Monday, July 9, 2012

Ringing Them Bells

Bicycle Bells, Adeline Adeline
The bicycle bell is a useful, cheerful and inexpensive accessory. There are many styles available now: large and small, traditional and modern, subdued and colourful. But looks aside, bicycle bells can differ in their functionality - which is something we don't always consider when choosing one. Last week I received an email from a reader who found the big, beautiful bell she bought for her city bike difficult to use and wanted to know what other options were out there. I will take this as an opportunity to describe the different styles of bells I have used over time.

Pashley, Bell
The prototypical classic city bike bell is the "ding dong" bell. It is huge. It is shiny chrome. And it makes a distinct, loud sound, hence the name. Ringing it involves moving the lever with your finger. The first bell I tried of this kind was on the Pashley Princess, and like the reader I heard from last week, I must admit I found it difficult to use. The lever required a lot of pressure to depress. Sometimes I could not ring it fast enough, or would hurt my finger doing so. I adjusted the angle of the bell several times, but it didn't help; it was really the pressure required that gave me trouble. Additionally, the enormous chrome surface would blind me when riding the bike in direct sunlight. Overall I was not a fan of this bell, despite its iconic looks. 

Bakfiets Bell
Of course similar bells exist that use the same mechanism but are easier to use, because the lever requires less pressure. It might just be be a matter of looking around and trying them if possible.

Christiania Trike, Bell, Brake & Parking Brake
And if the highly reflective surface of chromed bells bothers you, consider a painted bell or one with a matte surface. You could even hand-paint it yourself. 

Pilen Lyx, Bell
Not all traditional city bikes come with lever-operated bells. Pilen Cycles and a couple of other Swedish manufacturers offer a spinning bell that is extremely easy to use. Simply tapping the top portion lightly makes it spin and the bell produces a ringing sound, no pressure required. The ring is not as loud as that of the "ding-dong" bell, and sounds more like a continuous trilling, but I find it sufficient. Though in the US I have only seen these bells branded with specific manufacturer names (here is one from Kronan), it might be worthwhile asking an importer whether generic ones are available. 

Bella Ciao Superba, Bell
Another popular style is the striker bell. The Japanese brass bells that have become abundant in recent years are usually available with this mechanism. You pull back the lever, let go and it strikes the surface with a crisp, loud ring. On all the bells in this style I've used so far, the lever has been easy to pull back, not requiring a great deal of finger strength. Another thing I like about these brass bells, is that their surface is not as blindingly reflective as chrome. While they can be polished to a high shine, they can also be kept matte for those who prefer a less reflective surface. Overall, the striker brass bell is the one I now gravitate toward.

Paper Bicycle, Teapot Bell
Striker bells are available in less traditional forms as well, such as this teapot bell that came bundled with the Paper Bicycle. Though I can't vouch for its durability, I found the plastic lever very easy to use. The sound was loud enough, and the small bell took up little space on the handlebars.

Soma, Brass Bell on DT Boss
The classic brass bell also comes in a spring-operated version: Pinging the spring with your finger makes it ring. These bells tend to be smaller in size than the striker variant, and the sound they generate is on the quiet side, gentle and zen-like. Some find that the ring is not sufficiently loud for the city, so you may want to try it out.

Van Nicholas Ti Bell
Most of the bicycle bells I've seen - while varying in materials, size, and aesthetic - use one of the mechanisms described above. However, there are other styles I have not tried yet but would like to, such as the twist bell and the bar-end bell. I am sure others exist as well. Do you have a preference as far as bicycle bells? Feedback on the ones you've used would be most welcome. 

57 comments:

  1. As a tandem rider, I consider bells very critical: tandems are big, fast and not as maneuverable, so it is important to signal when approaching. I've tried different bells, but I prefer the striker bell, especially the Japanese Crane Suzu. They are clear and loud, and very high quality. One strike is usually sufficient. The brass gives the bike a retro, steampunky effect and the look improves with age.
    Affordable Luxury

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    1. Yep,
      My fellow riders love the Crane. I like the fact that I can adjust the ring by hand while riding. It's easy if you don't over tighten the bell cap nut. One of my buddies is anal with keeping a high sheen on his bell, but not the rest of us. The bright clear ring of this bell travels better than any other.
      Last summer three of us were riding some very quiet roads on an 80 mile fixed gear loop, We noticed a couple of your tourists heading uphill in the other direction, We rung our bells as we approached and the tourists reacted by riding into the culvert. I had a good laugh at their expense, but they were going uphill and I'm sure suffered no pain. I hope they could laugh about it as well.

