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Bikes are required to be fitted with a bell or warning device, but when should you ring it?

A women ringing her bike bell

What Do The Bike Riders and Pedestrians Think?

Discussion of bike bells can get heated, whether you ride a bike or walk.  Common rider complaints include police fines for not having one fitted and bells startling pedestrians causing them to jump into the path of the rider in shared spaces. Another complaint is the futility of ringing the bell when many people walk with headphones turned on, and stories of abuse from pedestrians for using the bell.

From the pedestrian perspective, we’ve been asked to encourage bell-ringing by elders concerned about being knocked over.  However it’s not unusual to hear from people who find bell ringing rude or intimidating when they are walking on shared paths or trails.

Some members say they ring well in advance so pedestrians or slower riders can move left, and follow up with a wave or greeting to help keep things friendly.  But one dose of aggression can leave a rider questioning whether bell-ringing is a good idea.

When City of Sydney Council surveyed people, they found that most pedestrians would prefer riders ring their bell to warn that they are coming up behind.  It’s important to leave enough time for the person in front to react and make space for you to pass.  

Some people walking may not be able to hear your bell if they are listening to music, talking or have hearing difficulties.  This may mean you need to slow down. It can also take time for someone to make room for you to pass where there is limited space, or the person has to also manage children or pets they’re walking with. 

Drivers won’t often hear bells in sound-proofed motor-vehicles over the noise of engines and music.  So ringing and expecting a reaction on the road may not work.

Top Tips For Bell Riding

Bicycle NSW recommends riders:

  1. Ensure they have a bell fitted to their bike – it saves getting fined.
  2. Use their bell to signal to people walking and slower riders ahead they need to pass 
  3. Give enough warning to allow people to react
  4. Ring their bell if needed in the road environment, but don’t expect that motor vehicle drivers will hear you.

“We understand that the issue of bells and when to use them can cause frustration for riders,” said General Manager of Public Affairs, Bastien Wallace.

“We hope this helps reassure riders that bell ringing is helpful to the majority of pedestrians,” said Bastien.

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