There are few things dorkier than using the bell on your bicycle. Once you do that, it can only lead downhill into a world of helmet mirrors, handlebar tassels and high visibility ankle bands. But you should do it anyway. Using the bike bell makes life easier for you and everyone around you.
Illustration by Sam Woolley.
It is universally uncool for any cyclist outside an eight-year-old to use the bell on their bicycle. It is somehow better for a cyclist to yell "on your left," "behind you," or nothing at all as they zoom past pedestrians, hikers, dog walkers, baby strollers or horrible drivers.
Cyclists argue about bells all the time. They will spend countless hours on message boards making comments about how bells are lame. Yet, in my experience, actively using your bell can improve the lives around you. If you're on a mountain bike trail, a bell instantly alerts hikers so they can step aside. If you're in a city, a bell provides a clear signal to pedestrians and cars alike that your bike exist, while a shout could be from anyone. It also fixes the issue where a cyclist cries out, "on your left," when they pass a pedestrian, who intrinsically turns to their left, often accidentally stepping to the left as well, spooking both the cyclist and themselves.
Even if you're an entitled cyclist and feel like you have the right of way all the time, your bell can make your life better. You can ring the bell from 10, 20, even 30m away, signalling your arrival to everyone in the area so they have plenty of time to get out of your way. You can ring your bell when you pass a car who obnoxiously opens their door into the bike lane. You can use it to warn other, slower, lamer cyclists that you are coming up behind them. You can ring as it as you bomb that descent around blind corners on your mountain bike, forcing everyone to know that you, king of the mountain, are descending at top speed.
Personally, I find the bell best for mixed-use trails, where dogs, humans and tiny humans run around free. It's useful in the city too, especially on busy highways where people tend to veer between lanes randomly. Plus, there's an odd sense of pleasure in ringing a bell right as you pass a car whose door is ajar in the bike lane.
I'd argue for the noble nature of the humble bike bell more so than the entitled one, but it doesn't matter to me what your reasons are. The world is filled with arguments, with people from all walks of life screaming at the sky and civilised behaviour grinding to a halt. The last thing anyone needs is a cyclist screaming into their ear as they buzz past them. The bell is a civilised heads-up. The bell makes your bike ride more whimsical and friendly. Ring your bell and you are instantly joyous.
If your current bike bell looks cheap and sounds ugly, consider an upgrade. Knog, a company best known for its hip bike lights, also makes a bell that doesn't look like a bell at all. Prefer luxury? The $75) Spurcycle bell is the one you want. It's loud, unobtrusive and fits on any handlebars. Ridiculously priced? Yep, but it will work well with your high end bike frame. You can also pop into your local bike shop and grab whatever they're selling for $15-$25. Trust me, you'll make everyone, including yourself, a little happier on the road.