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  2. Mine's a striker bell, initially installed around 1983 and still striking! It's black, simple to use, and I can control the types of sounds coming out depending the situation -- from a dullish thug, to a loud ping. I don't find it necessary to use often b/c bells can really make people jump -- and sometimes into my path -- but it's been an extremely helpful accessory over the years.

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    1. Glad to know it's lasted that long. I also find the brass striker bells to be very durable, more so than the spring version.

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    2. Don't all striker bells have a spring? Not sure whether mine is brass or copper but is does have a spring.

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  3. After many years of intense analysis and experiment involving "Whaley" the squeaking whale (on my then-five-year-old-daughter's Little Betty; briefly mounted on one of my fixies until I became annoyed with its excessively twee character) through many chromed, anodized, clockwork-activated noisemakers, squeakers, bulb horns and the ultimate, cosmos-dominating !Zounds! compressed air horn, I have finally reached a noisemaker Nirvana, a Nirvana that (like Caeser's Gaul, is divided into three parts: first, the friendly, concerned-citizen alert using my pleasant sounding, aesthetically pleasing brass bell: http://tinyurl.com/7cq5uc5.
    Next, a commanding but still friendly, "Cyclist!" 50 feet from the offending pedestrian. Lastly, for the terminally dense, drugged or spacey, a manic, shrill scream at ear height as I flash by at 25 mph. (Juuuust kidding about the last one. I stop and reason with the offender. Maybe.)

    Anyway, the ne plus ultra of bells is the rotating, clockwork activated bell, thus: http://tinyurl.com/7px9e82

    Google knows it as the "Chinese bicycle bell" but I bought my first one in Bangalore, age 12, circa 1967.

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    1. Yes, the Chinese Bell! I have one on my 1951 Raleigh. You press the lever, and it sends the round half-dome spinning. As it spins, it strikes a bell, rapidly at first, then slower as it loses energy. One push, and Clang. Clang. Clang..Clang... Clang.... Clang..... Clang........... Clang..................... Clang

      http://www.flickr.com/photos/7516215@N03/4506656802

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    2. I have a more recent rendition of the Chinese bell, and I loved it initially, but the bell part started to unscrew itself when I used it, and I was forever worried that part of it would fall off at the worst possible moment.

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  4. Delta's Airzound (not a wimpy bell) if you can get it to work reliably.

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  5. There's a You Tube video showing someone walking down a sidewalk in Japan and ringing a bicycle bell. The people move aside. In addition to being amusing, it shows the effectiveness of bicycle bells.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O_MphtzCOEc

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    1. "The people move aside. In addition to being amusing, it shows the effectiveness of bicycle bells."

      Maybe in Japan! In Boston, pedestrians tend to freak out more than anything. See here for instance.

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    2. "In Boston, pedestrians tend to freak out more than anything."

      If you give them an initial ring about 5 seconds before you are ready to pass them, and let the sound swim around in their heads for a bit to remember the meaning of a bicycle bell, and then ring the bell again when you are ready to pass them, it works like magic and even American path users to move to the right. I find that strategy to be 100% effective in the US for path users not wearing headphones. If you only ring when you are ready to pass, it typically results in causing the pedestrian to freak out.

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    3. I totally agree. You need to give people two cues - this is why I don't like the 'single bing' striker bells. I favour the 'ding dong' bells because they have two tones built in. The first wakes the ped out of their daydream, so their brain can then register the second sound. Also, the two sounds help the ped to triangulate where the bike is. I've used both striker and ding dong around Boston and find the ding dong way more effective. So much so that I basically never use the striker anymore, it just scares people (really loud). An added advantage of the ding dong is that I think it's just more recognisable as a 'bike bell', and less intimidating than an single piercing 'biiiing' or ,easily perceived as impatient, multiple 'bing bing bings'.
      Unfortunately I've found it hard to find good quality 'ding dong's' in the US.

