If you’re new to cycling, you might be wondering about bike safety and bike laws. A helmet is the most important cycling accessory to keep you safe, but what else can you do, and what else do you need? Do you need a helmet because it’s the law? Is a bike bell required? Here’s a rundown of bike bell laws and helmet laws in the US, as well as some general bike safety information.
Just like helmet laws, bike bell laws differ by state. It is not illegal in the US to ride a bike without a bell, but some states have compulsory bike bell laws. In other words, there are no federal laws requiring bike bells, but there are certain state requirements depending on where you’re cycling.
Here’s a rundown of bike bell laws in the US, as well as some general bike safety information.
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Bike bells are an important safety feature when you’re riding in crowded areas or riding very fast. Especially if you’re surrounded by other cyclists, joggers, and pedestrians who might be wearing headphones, people might not hear you if you shout to them, “On your left!”
A bike bell is much louder and will cut through traffic noise so that people will hear you coming. Bike bells are not only louder, but they’re also more polite than shouting.
Federal Bike Bell Law in the US
It is not illegal in the US to ride a bike without a bell, but some states have compulsory bike bell laws.
Bike Bell Law by State
The following states have specific bike bell laws or regulations:
- New York
- New Jersey
- South Carolina
For example, New York requires that the bike bell be heard from at least 100 feet away.
While some states like Wisconsin, California, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, and Montana don’t specifically require bike bells by law, they do have laws requiring that cyclists warn others when they’re approaching. The warning must be audible, but in some states, like Ohio, it can’t be a whistle or a siren.
Other states might require a bike horn in certain areas, like Florida, which requires a bike horn in Orlando. As you can see, it really depends on where you are in the US. However, don’t let this dissuade you from getting a bike bell.
Cycling Etiquette: When to Ring the Bell
So you got your bike bell … now what? You should ring your bike bell whenever you’re about to pass a pedestrian or other cyclist. You should also ring your bike bell when a driver is parked and opening their car door. Getting “doored” is one of the most common cycling injuries and can be serious, resulting in broken bones, concussions, or even death. Your bike bell will warn drivers and keep you safe.
Types of Bike Bells
The classic bike bell makes a high-pitched noise by using an electric bell and gears inside a cylinder. This is the type of bike bell that most people think of and are used to hearing. It’s also generally the most affordable and the simplest to set up. It mounts on the handlebars on either the left or right side, and you usually ring it with your thumb.
Clapper bike bells are similar to the classic bike bell, but they make two “ding” sounds instead of just one because of how they’re built.
Electric bike bells run on batteries and tend to be louder than traditional bell designs, as well as somewhat customizable. Depending on where you’re riding, your bell doesn’t have to be as loud as possible, so an electric bike bell might be a good option.
Some cyclists use bike horns instead, and some use air horns. Air horns are the loudest and can even cause hearing damage at close range, so caution should be taken when using them.
Installing the Bike Bell
Depending on the type of bike bell, the installation might be as simple as a small bracket that fits over either handlebar and is secured by a screw or bolt. It’s highly recommended that the bike bell be mounted on the left handlebar regardless because the cyclist uses their right hand to shift gears.
In fact, back in the days when bikes had horns and didn’t have gears, the horns were mounted on the left side too. The assumption was that most people are right-handed and would have an easier time taking their left hand off the handlebars to sound the horn.
However, if you’re left-handed, some classic bike bells are designed with the lever flipped in such a way that you can comfortably ring it with your left thumb. If your bike bell doesn’t fit properly on your handlebars, you can buy a kit to make it fit snugly.
Additional Bike Safety Tips
See below for some tips to keep you safe while riding your bike.
The National Transportation Safety Board found that 62% of deaths from bike accidents were caused by head injuries and 32% of emergency room visits were due to head injuries. A bike helmet reduces the risk of serious head injuries by 60%. Get a helmet that fits you properly, meaning it should cover your forehead, fit snugly under your chin, have adjustable side straps, and it should not move when you move your head back and forth quickly.
Brightly Colored Clothing
One of the most common bike accidents occurs when a cyclist gets hit by an oncoming car in the left lane. The cyclist and the car will be approaching the same intersection from opposite directions, and the car will make a sudden left turn, cutting in front of the cyclist.
What happened? The driver didn’t see the cyclist until it was too late. Always check for cars turning left when you’re about to go into an intersection and wear brightly colored clothing so that cars can see you more easily. If you’re riding at night, wear clothing with a reflective stripe on it.
Just as cars have turn signals, cyclists can use hand signals so that people know when they’re about to turn. This bike law page shows a detailed explanation of what the hand signals look like. Hand signals keep you safe as a solo cyclist and if you’re riding in a group because then you can ride safe distances apart and know when a turn is coming up.
Head and Tail Lights
In bike law terminology, there are two types of lights for bikes: active and passive. An active light is powered by a battery and generally has a flashing feature as well as an on/off switch. Passive lighting includes reflectors, and in the United States, all new bikes are required by law to have them.
The specific laws requiring bike head and tail lights vary slightly by state as to when the lights need to be used (for example, between 7 pm and 7 am) and what types of lights you need, but all states require bike head and tail lights by law.
Where to Get a Bike Bell
Hopefully we’ve taught you about bike safety and convinced you to get a bike bell. If your neighborhood doesn’t have a local bike shop, you can pick one up online at Amazon, Jenson, or REI. Have fun cycling and be safe!