Get yourself a dutch bell

I live on Bear Flat so a lot of my cycling starts with riding down onto the Two Tunnels. If I need to get into town in a rush, then it is straight down Wellsway, but if there is any excuse, any, I’ll ride down Linear Park across Fieldings Bridge and into town. It is too nice a ride not to do it.

So when Linda Donaldson writes about mirrors and bells and states

I don’t have a bell, but I have a voice which I have always felt is more effective. The walkers and runners I spoke too shared a consensus that they felt bells are vital particularly where cyclists are using the canal path or the Two Tunnels. But on the other hand cyclists felt bells were often not listened to. It seems we are back to my long-standing point on the need to respect each other’s right to be in the space again – whether on two wheels or two feet!

I get a bit annoyed because this is a classic case of completely missing the point of a decent bell. Your voice just doesn’t work and most pedestrians she spoke to agreed with that fact.

Let’s set the scene. You’re on a shared path, you are riding down an incline so are going relatively fast (compared to a pedestrian). Up ahead you see a couple of people walking along chatting to each other. Your objective is to give them enough time to react to your impending passing of them. You don’t want to ‘buzz’ them and scare them.

If you want to use your voice and don’t want to shout, you have to get very close before you are heard. So what actually happens is that you get too close to them, announce your presence, and then they scurry out of your way fearing you were going to hit them. Well done for buzzing them.

Now Linda had issues with bells, but I think there is a general issue with the type of bells that are sold in bike shops:

'Ding' Bell
‘Ding’ Bell

These are horrendous. They are aggressive, awkward to use repeatedly and don’t allow ‘levels’ of notification.  Cyclists keep thinking one ‘ding’ is enough notification when it really isn’t.

I used one of these for a long time. Pedestrians had a real problem picking up on the noise unless you hammered it quite a few times, which just sounded like “get out of my way”.  It just never worked very well.

When I switched to a dutch bell a miracle happened:

Dutch Bell
Ding a ling Dutch Bell

Firstly, they sound bloody awesome.

Secondly they are extremely easy to repeatedly use.

Thirdly, and most importantly, they have ‘levels’ of sound. You can ring it lightly as you approach from about 20m away and people recognise the ‘tingaling’ sound as a bike and react strongly to it in a pleasant way. If they don’t react, you can always ring ‘harder’ getting a more urgent ‘drrrring’ sound from it. These levels of sound are subtle but VERY important. People associate the pleasant sound as a bike and turn towards you.

You can gauge from about 10m away if they have heard you by the way they move or even turn to catch your eye. As you pass, you can even thank them for moving aside, and wish them good morning.

So when someone in an article publishes the idea that you can ride, particularly in Bath with all its shared paths, without a bell and just use your voice, because bells really don’t seem to work, I get annoyed.

Your voice is a terrible notifier. It takes immense effort to use and doesn’t work at the range you need it to (without shouting) to give the space and time for a pedestrian to react. It also can be difficult, as a pedestrian, to associate the voice they have just heard with a bike about to pass them. If you are using your voice, you are in my opinion,  buzzing pedestrians.

As a cyclist you probably don’t get just how uncomfortable ‘buzzing’ a pedestrian actually is.  It shows a complete lack of respect.

Once in a while, I ride out to Bradford and Avon and back. The tow path can be quite busy and narrow at times. The last time I took a friend who rides without a bell. By the end of the ride he thought the dutch bell was an absolute miracle device. People moved out of our way, they said good morning, we thanked them, some even commented on how nice it was to hear a ‘proper’ bell. It made the journey a lot faster. So many cyclists along that path were ‘almost’ hitting walkers constantly. We never had that problem.

If you ever ride on a shared paths, buy yourself a dutch bell and watch the difference it makes. Learn how to use the ‘levels’ of sound it can make and just watch how the sea of pedestrians part before you.

Remember to follow these rules when passing:

  1. Use it gently at 20m. If they react, got to 4. Try to catch their eye.
  2. If no reaction begin slowing down, ring your bell harder. If they react got to 4. Try to catch their eye.
  3. If no reaction pass slowly as best you can. Say excuse me as you near them.
  4. Pass them and wish them a good day. If they moved out of your way, thank them.

Don’t kid yourself that your voice is a replacement for a bell. It shows a complete lack of respect for your fellow path users. If you don’t have the space on your handlebars for a dutch bell, get a simple ‘ding’ bell, but remember it won’t part the seas of pedestrians as easily as a dutch bell.  There really is no excuse not to have a bell if you ride in Bath.

2014-07-11 09.06.08
My bike with a dutch bell. It just makes life easier on a shared path for everyone.
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5 thoughts on “Get yourself a dutch bell”

  1. Yes, the Dutch bells are great, bought mine in Holland many years ago. Just a thought, is it still a legal requirement to have a bell and cycle shops had to fit one before they could sell it, a bit like reflectors.

  2. So a Dutch bell is simply the bell I had as a kid in the 70s with a few cogs under it to actuate the ring? The single ding bell is more modern I think. I have the complicated bell they are £2 here, no excuse not to have one but they are a rarity on the streets of Vancouver the buggers just yell ‘on your left’ a second before they pass, same in Calgary, it’s bloody stupid. Good blog.

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