GCAT - Guelph Coalition for Active Transportation

The bicycle bell – the voice of courtesy and safety

by Brad Johnston, GCAT member

The bicycle bell – the voice of courtesy and safety. 

The sharp double “ting” of a bicycle bell when coming up upon people walking on a shared path is the sign of courtesy and safety. The bell is how we say hello to people. 

Here are some suggestions on bell life in this time of covid-19 when there are more people and bikes sharing the paths. 

Get a bell. If you have a bike get a $10 bell. Absolutely. Join bike culture of being friendly, aware, sensitive people. Get a bell. Its the Amsterdam way. 

Get a bell that has a great sound. A piercing yet light tone. And something that sounds like a bike bell. Get a bell that feels good to ding. Something with a deeply satisfying action. 

The bell is used to warn people you are coming behind them and it would be great if they moved a little to the RIGHT, and control their dogs and children and not otherwise jump in front of you. 

The bell does not say “Im more important than you and get out of my way.” 

Ding the bell with finesse. Your message is one of welcome and care. 

Ding the bell twice in short succession when you are close enough that they will likely hear you and have time to process what is happening. 

Not all people will hear the bell or if they hear it they wont know what to do. People with ear buds or headphones probably wont hear you. Older people might not hear you. If people dont hear you breathe your little Amsterdam way breath, be generous of spirit, slow down and pass to the left. 

Be friendly and courteous when you pass people. Say good morning or thank you. Every person you meet is a chance to change someones day for the better, and leave them with the thought “what a lovely bicycle rider.” 

When passing group of people coming towards you assess the risk potential. Do they have kids or a dog? Is the dog on leash? You generally only have to ding them if they dont see you. 

Kids can be like squirrels who skitter back and forth on the road trying to avoid your car. Help the kids feel safe. Slow down and direct them with your hand to the best side of the trail to be safe. Then make eye contact, smile and say something encouraging like “great job”. 

If you are on a collision course with a squirrel like child, use your hand to signal them to stand still, then you slow down and pass with gentleness. This works with skittering adults too. Take control, be a leader, use your hand to still them. 

Ding the bell when passing another cyclist and say “passing on the left”. Its courteous and safe and shows you are a cool cyclist in the Amsterdam tradition. 

Dont ever think of tinging your bell at a car. Cars have very poor hearing. They literally dont hear bike bells because they are drinking coffee, listening to the radio, talking on the phone, or texting. 

First three rules of cars – stay out of their way, be seen and be loud. If someone is opening their door into you the correct response is yelling in your loudest punching voice. I usually punch out “HEY” while making short but intense eye contact. You want to shock them so they immediately stop what they are doing so can ride past them safe and sound. 

Please resist being uncool and swearing at people in cars and chasing them down the street to tell them how stupid they are. Thats just uncool and reflects poorly on your brother and sister cyclists. Thats not the Amsterdam way. 

In this time of strangeness due to covid-19, bicyclists and our bells can be little moments of courtesy and connection on the paths. Be friendly and safe with your bell. 

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