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  6. i'm still looking for the right bell! many bells have internal mechanisms that become loose over time and begin to rattle. my current striker bell (crane) pings itself on even slightly bumpy trails/roads. is there any way to adjust it so that i only want to make noise when i want to?

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    1. Just gently bend the striker out a little bit. I love the crane bells, but they require a little bit of adjustment occasionally.

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  7. I have one of those spinning bells on my old Kronan, and I really dislike it: even a smallish bump in the road can cause it to ring out by itself, causing people around me to think that I am a really impatient cyclist.
    Over the years, I got into the habit of dampening the bell with my hand when I knew (on roads I rode often) when a bump was coming.

    The brass striker bell on my Workcycles Fr8, on the other hand, I absolutely love.
    It is intuitive and easy to use, never rings on it's own initiative, and the sound is loud (but not deafening, like those Chinese bells can be) and clear, and not unfriendly.

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    1. I agree. My Pilen bell feels flimsy and I am looking to replace it.

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    2. Yep, replaced my Pilen bell before the bike even left the shop. Hated it.

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  8. Love the brass bells! My LBS began carrying them this spring and I could not be happier.

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  9. ZOMG I want that strawberry bell!!! Could you provide a link? I looked on the Adeline Adeline website, but can't find this model!

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    1. It appears to be this one. Click on the strawberry thumbnail instead of the dog.

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  10. I've used the Japanese striker bells for years and love them. Their tone is crisp, clear and loud enough to penetrate most closed car windows. I'm sure the bell has saved my life more than once.

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  11. I have a brass bell, and it's plenty loud IMHO. The spring-striker does occasionally sound when riding over rough ground/imperfections, especially at speed. Not a terrible thing, but could be annoying.

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  12. I bought a vintage Umezawa from my LBS. I love its looks, which is just like the one on your Pashley Princess except that it is mounted on its side. I push the lever down as opposed to pushing to the side which I feel makes it easy to use. It's shiny chromed steel from Japan (which I made even more shiny with steel wool and without thinking about glare...) The chime is fairly loud and seems plenty loud enough to warn fellow bikers and pedestrians so far.

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  13. This has the makings of an excellent discussion.

    Bike bells are things that most ppl--even most serious cyclists-- take for granted. Personally, I fall into the "everything is important" camp when it comes to cycling, but I've used cheap, uninspiring tiny striker bells (IncrediBell) and loved em b/c many models allow the cyclist to quickly adjust the angle of the striker to maximize the ergonomics. I've also used both of the main styles of Crane bells in several types of metal (but can we please stop calling them "Japanese bells"? Sure, that's accurate, but "Crane" is easier to type/say than "Japanese", and we don't always have to do things the way GP used to), but the coolest bell I ever had in terms of looks and sound was the giant, heavy, all-chrome ding-dong bell on my Hero Roadster. It is a ding-dong style, made by a brand called "Vidhi", and it ruled. I'll admit, the lever action was a bit tough, though...

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    1. I don't think they are all made by Crane; I have seen one other manufacturer name at least, though don't remember what it was.

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    2. I have seen a few bells made by a Japanese firm called "Viva", which look very much like the Crane bells. I don't doubt that there are others as well. Still, Crane absolutely seems to be the dominant supplier of Japanese-sourced bike bells in the US. I'd wager that an overwhelming majority of the products referred to as "Japanese bells" on the interwebs are made by Crane.
      Regardless, I don't refer to my IncrediBell as my "Chinese bell", or my Vidhi as an "Indian bell". I say, if you've got a Crane, call it a Crane. On the off-chance you have a Viva or a bell made by some other Japanese company, call it a Viva or whatever.

      On another "note", has anyone seen/heard the IncrediBell woodpeckers in-person?

