How This Bicycle Bell Took Over America, And Why It Disappeared

Illustration for article titled How This Bicycle Bell Took Over America, And Why It Disappeared

The reverberating ring of bicycle bells ranks up there with ice cream truck music, in the pantheon of our favorite summer sounds. But is the bicycle bell that you remember still the one you hear around? Think carefully before you answer.


In a discussion about on-screen sound effects, commenter q-Tzal noted that, while the standard bicycle bell sound effect still is common on-screen (see the video below for an example), off-screen you're more likely to hear something quite different. Of course, cyclists still need to have some kind of bell signal to warn other cyclists, motorists or pedestrians of their presence (and, in some cases, are required to have them).

But the multi-ring tone that most people still associate with cyclists — which was once the most common of bicycle bells — has been replaced by something a little simpler: a single ding bell.

"The" Bicycle Bell" Sound Effect:

It is a cultural artifact in America that tells our subconscious "Hey! There's a bicycle nearby" so effectively that it is the only SFX that is ever used for bicycles in a non-bicycle centric movie.

It also works very well for the same effect in reality.

There are 3 problems with these multiple strike ringers:

  • The good ones are hard to find in stores and even the bad ones are stocked less
  • The best imported versions of this stereotypical multiple strike bike bell are not as loud as the single bike bells from companies like Incredibell
  • The single strike bells have usually only one moving part where the SFX bell usually has the lever, some gears and a return spring. They require more maintenance and wear out more quickly.

Consequently the bell SFX you hear in movies is actually the least likely sound you'll hear from a bicycle in the United States.

Top image: Masson / Shutterstock



Barely anyone around here bothers with bells, because they're all selfish idiots who dangerously speed on the footpath.