Commuting cyclists need to do all we can to advance our reputation and smooth out the kinks that exist between ourselves and other road users.
One way to do this is to identify ourselves to others in a way that balances a friendly warning against intimidation or threat. A bell has traditionally been seen as a sensible and crucially helpful and simple mechanism in doing this.
Rung with a smile and courtesy will win you friends and avoid confrontation. After all, is there anything more quientessentially British than a bicycle charm?
But not all bicycle bells are made the same. This guide will take a look at the best of the bunch, as well as introduce you to the “world’s loudest bicycle horn” if you really need someones attention.
What Makes a Good Bike Bell?
You need to consider how it will be used. Commuting will generally involve city riding in tightly packed areas with other road users sharing space and distracted by 101 other things that are important to them. You’ll need to be heard amongst the throng of the urban setting.
Let’s not put style to one side and please think carefully about how loud and unintimidated it should be. Because of its location on the handlebars, a bell needs to be sturdy enough to respond well to vibrations. You want to avoid it sounding off silently as you bounce over each pothole or crease in the road or trail.
It should be as mechanically sound as all of the other components on your bicycle. You should come to rely on it just as much as other parts and this will help to ensure your safety. It should function each time it is used.
One of the important aspects which must not be overlooked is where you can position the bell on your handlebars. The reason for this is that you may need to take one hand away from your brakes to operate it. At a time when having both hands as close to your brakes as possible is crucial.
The mechanical closing device is very important. Vibrations have a habit of moving things on the handlebars. A good test of this is in observing the position of your front light. Watching the beam change position indicates just how much it can move during a ride.
The same will be true of a bell. The operation should be done without having to look down at the unit to check where your finger or thumb should be. Worse still, it should not be so loose as to risk falling off.
Just like your tone of voice and its inflection will influence how people respond to you, the ‘ding’ or ‘ding-dong’ of your bell will mark you out as a potential friend or foe.
How would you like to be perceived by those users who operate in your area each day is up to you, but your mood may well be enlightened by a smile, a nod, or even a quick apologetic hands up if your bell helps you each avoid a collision.
Should Cyclists Have a Bell?
Time to stoke up the pressure cooker. Should pedestrians have distractions such as smartphones when they are walking? Should people be forced to have some mandatory training about their responsibility to others? Should one user take more care than others? Codes and laws are changing to make it so.
If we take things back to the epitome of considered commuting in the Netherlands, we see tolerance and acceptance of the infrastructure. We have to remember that this is over fifty years in the making and that there are more bicycles than people in that country.
The Dutch have had their hierarchy of road users for years and more users have developed an understanding of how their attitude on the road affects others. Crucially, the language and tone used is more inclusive and progressive than in other countries and this is likely to be because participation rates are so high.
The stakes are high. Let’s stop to consider the perception and use of motor horns. What does their use tell us about them as a necessity or warning, or intimidatory tool? What percentage of their use is as a legitimate warning to other road users of a driver’s presence, or to move others along, or highlight the necessity of reminding other road users of the right to share asphalt or even own that particular part of the road.
A bell or a horn can just as easily be misinterpreted in the eyes and ears of the beholder. Let’s be nice cyclists.
Do Bikes Need a Bell by Law?
It is not a legal requirement to have a bell on a bicycle in the UK, with the exception of Northern Ireland. The Highway Code and legislation is clear. But again, let’s look at perception. Anecdotally, I can tell you that telling another road user this will not make anyone’s world a better place.
There are some states in the US that require a bell to be fitted. As in Northern Ireland, there are stiff fines which can be imposed if you are stopped and reprimanded for not having one attached. You can read more about bike bell laws here.
When Should I Ring My Bicycle Bell?
Always be considerate of the other road users. They may be partially sighted. Or less mobile. Let them know you are there when necessary. Don’t ring then shout, or shout then ring. Nothing wrong with a quick ding to say hello to someone, or even to wave someone through. It’s a lovely thing to do.
There is value in ringing your bell whether the other road user is in front of you or behind. Not only is it a useful safety measure when done early enough, it’s courteous and polite. And that’s no bad thing for a discerning cyclist to be remembered.
Types of Bike Bells
Below, I’ll cover the best bicycle bells around (as well as the best and loudest bicycle horns, of course). But there’s lot of different types of bike bells available, so I’ve broken them down into various categories:
- Vintage Bicycle Bells
- Loud Bike Bells
- Cool Bike Bells
- Funny Bike Bells
- Novelty Bike Bells
- Small Bike Bells
- Electric Bike Bells
- Loud Bike Horns
But what is the best bike bell around? Here’s our list of the best, most affordable and efficient bells or horns (should you want something a bit more cheerful) for your bicycle:
Best Bicycle Bells + Horns for Commuting
Loudest Bicycle Bell for Commuters
This is a low-profile, minimalist model which packs a punch. Knog is an Australian company which is due to celebrate its twentieth birthday. It has been recognised with many design awards.
