Audible warnings

Some jurisdictions require a bicyclist to have an audible warning device, commonly a bell or horn.

My bicycle has an audible warning device. Well, actually, I have only one warning device which I move to whatever bicycle I happen to be riding: my operatically-trained voice. Though less courteous than a bell or horn to warn pedestrians, my voice can transmit messages, not only a warning — “bicycle behind you”; “passing on your left.” My voice can be modulated from a whisper to a shout, which is more likely to be audible inside motor vehicles than any bell or horn commonly sold for use on a bicycle (except an air horn, which would startle pedestrians right out of their shoes every time). Bells and little squeeze-bulb horns make the most sense on multi-use paths, but they are rather pointless when riding in the street.

My voice also operates without my having to remove a hand from a brake lever.

I live and ride in Massachusetts, USA. which requires an audible warning when overtaking a pedestrian, but doesn’t specify a device. That works for me.

Some bicyclists don’t like to install a bell on their bicycle; one claim is that there is limited “dashboard” space on drop bars.

I think that a more common objection is that these bicyclists don’t want to look geeky or add the horrifying couple of ounces of extra weight. After all, if there’s room for a bicycle computer one side of the handlebar stem, there’s room for a bell on the other side — or on the stem itself.

Bell and horn requirements could possibly be invoked by a police officer with nothing better to do, to cite bicyclists who are not committing any other offenses. If I had to defend myself against this charge in court, I’d bring little ding-ding bell, give a demonstration of it and of my voice, and ask whether the court could tell me seriously that the bell was a more effective warning device.

…and hope I didn’t have laryngitis on the trial date.

If I regularly rode where a bell is required by law, I suppose that I would install one. But I’d still use my voice most of the time.

One response to “Audible warnings

  1. Ohio did away with the bell requirement in 2006, Fred Oswald gets to crux: A bell is not needed by anyone capable fo voicing a warning. Indeed, using a bell in an emergency can be dangerous because the operator may need to take a hand off the controls (handlebar, brakes) and look away from where you are going.

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