Bikes aren’t required to have a bell or horn fitted, but for commuting it’s practical and polite to have one. Here’s what you need to know
Unlike cars, bikes are almost silent. Pedestrians won’t hear you coming so may step in front of you on streets or shared-use paths, or be alarmed if you pass without warning. You have to let them know you’re coming. Calling out loudly is one way. But there’s a better, non-confrontational option that immediately says ‘cyclist coming’: ring your bell.
Bicycles must be sold with a bell, as per the . Somewhat confusingly, you don’t actually have to have a bell fitted to your bike thereafter. Bicycle usage is governed by the , rules that are primarily focused on braking systems and don’t even mention bells.
As a result, the Highway Code doesn’t require you to have bell. Rule 66 says: “Be considerate of other road users, particularly blind and partially sighted pedestrians, and horse riders… Let them know you are there when necessary, for example, by calling out or ringing your bell if you have one. It is recommended that a bell be fitted.”
For commuting in particular, this is a sensible recommendation. You will encounter pedestrians and other cyclists in urban areas, and a bell is a polite way to let them know you’re approaching or passing. Ring your bell from a good distance away. If they don’t hear you the first time, try again. Still no response? Call out loudly (“Morning!”, “Cyclist passing!” or something like that), then pass wide and relatively slowly.
Motorists generally won’t hear a bicycle bell. Some horns (see below) are loud enough to alert them. Otherwise you’re better off focusing solely on evasive action. A motorist might hear you shouting – and sometimes it’s only option – but shouting also risks escalating the situation if the driver is predisposed to aggressive behaviour behind the wheel.
To be genuinely useful, any bell or horn needs to be in immediate reach – at the same time as your hands are covering the brake levers. A second’s delay is too long: you’re travelling almost seven metres per second at 15mph. If you have to reach for a bell or horn instead of braking, you’re making a collision more rather than less likely. Make sure the striker is in easy reach of your thumb. Some bells have a rotating base for the striker so that you can angle it where you want.
In an emergency – a pedestrian steps obliviously into the road a few metres in front of you – forget about your bell or horn. Focus on braking or swerving, as appropriate, and if necessary simply shout “look out!”, which should root them to the spot. It’s better to avoid this situation in the first place, however, by anticipating what other people might do. Scan ahead. Ring your bell early if a pedestrian heading for the kerb hasn’t looked your way.
You don’t need to spend much on a bell or horn for your bike. Nevertheless, you can still save by including either (or both) in your Cyclescheme package. The prices below are RRP.
Your bike probably came with something like this: an aluminium dome with a plastic striker. Most, like this one, work fine. Be wary of bells that are smaller than this. They look cute but tend not to make much noise.
While it also works on flat-bar bikes, the Trigger Bell is particularly suitable for drop-bar bikes. You can attach it to the brake lever hood, where it’s immediately accessible from the two main hand positions: hoods and drops.
Traditional style ‘ding dong’ bells are still available. They generally produce plenty of noise – as usual, a bigger bell is louder – but they do have more moving parts so may require occasional lubrication.
The Timber Bell is primarily designed for mountain bikers. The lever on the top isn’t a striker. It releases the clapper, which then swings back and forth in the bell as the bike moves over rough ground. So you jingle all the way down the trail. Lifting the lever back up silences the bell.
Arguably more of a novelty item, this little hooter might raise a smile from pedestrians on shared-use paths. It’s bulkier than a bell and requires at least a thumb and forefinger for operation so isn’t as quick to use. But it’s inexpensive and does its job.
A different kind of horn altogether, the Airzound is an air horn that produces up to 115 decibels. You pump it up with your bike pump; there’s a schrader valve underneath the horn’s button. The Airzound isn’t especially durable, mainly due to the hose connecting the air reservoir to the horn, but it’s very loud indeed. Drivers will hear this. Pedestrians may find it too alarming…
The ‘world’s loudest bike horn’ emits an earsplitting 140 decibels at maximum volume and a still very loud 121dB on its quieter setting. It’s an electronic horn that’s powered by two AAA batteries, which should last about a year (assuming six one-second blasts per day). It has a remote trigger so you don’t need to take a hand away from a brake to use it. As with the Airzound, drivers will definitely hear this.