Riding my bicycle on the Glacial Drumlin Trail west of Waukesha, Wisconsin, I came up fast on a couple walking side-by-side. When I was 20 feet or so behind the pair, my right thumb sounded the bell on my handlebars. At about 10 feet, I did the same thing. Rrrring, rrrring, the bell trilled.
The man’s left hand rose slightly to acknowledge my presence as I whirred by the pair. I had safely passed pedestrians, not always an easy thing on a bicycling/walking path. Trail etiquette dictates that the passing cyclist provide some sort of warning that the rider is about to go by. “On your left” or “Passing on your left” are the standard greetings. A bell is also acceptable, and, to me, preferable.
This is the second season that I’ve used a bell on my everyday bike (a Trek 7200 Hybrid that I use as my commuter bike). I’ve found that a bell is friendlier and more warmly received than a verbal greeting. A bell instantly identifies you as a bicyclist. People recognize the sound. Plenty of people rode bikes, even tricycles, with bells when they were younger, so there’s a bit of nostalgia when adult walkers are greeted by the sound of a bell.
The bell tends to come across as non-threatening. Try as I might to sound friendly, calling out “On your left!” can sometimes come across as kind of harsh. I try to say it as upbeat as I can, and try to follow it up with “Thanks” or “Good Morning” but it still can seem sharp.
One of my children purchased my bell on a visit to Amsterdam at a store devoted solely to the sale of bicycle bells. I’m told there were many styles, and numerous ring tones. I like the tone of my bell, not too sharp.
Because it’s sounded by a dial, rather than a lever, I can control the sound to a certain extent. I can adjust the volume and the number of rings. If it’s getting tense, I can ratchet up the intensity of my ringing. That’s rare. People generally respond to a casual couple of rings.
Greeting pedestrians and other cyclists when passing is a courtesy, and a way to avoid crashing, so I don’t want to be confrontational. The bell accomplishes this quite effectively.
So, the next time you’re riding and hear a bell sound, know that another cyclist is in the vicinity and wants to make you aware of his presence. A friendly wave and “Thanks” is always appreciated. And, if you are so inclined, you may want to fasten a bell to your rig. It might just add a bit of fun to your ride. A trip to Amsterdam to visit a bell shop is optional, but may be a good idea, too.