Bicycle Bell Protocols

My daily commute usually includes passage over a section of mixed use path in a powerline right of way. It’s typical to encounter retired couples out for their morning walks together, and a battery of dedicated animal lovers taking their beloved companions out for a romp (and other business). Most don’t expect to encounter a cyclist in winter, so they go about their activity not entirely on the alert.

The last thing I want to do is impair cycling by demonstrating myself a hazard to pedestrians or animals. That is why my bike has a bell, and why that bell is used.

Just letting you know I am here...

Just letting you know I am here…

If I am cycling up behind someone and think there is a risk that they may inadvertently turn into my path, I use the bell to warn of my presence. Here is where things get interesting. The signal that is my bell ringing is not a request on my part for right of way. Rather, it is an audible signal of my presence – I am letting the others know that they need to exercise caution if they deviate from their current course and speed. At the same time, I slow down and give as much berth as possible – allowing for as much reaction time as possible should the pedestrian do something I don’t expect.

I confess I feel guilty when I am cycling along, ring the bell, and in turn the warned party makes way for me. It was not my intent to demand right of way. I would not want the public habituated to yielding right of way to cyclists ringing their bells. In scale, this is the same as car drivers honking their horns at me: get out of my way.

If governments are looking for ways to improve integration of cycling into the overall transportation and lifestyle solutions in their communities, here is a good educational opportunity: through consistent messaging, establish bicycle bell ringing protocols as a courtesy from cyclists to pedestrians, not a demand for right of way.

This may seem like a small matter, but my opinion differs. There is a place for courtesy between us, and as an ambassador for cycling in my community, I would feel much more relaxed if I had the confidence that pedestrians understood I was offering them the courtesy of being more aware of my presence, rather than feeling entitled towards having a space to ride as I wish and I hereby demand access to that space.

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~ by outdoor-enthusiast on January 22, 2013.

One Response to “Bicycle Bell Protocols”

  1. I’m with you on the importance of the subject. I’ve noticed that the two things pedestrians complain about the most in the media here in Finland are cycling on the sidewalk and a feeling that some cyclists ride too fast and do not take pedestrians into account on the shared paths.

    Using the bell can lessen the latter but its tricky since some pedestrians interpret the bell in a hostile way. Then again some dog owners have even thanked me for using the bell. If possible I try to use the bell well in advance to avoid scaring the pedestrians. And if they (have to) make way I try to shout a quick thanks.

    One thing to help make cycling a more popular and accepted way of transportation is emphasizing that cycling is a lot safer to the other road users than driving. Some pedestrians feel threatened by cycling and even though in the light of statistics this feeling is irrational I still think it should not be ignored. Your idea about the educational campaign is great, I feel that it really could lessen the tension between cyclists and pedestrians.

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