umgray's picture

Bell Ringing on the Pathways

As my bell ringing finger is getting a work out this summer, how are other people finding the pathways and pedestrian reactions to bell ringing. I tend to only ring when two people are walking side by side and I am warning them that I am approaching and please give me a wee bit of room to pass. However, if it is one person I tend not to ring the bell as I can usually pass safely. Recently (and on several other occasions) I have rung the bell and the people on the path became startled (even though I was a considerable distance away) they did the panic deer in headlights and began crisscrossing across the path like a panicked squirrel! I literally had to slow to walking speed to pass them safely.

Am I the only one ringing the bell? Are you a consistent bell ringer? What is your bell ringing criteria? The reason I ask is the fact that legally we are to have a bell on the pathway but what is the general mood of people who we ring the bell to (or not too). I am staring to feel like the ice cream bike with all the bloody bell ringing!


Kaldrin's picture

Voice recognition

They did a study a few years ago in Britain and found that it's an instinctive reaction to something unexpected. Rather than a constant wailing of sirens, police over there broke up the sound with some static at random intervals. It worked like a charm. To that end voice is probably the best to use to get people to shift into the cognitive mode of reception rather than just reactive actions like panicking. Of course, it's hard to do if you're out of breath. :)

wwotl's picture

Bell reactions

I get all kinds of reactions to my bell, and I use it consistently whether I'm passing one person or several, including other cyclists. I also use it when I'm approaching the large packs of mindless Running Room runners out for their mob runs where they take up the entire pathway...

Most reactions can be grouped into:

People that give you a quick wave to let you know they heard your bell -- these are the folk I enjoy sharing the path with and they always get either a verbal thank you or a return wave after I've passed.

People that don't give any reaction -- you don't know if they've heard you or not. It doesn't take much effort to wave an acknowledgement...

People that spin around and face you and don't move as they're staring at you from the middle of the path -- grrrrr

People that are walking several across and don't make any acknowledgement or any movement -- people like this usually get a "idiots..." comment.

People that are too focused on their cellphone chats or their iPods and scream and yell at you after you make them jump by passing them.

Old people who don't hear your bell. I'm sure bells are pitched so that old folk don't hear them, but then you should be slowing down and passing them carefully anyway.

critninja's picture

forget the bell ringing

i have given up on using a bell in favour of whistling or using the standard "passing on the left" because far too many times i have had people turn/swerve/jump into my way as i am about to pass. i know its the law to have a bell but from where this guy sits, using a bell has offered more problems than it seemed to have solved.

mikewarren's picture


I usually say nothing unless I'm riding with someone else -- I find that at least one cyclist can get by a person before they react, which is really all you want. If someone is riding with me (i.e. following me) I'll give an "on your left" if there's not much room on the path, otherwise I'll just pass.

mike at mike dash warren dot com

kat's picture

I find that if there are two

I find that if there are two or more people walking together the person who is farthest to the left will step left, then the person beside him/her will grab his/her arm and pull him/her over to the right side.

M100's picture

you should get the

you should get the Megahorn, works loud. easy swapping from bike to bike.

vince's picture

French keyboard keeps nuking

French keyboard keeps nuking my response. .... Agree with the previous conversation. A human voice or slide down the gears works. If Im walking and someone rings the bell (which is GOOD) ... scares the crap out of me. Give you a laugh ... the first car out of uni (far-outback Australia I souped up) .... and included a set of CAT TRUCK horns. Minging towns have BIG trucks. The ULTIMATE. Had my old man come up from Sydney (32 hours drive)...... Anyhow ... we're stuck at an intersection behind someone whom doesn't want to move, the old mans in front ..... SO I PUSH THE SWITCH. Guy get's out of the car in front of my Father and abuses the crap out of my Father. I'm sitting back ....

Ringing the bells not optimum I agree ... and it doesn't always work .... 40% success ratio. I've found the sound of downshifting does. But if I find a CAT Truck horn ...I retest that theory !

ride's picture

can't win either way

Some people react negatively if you ring the bell, and others react negatively if you do. You can't win either way. If I have enough room so that I can leave at least 1 meter from the pedestrian (if I'm not passing too quickly), or 1.5-2 meters if I'm moving a bit faster, then I don't say anything or ring my bell. In fact, I consider bell-ringing an act of desperation.

One time I was riding across the Bow River bridge onto Prince's Island in the morning rush hour. All the pedestrian commuters were walking nicely on the right, except for one guy walking on the left. I ring once, quite a ways back... no reaction. I ring once more, closer, to let him I'm going past, and as I do (at about 10 km/h), he yells at me: "you f&*g cyclists, think you're so important, just ring that bell and we're supposed to jump out of the way. Well f$$%^ you!" I guess someone peed in his corn-flakes. If I hadn't rung at all, probably he wouldn't have said anything.

graham's picture

What exactly is the law?

I know you have to have a bell, or horn or whatever, but do you have to give a signal if there is lots of room to pass?

Frankie's picture

Bell Bylaw


36. A Person using a Pathway or Trail shall:
(a) exercise due care and attention to avoid colliding with any other user;
(b) exercise reasonable consideration for any other user;
(c) give an audible signal by voice, bell or other signaling device before overtaking
another user; and
(d) ensure they are visible to other users.

