On starting this blog it’s been my intention to discuss the big and small things that make cycling and my experience of cycling what it is. Naturally safety is always an important consideration but perhaps never more so with today’s riding conditions: traffic density, drivers, large vehicles, speed, road quality etc. Notwithstanding such extraneous issues, cycling safety must start with the cyclist and the bike. Aside from the bike’s obvious need to be in good order, small things can make a big difference; better to be pro-active and avoid an incident wherever possible.
Whilst of itself enjoyable, the lack of noise a bike makes can become a problem and may on occasion even be dangerous. Cycling on a quiet road or off-road, pedestrians may be completely unaware of your presence when approaching from behind or an unseen position. Good practice is always to slow down and perhaps utter a polite “excuse me” will suffice but often it may not. People listen out for traffic but not the cyclist, who from their point-of-view can appear silently as if from nowhere. The walker may not hear the cyclist because of other noises, the wind may carry the call away or in today’s world, most likely they are listening to music on headphones or on a mobile phone call, completely oblivious to everything around them; there has been a significant increase on road deaths as those on phones walk in front of vehicles.
In the countryside it is commonplace to come across horse riders, perhaps two abreast focused on riding or often engaged in discussion – either way they are usually unaware of cyclists when approaching from behind. There are a multiplicity of other situations where people may not be aware of passing cyclists, which could then lead to an accident.
Whilst riding along a residential road a few years ago I noticed two skateboarders ahead of me, playing around on the pavement and from time-to-time venturing onto the roadside edge. I slowed down and went to steer a wide path round them but as I approached, without warning or looking, one suddenly skated into the road and directly into me. I ended on the ground facing oncoming traffic which thankfully stopped, with grazes and torn clothing, whilst the youth skated off laughing. Looking back I don’t think there was anything I could have done to avoid this incident but it illustrates the lack of awareness cyclists often face.
However, in less extreme cases there is an answer – the bicycle bell.
A bell has never been law in the UK, though it was (I believe) until recently law to sell all new bikes with a bell; these were inevitably rubbish and soon found their way into the bin. Today it is just advisory to have that a bell should be fitted on a bike. I have long fitted a decent bell on my bikes, wherever possible one that makes a good ‘ding’ sound by flipping a spring, if necessary a few times. I prefer this to the old fashioned ‘ring-a-ding’ type as they are less aggressive and ‘say’: excuse me, rather than get out of my way. Apart from just being polite, I do not want to aggravate the situation when encountering other parties, which unfortunately can all-too-often happen nowadays. Notwithstanding, these bells are usually on the quiet side, which can and defeat the whole point of ringing.
I have for a long while sought something better, which I have just found, purchased, fitted and used – a new ‘super bell’ that has all the desired attributes: it makes a loud and sustained ‘ding’ that can be clearly heard – in fact it has a very pleasing ringing sound, not unlike bells found at hotel receptions and furthermore looks amazing.
The aforesaid super bell is, of course, Made in England by Lion Bell Works: parts manufactured in Birmingham & Barnsley then assembled in Manchester. It comes in nickel silver or the classic polished brass finish, which is what I have and can be fitted either on the handlebars or stem. Frankly it is a real beauty to look at and even better to hear. As a result I’m now always looking for an opportunity to ring it – as I did yesterday when someone just stepped in front of me without looking! Small things can make a real difference on a bike and may even be fun.