Friday, April 21, 2006

Will bicycle bell use become mandatory? Should it?

We’ve been too busy with other matters in Madison, Wisconsin to make bicycle bells mandatory and think about sending out the bicycle bell police, but it’s probably only a matter of time. The bike paths are crowded. Already, across the pond, the Pedal Bicycle Safety Regulations Act makes bells mandatory equipment in the UK, a Thatcher era experiment in bicycle bell deregulation having proved too injurious. (“In 2002, 170 pedestrians collided with a cyclist - three of those died, and 40 sustained serious injuries, according to the Royal Society.’) Ditto for some of our neighbors to the north.
In parts of Canada, bell-less cyclists can be pulled over by the police and fined up to $100 - about £40. One rider familiar with the traffic-clogged roads of Toronto says she thought the law was an ass - until she took to two wheels herself.

"I found I used the bell all the time. I rang the damn thing like a maniac, and I think it saved me more than once."
Bring it on, I’m ready. Mine was a gift, and I fell in love with it. Not only is it cheerful, but its tone, muted by the plastic, is less intrusive than the more insistent metallic bells. And it’s responsive -- if I brush the wheel lightly with my finger, the bell makes a tactful little “pling.” Which often is all that’s required. A more aggressive turn of the wheel gives all the warning I need in a real emergency.

What’s your warning technique on a crowded bike path that mixes walkers, roller bladers and everything from casual bikers to road racers in training? Do you find “on your left!” too abrupt, almost rude? Is “excuse me” too defensive? What’s better? Do you use a mechanical device -- or just hold your breath and hope for the best as you dodge silently through traffic?

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