IMHO, nutty to require this at all times. It should be left to the discretion of users. Use your bell when you need to, otherwise don’t. As a runner I hate unnecessary ringing behind me when I am well to the right, and there is no chance of conflict.

graham's picture


For the info, as well as your perspective as a runner.

I usually try to make sure runners etc are aware of me by "clicking" my dérailleur or something else in preference to a bell. Occasionally, if they are fully to the right and lots of room with a lower overtake speed, ( uphill ) I'll just ride by fully left.

I dislike it as a rider too, when overtaken by faster riders, particularly when I have made a point of moving to the extreme right when I see them in my mirror.

funkmeister's picture

I don't use bells

The bylaw does not require you to have a bell (36c).

I let them know "On your left", or "On your right" in some cases, or if they are taking up the entire path i just yell "excuse me".

Kaldrin's picture

Road use

Highway Traffic Act only applies on legal freeways, which is generally roads, alleys, parking lots, etc. I don't think the bike pathways count as a freeway.

Cword's picture

Traffic Safety Act applies to all highways

and defines highways in this manner;

(p) “highway” means any thoroughfare, street, road, trail, avenue, parkway, driveway, viaduct, lane, alley, square, bridge, causeway, trestleway or other place or any part of any of them, whether publicly or privately owned, that the public is ordinarily entitled or permitted to use for the passage or parking of vehicles and includes
(i) a sidewalk, including a boulevard adjacent to the sidewalk,
(ii) if a ditch lies adjacent to and parallel with the roadway, the ditch, and
(iii) if a highway right of way is contained between fences or between a fence and one side of the roadway, all the land between the fences, or all the land between the fence and the edge of the roadway, as the case may be,

but does not include a place declared by regulation not to be a highway;

If the citys multi-use pathways have been declared as "not to be a highway" in a regulation somewhere (I haven't found one yet), It's still had to imagine how most folks would get on and off that pathway without using a highway.

Kaldrin's picture

I stand corrected

So Highways was the word, not Freeways...

I talked to an RCMP once when I worked nights at a store... I definitely had the impression that sidewalks and bike roadways weren't in there after walking away from that one.

Spinner's picture

Is that traffic safety act

Is that traffic safety act federal,provincial or city ? I believe the pathways are civic, except in Fish creek park which is provincial.Myself I use the on you left rule when passing.I find with all the MP3 players no-one can hear the bell,and a lot don't hear my voice.If there is plenty of room to pass,I just slow down and pass without calling out.Its the people in the middle of the path or the ones walking from side to side that I call out to warn.I spend more time on the street than the path,so for me a bell is next to useless,unless its a Zounder.I find a good loud HEY works well in traffic.

mercator's picture

The doppler effect

I ring my bell for most peds and all roller blade-types, although it is often wasted on them due to the popularity of the ipod. I usually try to ring it well in advance of passing, so I can accommodate the squirrelly ones:)

One thing I make a point of, when there is a cyclist approaching me, is to ring the bell just before they go by so they can enjoy hearing the tone change. It's like my own traveling science show. Anyone else do this?

CycleYYC's picture

It may seem radical, but it works...

I know I'm a little late to the party here, but I found this thread on bell-ringing and just had to put in my two cents.

I've always been an avid bell ringer, mostly because it's (a), the law, and (b), I'd like it if I didn't have to dodge wayward pedestrians, kids, and pets scampering all over the pathway as I'm trying to sneak past.  So for years I used my little ding bell, usually to no avail and ended up slowing to a crawl and working out my vocal chords to safely pass.  So I thought to myself "there's got to be a better solution!", and started to invent something of my own.  So to make an already-approaching long story short, I now have a small megaphone speaker mounted underneath the seat of my bicycle along with a few electronic chips and a rechargeable battery.  This all hooks up to two buttons mounted on the handlebars and emits both a loud electronic bell or even louder train horn sound (we're talking in excess of 80 db, easy).  It sort of sounds like the bell and horn noises the new C-trains blare, and I've found it to be more than effective!  Usually a few taps on the bell button is enough to get people to look behind them and step to the side, and people actually seem to enjoy the uniqueness of the sounds!  I've had countless smiles and compliments after I've sounded the thing off, so it's nice to see that it can be effective without being irritating at the same time.

So anyways, back to the original points in the thread.  Am I "a constant bell ringer"?  Yeah, you could probably say that!  My "bell ringing criteria"?  I basically just give a few taps on the bell button whenever passing people to let them know something's going to be travelling by, I let the bell loop for a bit longer if the majoirty of the pathway is being taken up, and I only resort to the train horn if there's immidiate danger or I need to get something out of the way pretty quick.  Pedestrian reactions are usually bewilderment at what is making the strange noises on the pathway, and I think I've probably startled a few people with the sounds.  In all cases people certainly step to the side and let me pass without having to worry about taking something or someone out!

In conclusion, I guess it really boils to down to safety regarding bell ringing.  I've witnessed a few close encounters between cyclists and pedestrians, and at the end of the day I'd rather drain my battery over the course of a ride sounding the thing, then be silent throughout the trip and risk a cyclist-pedestrian collision during a pass.  It's just something I think keeps our busy pathways safer!