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  14. I have the bar end Incredibell that you linked, installed on the left side of my Surly. That wouldn't have worked with the default bar end shifters in place, but since I replaced those with brifters, it seemed like a good place for the bell. It's easy to use, and sounds nice. It does occasionally ring if I hit a bump, though. The only problem was when I got caught in a recent downpour, it really sounded anemic. Not sure if water had gotten inside, or it was just the rain drowning it out. It's back to normal, since, though.

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  15. Have that brass dinger -- it's stupid.

    Incredibell. Carries a long way, ding far in advance.

    Peter Sagan put a bell on his Tour bike as a joke.

    Carry on with stuff-ville.

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  16. I like the Mirrycle IncrediBell in classic black (also available in variety of other colors and finishes). It is very small, light, inexpensive, easily adjustable, easy to ring, and makes a fairly loud sound for its size. The ring sound is obvious without being unpleasant, so tends to get people to move without scaring them or making them mad. The only issue I have with it is that it doesn't work as well in the rain. Once beads of waters are standing on the bell surface, or have soaked into the joint at the top, the sound is much more muffled. I wonder is this an issue with the other bell styles too, or whether water has a bigger effect on the IncrediBell because of its very small size.

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  17. I use a range of bells, on my DL-1 and my Superbe I use the huge Ding Dong bells. On other bikes I use whatever strikes my fancy. On my tour bikes I use the stem mount striker bells, on my city bike I have a small brass bell with the spring striker. All serve their purpose. My only complaint with the Ding Dong bells is that they resonate with the roughness of the road surface.

    Aaron

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  18. A few years back I had an electronic bell that went "Ching,Ching... Ching, Ching" followed by a female Japanese voice saying "S'cues preeze". Delightful but not loud enough.

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  19. I currently have an Incredibell Jellibell. They come in many colors and can be mounted in various positions. I like the ring; it's inoffensive. But in the rain it sounds like a sick frog. It's unreliable and often sticks, just when you need it!

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  20. I have used both types of Crane Bells. Though they work okay, my preference has changed over time with personal experience. I first bought the bells because so many other bikes carried them. I figured that other owners knew something I didn't and so went with them. I see them now as a kind of bow to GP and Rivendell ascetics. There are a few utilitarian reasons why I don't prefer them any more.

    1) The striker bell is too loud. I have to really cock it and let it go to get it to ring. In crowded situations in the city or on MUP's, it's almost offensive to pedestrians and others. They are so startled that they'll often jump into your way rather than move over to give you some room. If you're just trying to be courteous by giving gentle warning, this bell is overkill. Also when mounting, I find it difficult to tighten the mount just right so the bell isn't deadened by the pressure on the screw. If you try to ring the bell gently, you just get a thud. Even GP recognizes their over loud qualities on the Riv web site.

    2) The spring rung bell is more gentle in loudness/shrillness, but it will go off like a fire alarm when riding rough surfaces. I've got mine mounted on the stem of my touring bike and dislike having to "take my hands off the wheel" so to speak, in order to ring the bell. I've seen IncrediBell's mounted upside down on the stems of drop bars, so they could be actuated by the thumb when riding the tops of the bars. Cool indeed.

    I have now gyrated towards IncrediBell's as my go-to set up. I mount them close to the shifter/brakes on city bikes so everything is right in the "wheelhouse" or "cockpit" for the operator to access easily without having to move their hands from the control grips. You don't have to lower your eyes either, to look for the bell striker. Keep your eyes on the road and your hands on the wheel. Good advice!

    Inevitably, you'll need to ring the bell in a sketchy situation, where time and response/reaction are critical. Keeping control by staying on the grips, by the brakes and shifters, and keeping your eye on the unfolding situation is all important for a successful outcome. The IncrediBell is plenty adequate in tone/loudness without being overbearing.

    I've just built up a couple of bikes for lady friends. One is just a utility bike for groceries and short recreational rides. The other has a baby seat mounted on the rear. Both have front baskets that tend to lead to fork flop. By not having to take the hands away from the grips to ring the bells, or the eyes off the road ahead to ring the bells, the bikes are more safe and stable for the riders and cargo/child.

    San Diego weather doesn't give me too much experience with diminished bell performance when wet. I really can't speak to that.

