As a rule, fast cyclists like light bikes, clean lines, and low cockpits. That is why, according to cat 1 mountain biker Scott Holland, most eschew bike bells.
For a long time, the performance-oriented set has felt bells “have a place in commuting and on beach cruisers,” Holland says, but when it comes to riding with any speed, riders tend to steer away from bells and use their voices instead. Many bike bells are clunky, get in the way of your hand position, and—when they come bearing images of cartoon characters or forest fauna—don’t necessarily gel with your bike’s aesthetic.
Within the past few years, though, sentiment seems to have shifted. Bell enthusiasm has grown beyond commuting to include both performance-oriented mountain bikers (Holland now hits the trails with a bell on his mountain bike) and impressively, even the pro road racing ranks.
Reigning Tour de France champion Chris Froome trains with a bell on his bike, and his Team Sky teammate Ian Boswell says he thinks “bells are boss!” Former WorldTour pro Phil Gaimon says he always rides with a bell these days and thinks they’re “really cool.”
The market is responding accordingly. Thanks to Kickstarter and a handful of inventive brands (among them: Knog, Spurcycle, and Timberbell), there are now also a slew of modern and well-designed bike bells out there suited to letting people know you’re putting down the hammer without ruining your look.
Here are the top reasons for carrying a little bit of percussion when you pedal:
If you’re riding fast on the trails, a bell makes things much safer for you and other people enjoying time outdoors.
Many riders mountain bike on shared-use paths, which means we need to alert hikers, horses, or other riders when passing. Some of these trails have sharp corners and overreaching foliage, meaning you can’t always anticipate someone else on the path.
Ringing a bell before you go into a blind corner gives you some insurance about coming literally face to face with a fellow trail user. Nick Slone, of bell manufacturing company Spurcycle, adds that “using your bell as you pass a group of hikers or a horse alerts riders behind you that there’s traffic on the trail.”
New designs like the Knog Oi! (pictured above), and the Arundel and Spurcycle bells, are stylish and inconspicuous enough to look good on any bike.
Functionally, each company has worked to refine the tone of its bell for a really pleasant chime, and the positioning of these bells’ levers make for easy actuation on flat or drop handlebars.
Bells are also a reasonably priced way to add some individuality and style to your stock bike. Because of this style and versatility, bells also make great gifts for just about anyone who rides.
If you’re powering up a climb and see people in your way, you’ll be so short of breath that a courteous greeting might be beyond your lung capacity; you’ll have to resort to something more monosyllabic that leaves you sounding like a jerk.
Plus, when you’re struggling to control a bike on a rocky descent, and it doesn’t help your focus if you’re also madly screaming to alert people in the way to clear the trail.
A polite ringing of a bell is a lot less confrontational than a shout or grunt, and can notify other trail users from farther away. There’s also the fact nobody mistakes a bell for someone shouting at other friends; it’s universally recognized as the sound a bike makes when passing.
Arundel’s Chris Watson warns, “Other trail users often have earbuds in or are music playing. The trick is to have a big enough ‘ding’ that they hear you, but it has to be a musical sound, rather than a blaring horn.” In Watson’s opinion, brass bells are best.
You know that moment when the group ride goes from three-people wide to single file as the hammer goes down? Right when the talking stops and the heavy breathing begins is the time when you can elicit a good giggle with a well-timed brassy “ting.”
Drivers, pedestrians, and the other riders you smoke in the sprint can’t help but smile at the nostalgic chime of a good bike bell.
“You know you’ve nailed it when [other trail users or riders] give the arm wave or say ‘thank you’ rather than being startled,” Watson says.
Many municipalities, states, and countries require bikes to be equipped with a bell (or horn). If you’re riding in New York, DC, Toronto, or anywhere in Australia without a bell, you might just end up hearing a police siren.
Sure, you’re unlikely to get pulled over—but why take a chance?