Bell Installation: an Idiot’s Guide*

I’ve long been meaning to get a bell for my bike – or rather, every time I find myself inadvertently startling a pedestrian, or end up cycling at walking pace behind a slow moving group of people on the shared river path in Bigtown, I’ve found myself thinking ‘I really must get a bell’ and then I’ve got home and forgotten all about it. I did have a bell, but it was a cheap rubbish one I got as a freebie that rusted solid within about a week (you’d think the Chinese would know how to make sturdy bike bells, but I suppose they don’t bother selling those ones to the foreigners). And I’ve also been a bit of a bell sceptic, if I’m honest. I don’t want to use it to get the pedestrians out of the way, just to warn them that I’m coming so they don’t get a fright when I pass them – I do make every effort to cycle politely and considerately when I’m sharing with people on foot. But I’ve found that the Brompton bell doesn’t seem to make much difference and have mostly just resorted to saying something friendly to people as I approach, although that doesn’t make much difference either – normally I end up passing the person while they’re still looking in every direction but the one I’m coming from and still end up leaping a foot in the air.

And then a post in a bike forum gave me the right nudge at the right time and I ordered a Crane Suzu bell before I could change my mind. It arrived promptly and all I had to do was get it onto the handlebars of my bike. Simples. It’s not as if it had a very complicated fitting, just a simple brass screw that even I could work out how to use once I’d ransacked the other half’s shed for a phillips screwdriver. In order to make the bell send out its loud yet somehow extremely polite note, you have to give it a bit of welly with your thumb and you have to make sure the striker has room to move. I cleared off some of the redundant light brackets and other gubbins that had accumulated on the handlebars over the last few years and attached it thus

bell in its first postion

Which seemed to work except when I took it for a test ride I realised that the striker was nowhere near my thumb, which meant that moving from the brakes to the bell and back quickly – a pretty key manoeuvre when you’re interacting with pedestrians – was going to be difficult, so I decided to move it somewhere else. I won’t embarrass myself by detailing exactly how many options I tried that worked even less well before I realised that the bell was handed and all I had to do was move it onto the left-hand bar and all would be well:

bell in its final position

I think you’ll all agree that, user error aside, it is a thing of beauty, and it sounds lovely too (I did try recording it but my phone doesn’t really capture it). And it works. So far it seems to warn people just enough that a bike is on its way that they look over their shoulder and see me coming, without it acting as a peremptory order to get out of my way. They just magically move over and continue on their way and I continue on mine. A win all round.

Crane Suzu bell

*when the idiot in question is, of course, me

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6 Responses to Bell Installation: an Idiot’s Guide*

  1. Andy in Germany says:

    Over here I have to have a bell on my bike, alhough I’m a sceptic as well: a bell tends to be interpreted as ‘Get out of the way’ on shared use trails and people do tend to leap to the side of the road when I ping.

    I also find that it is a choice sometimes of ‘ping or brake’. I generally go for brakes.

  2. stcleve says:

    I love my http://www.lionbellworks.co.uk/ it’s like checking in at a hotel when I ring it, only cheaper. Not on the bike I’ve been in Bigtown these last two days so back to “excuse me, I’m on your right”

  3. disgruntled says:

    @Stcleve – you’re the second person to mention Lion bells. That’ll have to be for my next bike
    @Andy – I’ve found the trick is to ring when you’re quite far away, but maybe in Germany things are different. I too go for brakes if the bell hasn’t worked!

    • Andy in Germany says:

      I meant on the occasions when someone appears in front of me, looking the other way. When I’m on shared use paths I tend to just ride behind and wait unti they notice or try to make friendly commrnt when I pass (usually along the lines of “I’m not that fat but thanks” when people leap off the road).

      • disgruntled says:

        That was my approach, although I did nearly get brained by someone flinging his arms out to make a rhetorical point just at the point I was passing him. The pedestrian equivalent of the ‘door zone’…

  4. […] a machine that anyone can understand and fix themselves, I know they have not seen me try and fit a bell to take an example at random). After a couple of false starts – do you know how hard it is to […]

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