    Ring well and be safe out there.

    OKB

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  21. Interesting to see so many mentions of IncrediBell. Oddly I have never used one. The local bike shops I frequent sell either brass bells or else those plastic bells that are shaped like cheeseburgers or say "I love bikes" on them. Otherwise, all the bells I've used have come bundled with the bikes I've owned and test ridden - so mostly of the ding dong city bike variety.

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    1. I have one on my Bike Friday and I like it because it's small, innocuous looking and makes a very loud, pleasant tone. Nice harmonics, not at all harsh. It uses a plastic striker. Function-wise, it's my favorite, but it doesn't "look the part" on my vintage bikes where a brass bell seems more appropriate. They come in all sorts of colors, including silver, which could look fairly neutral on any bike.

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    2. The lovely Celeste features a brass Incredibell mounted on the stem....not as pretty as a Crane (or the French or Italian equivalent) but as Somervillain says, small and loud, yet pleasant.
      The ring itself - the "bloom" of the note and the harmonic overtones - are different from the all metal Crane bells. There is a stronger fundamental and later harmonic overtones. The bell cuts through well in noisy situations.

      It may get replaced at some point by a stem-mounted brass or copper bell. ( Unless I can devise a pretty metal mount for it.)

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  22. Hands down the Crane Suzu for bells.
    Since the first one I've bought I've never used another. I like how there is not a single bit of plastic in the thing. It harkens back to pre-WWII design and manufacture.

    If you get the bell positioned just right in relation to the hammer's resting postion you can play it like an instrument. The spring is responsive enough to allow for soft rings (good for pedestrians cyclists in near proximity) as well as the sonorous, authoritative, clear and commanding ring the Crane is known for.

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    1. "If you get the bell positioned just right in relation to the hammer's resting postion you can play it like an instrument. The spring is responsive enough to allow for soft rings ...as well as the sonorous"

      That has been my experience also; I have not found other bells I've tried to be as versatile.

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    2. Forgot to add:

      (I'm probably not the first or only person to do this but) on my reversed North Road bars I've hung the bell "backwards" on the right hand side grip. This way a person can twitch the lever with the "trigger finger" - adds a slightly agressive feel as well as being more erogonomic.

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  23. The nice folks at Calhoun have a page on which you can listen to the many bells they carry:

    http://www.calhouncycle.com/shopcast/wp-content/uploads/bells/album/index.html

    When I want to be low-key and polite, I use the standard bell on my Brompton, which is perfectly functional when I'm on a multi-use trail and I'm riding around people who are clearly capable of hearing a low-key, polite bell, meaning they're walking in a group and socializing. If I'm approaching someone walking alone, I can also use the Crane bell that I mounted on the other side for a little more volume--I've gotten pretty good at pulling the striker back only part way. If I discover that the person I'm passing is wearing head phones, I wail on the Crane for all it's worth to ensure that they don't do something deeply stupid like step right in front of me because they don't realize I'm there. I've already slowed down a bunch and given them the berth that I'd give my own grandmother, but people can do some surprisingly silly things.

    When I'm out on the street, the only bell I use is the Crane, which is plenty audible over road noise, though probably not over Led Zeppelin played at 11 on a car stereo.

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    1. I was hoping someone would link to that, thank you! I saw it once and failed to bookmark it.

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  24. I wrote a post about bike bells a while back and got a lot of interest in the spherical brass bell which is on my daughter's bike and which I included in the post:
    http://bicyclesinnewcastle.com/2012/05/30/bicycle-bells/

    The spherical bell sounds truly lovely too, it has a wonderful sustained ring to it.

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  25. I ended up with a Mirrycle Incredibell Adjustabell (wow, a lot of made up words) for my All-City Space Horse's 31.8 mm handlebars. This was the only one I found with a big enough clamp. I'm quite pleased with it, although it is a very small ding -- I can imagine it not being suitable for big city riding.

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  26. Not sure if the reference was intentional, but "Ring Them Bells" is one of my favorite Dylan songs.

