I doubt that motor-vehicle drivers can hear the "ding" sound that a bicycle bell makes. What are some better alternatives?
I'd go for the air-horn, for example the AirZound.
It is my opinion that screaming and yelling (the primal scream) can cause a lot of unnecessary social distress, and is not a good alterntive for traffic communication and signalling under normal conditions. It ends up being more effective when you're in "panic" as said, which is barely a day-by-day acceptable situation to be.
Air horns, on the other hand, save your throat, are MUCH louder, and have a more emotionaly neutral sound, adequate for signaling in traffic, specially heavy urban traffic.
One single thing is paramount, based in my experience with bell-rings: the activation lever must be easily, instantly accessible by your thumb when the hand is in braking position. If you have to move or reposition your hand in order to activate the horn, it will be underused and practically uneffective.
Hope this helps!
Screaming is faster and much more effective: I suspect it's usually best. Or use an electric horn or air horn.
The BHSI writes as follows.
We don't find that horns do much for safety on a bicycle. Your voice is faster to react and adapts better to different situations. The primal scream produces good adrenalin-based reactions in motorists and is probably your best defense in most bike/car situations. It requires no evaluation by the driver, since the panic in your voice is obvious, and it can move a car over a lane almost instantly. Curse words will not improve on that, by the way, since you will get a quicker reaction when the motorist is scared, not angry.
My usual yell is the interjection "C'mon", yelled loudly enough that I'm in pain for a couple minutes afterwards. Cars hear it fine and react quickly. (Disclaimer: I've never needed to try yelling at a driver with his stereo blasting.)
Here in Canada, drivers are relatively polite. I try not to yell at a driver unless they make a mistake, such as trying to change lanes into my path. Since I learned to ride a bike, I've yelled at dozens of drivers. No driver has ever retaliated.
Sometimes, instead of yelling, I use my voice to mimic a car horn: I loudly say, "Meep, meeeeep". Sometimes I even pinch my nose while doing so: that way, others can look around and see that it was clearly me who made the sound.
If you cannot yell — for example, if you insist on wearing a face mask — invest in a high-decibel horn. Some accept rechargeable batteries. Air horns require you to fill and carry an air bottle. Neither type is as reliable as your voice.
I have noticed that shouting (whatever words you use) is often taken personally by the drivers. It's probably the most effective and quickest to use in an emergency as described.
I've seen several cyclists with a football whistle on a lanyard round the neck (mine is on my helmet strap) that can be held loosly between the teeth.
Alternative to bells and horns is to ride more defensively. Specifically that means anticipating what might happen and proactively reacting, or at least minimising the reaction required to avoid whatever might happen.
That means riding out from parked cars by an open door width.
Slowing down or speeding up to merge with traffic should there be a pinch point or road works.
Anticipating hazards like gravel, potholes,or obscuring water puddles and getting around/over them safely.
And directly looking at the face/head of drivers who have to give way to you but might not. The human brain is wired to perceive eyeballs more, so look straight at someone with your whole face is more likely to break through the wall of perception. Dark sunglasses decrease the effectiveness of this. (I wonder if googly eyes on helmet or shirt increase this effect?)
Louder horns don't help when modern cars have loud stereos and a lot of sound isolation insulation.
Personal story - I rode an electrified MTB for a while and it was capable of 45 km/h with pedalling. Being doored at that speed on a 30+ kilo bike would have made a mess, hence riding out from parked cars all the time.
Drivers pulling out could see a fat bloke on an old MTB approaching, but they were forever underestimating my speed. I could cover 50 metres in 4 seconds (which is 30 seconds walking time) So I learned quickly to be in the lane and prepared to brake.
By eyeballing directly the driver you get a clear idea of whether they have seen you or not. Its not confrontational or threatening, its "I see you and you see me, and we each know that the other has seen us."
Depending on the situation, you may be able to "flash" your front light by covering and uncovering it with your hand. I've managed to make drivers dip their headlights with this technique, but it's not that easy to do in a rush or when braking. Of course it will only work when you're facing the car.
I've always just used my voice as a warning to pedestrians about to step in front of me, and a few instances over the years to a driver or two who wasn't paying attention to their driving. I just use a loud/sustained a "Hoooooooo", repeated as necessary, ( like Santa's Ho, Ho, Ho ), to get someones attention. It can be loud enough to attract attention and doesn't sound confrontational to pedestrians like a loud "Hey" might, and can be louder for a driver with the windows rolled up. It's quick and keeps both hands on the bars in case an avoidence move is needed. Never had problems using this method, plus there's no weight added to the bike and no maintenance ( batteries/air ) involved. Additionally, always be polite and when overtaking pedestrians on a walking path, give them a "On your left, or on your right" as needed before you pass them from behind. If bikers want respect, we must also give it!
After a few years of riding in the streets, I have found that cars will do stupid things no matter how obvious you are to them. Have you ever seen a car pull out in front of a semi? I have, those things are BIG!! For the most part, you might be able to get someone's attention after a few attempts at whatever you decide to use, sounds or lights, but in the end, you should know that it is YOUR ability to avoid the other car that will save your life and not your ability to get the driver's attention. If you try unsuccessfully to get their attention, do NOT just go in front of them and say, dang, I tried...
I spent a few years in San Francisco as a street rider, before the X-Games we rode BMX in the streets, jumping curbs and such. We just have to assume that cars WILL NOT SEE YOU! We learned to ride in a way that the cars could not hit you even in they were trying. There are some riders that are jerks and cut cars off, but those are the few (same percent of road bikes I am guessing). I even ride a big cruiser motorcycle with extra loud pipes and over bright headlight and still have people cut in front of me, it will happen no matter what you do.
The most important thing is to stay safe. Try and get their attention, but if you can't don't insist on the right of way, figure other ways around the situation.
I think the Loud Bicycle horn is potentially a fantastic answer to this problem. It's as loud as an air-horn, but has the characteristic dual-pitch that makes a car horn instantly recognizable. Nothing triggers a motorist's reflexive braking like the sound of a car horn pointing in their direction.
There are lots of awesome features:
- (reasonably) light weight at 23oz
- runs via a rechargeable battery which holds a charge for one to two months
- can be honked for 30 consecutive seconds on a charge.
Disclaimer: I am not associated with the product beyond having backed the Kickstarter, and thinking that it's a great product.