1. Ring it until it is apparent that you have been heard. Do not ring it as though you are trying to raise the alarm about a nearby fire!
  2. Don’t expect anyone under the age of 20 (who, with or without portable music devise plugged in, will undoubtedly be oblivious to anything going on around them), or over the age of 70 (unless you can clearly see that they have their hearing aid in) to hear you.
  3. Immediately discard the bell that came free with your bike and replace it with something very bling!

Look out for further articles from me the yellow jersey shortly

YJ