This model sits on the handlebars and fits between a 23.8 and 31.8 mm diameter. It is designed to fit just either side of the stem requiring one hand to be off the brakes when being used.
It is machined to look stylish on your bicycle as it does not resemble the traditional shape but is capable of emitting a loud noise from the brass ‘dinger’.
Best Vintage Bike Bell
This is the traditional bell style which many of us remember. Crane focuses on made to last manufacturing and this bell is no different, with the dome and base being made 100% from brass.
The model is designed to fit anywhere on the handlebars of a traditional bike but you may need to measure up road bike handlebars to check the fit.
It is beautifully made and gives a great sound from the traditional ringer.
Loudest Electric Bike Horn
This model will get you recognised and acknowledged from a distance. db140 stands for a 140 decibel emission at the source. It also offers a 121 decibel pitch to mimic a car horn as you desire.
Hornit’s founder spent seven years commuting to his work in London and launched the product in 2012.
This model sits on the handlebars and the head unit requires 2 x AAA batteries to operate. It’s imposing but still relatively light. It is used with a wired trigger designed to fit on the handlebars.
It is capable of bringing most road users attention to your whereabouts.
Best Bike Bell for Road Bike
Cateye is a leading manufacturer of cycling computers, lights and reflectors and so adding the bell is a useful safety addition to the range.
This Japanese company has been making bicycle accessories for over 50 years.
The ratchet style locking mechanism of the mount is very useful for those rides which are not commuting in nature and you wish to remove the bell easily, if temporarily.
It’s a low-profile device and rings to around 90 decibels at source.
It’s great and would fit close to the brakes as required. It’s light too at just 25 grams.
Best Bike Bell for Drop Bars
The trigger bell is made in the UK and its best feature is that you can ring multiple times in a second without changing the grip on your handlebars.
Commuters who ride on the hoods of their brakes will welcome the time this saves.
It fits to the left hand grip and is pinged with the thumb. You will be able to ring and brake at the same time.
This means when travelling at 10 miles per hour a rider can be heard and identified about two car lengths earlier than if they had to move their hand to a bell.
Best Bike Bell for Mountain Bike
This could be one of the most friendly bells out there. It is a motion-activated device giving a little tinkle as it passes over the typical terrain of a mountain biker. It reassuringly offers a lock-out stealth mode when not required.
The cool thing is that it is specifically designed for mountain bikes. The bolt-on version is a little narrower in diameter but a band-on option is available – good also if you wish to switch between your rides.
The ding is both reassuring and even friendly, which is really helpful in some of the less-pressurised situations of riding a towpath or trail.
Best Electric Bike Bell
PRO BIKE TOOL is less than 10 years old and was founded by a lover of cycling.
The bell is light and compact with a bell dome diameter size of 2.7cm. The attachment is narrow and low-profile and two different o-rings are included to help with fitting on a range of handlebars. The 79 decibel ‘bright tone’ should be effective and intuitive.
It’s made from brass and metal with a modern design.
Best Novelty Bicycle Bell
One of a range of bells made by the company which sits underneath the umbrella of the Trek brand and one of many novelty designs offered around the same platform. They have a retro-inspired bullseye dome too.
While you’re burning off all those calories while pedalling around, give yourself a nice reminder of all the goodies you’ll be able to enjoy after!
It has an easy-to-operate lever and fits standard bicycle handlebars and is made from aluminium alloy.
It clamps on with a bolt operated system.
Funniest Bike Bell
This is a cute looking yellow rubber duck which as well as being a bell doubles up as a working light. It should not be relied upon as your single light source when needed, however.
Rather than using a traditional strike via a ‘hammer’, this little fella squeaks when you give him a squeeze.
You can buy him wearing different kinds of helmets too. It’s a fun device which you may not wish to rely on as much as other bells for your urban commute. Probably best accompanied by a cheery “hello”, “excuse me”, or “ding-ding”.
Bicycle Bells FAQ:
Where Should a Bike Bell Be Mounted?
Most bells should be designed to fit the side of the handlebars where you make the fewest shifts of your gears. Functionality and practicality matter most of all. Check with the manufacturer and size them up correctly. Bear in mind other necessities such as lights or mounts for your devices.
Do All Bike Bells Fit All Bikes?
You should make sure that the bell you desire is designed to fit your bike’s handlebars. You should be to able reach it without looking. Fitting diameters may not include the depth of your bar tape. Some are designed to work in tandem with both brakes being pulled so check this too.
Are Bike Bells Worth It?
Commuting by bicycle needs to be enjoyable and stress-free. Urban cyclists navigating the cities and towns don’t need to wage war with other road users. Using a bell to give notice of your arrival will help everyone including yourself, making your journey more pleasant and relaxing.