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  27. For looks the Sogreni is my favourite http://sogrenibikes.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=1&products_id=2

    I like using the brass bells and the similar ones in alu that I find on vintage french bikes.
    badmother

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  28. I've got a generic ding-dong bell on my bike, although the sound it makes is more like 'ring-ring' than ding-dong. I like that I can vary the tone by controlling how far I pull the lever, so I can make it really loud if I need to, or just a small sound as a polite reminder that you're there. Like Cyclotourist, I find it does sometimes jingle when I'm riding over rough ground, but I don't mind that - it's festive!

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  29. The Swedish bell is called "Pärlan" and is/was made in Hedemora near where I live. If u search for Pärlan and Ringklocka u can find picks of generic ones. It's an old classic, good for Sweden where we use mitten 7mos of the year.

    http://www.evaldsmtb.se/ringklocka-parlan-yws-krom-p-20581-c-820.aspx

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  30. I use brass bells, striker and spring both. One other thing: his and her bikes - get two bells that are tuned a perfect 4th apart. (sing here comes the bride: leap between 'here' and 'comes' is a P4. Or go over to Berklee and ask someone to demonstrate. )They should be *tuned*. Why P4? It sounds like Chinese bells.
    Nothing says, "BIKE!" like a bell. Pedestrians tune out yelling, or turn to get the meaning of what you are saying. But a bell gets through with the meaning intact.

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  31. I just got a beautiful brass Crane Riten rotary bell. Holy hell, do I love that bell! Cha-CHINNNnnnnnggggg....

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0SuL-BgsmAs

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  32. Material matters too, brass bells sound so much sweeter than any other metal. Louder too, which I feel is worth the price difference. I'm not too good at yelling so I need a bell to do the work for me.

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  33. I'm with you on the striker bells. I've got one on my Fuji. It's comfortable to use and LOUD. I rang it at a couple walking along a path one day and the lady literally jumped into her partner's arms whilst grabbing her chest (god, I hope she didn't actually have a heart attack while I rode away...) It's definitely an attention getter. I've thought about replacing the one that came on the Pashley with the same (Crane, I think) bell.

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  34. My favorite type of bell is the classic "ring-a-ding" type. It has a ratcheted mechanism that engages a pawl and rings the bell.

    It's easy to ring the bell with just a tap, or more loudly if needed. The bell seems to get the attention from other riders or pedestrians without being too startling.

    Here's a photo of the one I have on my Rivendell Road Standard: http://www.flickr.com/photos/37964304@N05/6036428189/in/set-72157619758078965

    It's a vintage bell, and it was purchased on eBay.

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  35. Try a Lion Bell from www.lionbellworks.co.uk.

    These are made in the UK from solid brass and sound greatttt!!!!

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  36. I have a bar end bell on my hybrid and have been disappointed with it from the beginning. There's no gusto in the bell's sound, nobody ever hears it except me. As a matter of fact, I spoke to a pedestrian I was approaching instead of using the wimpy bell - I knew he either wouldn't hear the bell or would guess it was a child's toy.

    Another annoying aspect of the bar end bell is that it tends to chime over every bump and jostle, like a little exclamation at the size of the pothole I just rolled over.

    The brass Crane bell I have on my Raleigh gives a loud, resounding ring and I am very happy with it.

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  37. Long-time reader, seldom if ever comment. Chiming in very late- hope I'm heard! I use the spring/plug-only (no lever) Crane in solid brass and like it. I don't polish it. It does need to be manually muffled when riding over rough surfaces, which I resent. I'm tempted to modify it to the Lion Bells (mentioned above) design, or maybe just move the spring down one washer in the stack to lessen the accidental rings. Anyway- I wanted to ask the commenter on the Parlan bells above if that's a rotating thumb bell like some of the Incredibells (and about that size)? Also, I'm pretty sure any of us fascinated by bike bells must have wanted one of these: http://goo.gl/uPmYv at some point. I've been trying for years and can find no other reference, let alone get my hands on one. It seems to be a tiny brass or bronze spherical ding-a-linger, with gorgeous repousse embellishment, with an integral handlebar/stem clamp. It's worth every cent of $1.50 Canadian, even all these years later.

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  38. Freon horn. That'll shift 'em.

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