On your right! Ring ring!

I’ve got a question that I think my new two-wheeled buds can answer.

The query: How do Wellington cyclists indicate to others that they’re about to pass them up? I’ll ‘fess up at the start, my fingers are crossed that the answer is not silence but that’s what I’ve been hearing.

Ring my bell.

For purposes of discussion, here’s a rundown of some practices I’ve seen in other parts:

On the Mission Beach boardwalk, the main artery for scantily clad cruisers, skaters and rollers in one of San Diego’s beachiest beach communities, the dudes, bros and bikinigirls anxious to refill their big gulps of beer will shout to the more mellow meanderers: “On your left!” Or, if enough big gulps have been downed, “On your right!” As a kid, this forced me to quickly learn my right from left to prevent frantic swerves directly into their path. As I grew into a beachier cool, I realized that I simply had to stay on course and the dude/bro would navigate around me. (My partner disputes that I ever really learned my right from my left, and he may be right, but I survived my childhood with no major tragedy on the boardwalk.)

When I arrived at university in Davis, California, self-described as the bike capital of the U.S., and the new home of the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the swarm of cyclists there do the same as the wobbly riders in Mission Beach. It seemed that the beach bums and Davis’s liberal scholars had more in common than just impressive blood alcohol levels.

In Japan, I borrowed a bike from a friend’s family during some months of study in Kyoto and discovered the joy of my pealing bell. And everyone else’s pealing bells. Riding along the busy footpath near my apartment, I often laughed at the almost constant orchestra of bells alerting other cyclists and the many pedestrians of yet another happy rider.

When I first started riding in San Francisco, I confronted the bell versus horn versus shout versus awkward, hopeful, dangerous silence quandary head-on. A local friend had told me that party favors on bikes– bells and horns– are “so rude” and since he rode a bike, I believed him without doing further research. (My friend, it turns out, was more of a mountain biker, wedded to the pleasant peaceful growl of his tires on dirt.) So, I’ll claim all blame for the frightening incident when my “On your left!” almost caused a disaster on Valencia Street. It seemed I’d found myself behind another laterally-challenged cyclist who, upon hearing my intention, swerved directly into my path. Fortunately, we both survived the clip and the car behind me was able to avoid taking us both out. From then on, I realized, I needed something. I went to the bike store, found a squeaking frog and decided that San Francisco cyclists, motorists and walkers could have no issue with the croak of my horn.

Although SF cyclists responded well to my froghorn, ultimately, I switched to a bell after finding that cars seemed to find my croaker funny and not necessarily a request that they attempt not to kill me. And my bell worked all over the city of fog, without causing offense or further calamity. In fact, I think I had more fun with other riders precisely because of my bell.

Froghorn.

Now, here we are in Wellington, and I’m hearing nothing but wind and the pound of my heart when a super fast road cyclist sneaks past me on these narrow streets. And my own bell? Well, sure I ring it, but I’m feeling a little lonely about it. So, what gives, Wellington riders? Silence, I don’t think, is all that safe. So how do you get around other cyclists? And what would you like to hear when someone else is about to zoom around you?

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6 thoughts on “On your right! Ring ring!

  1. Lisa

    I’ve heard that in a few places people on bikes use one ring for ‘Just letting you know I’m here’ and two rings for ‘I’m going to pass you’. I think that’s quite a good idea although it will take time to cement it it people’s minds.

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  2. Lesley

    Good point, Megan.

    I suspect the difference is a cultural thing. I’m from the UK, where we are pretty reserved. I tend to avoid ringing my bell for fear of communicating anger or irritation. I’m worried about appearing rude.

    Perhaps the UK influence in NZ explains the difference you have noticed?

    My other half is an enthusiastic mountain biker, and he says it’s usual practice to call out “on your left” etc amongst off-road riders. (They wouldn’t be seen dead with bells on their bars of course).

    I have a point of view on car drivers who do the “parp” and run at me on the street, but I think I’ll save that for another post.

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  3. Megan

    Well, I think any kind of noisemaking should be encouraged. Maybe we should consider a ringing and honking ride sometime! I found some cheap bells in Newtown! $2.50 at Rainbow Bridge! I’m considering handing them out. I’ll post pics this week!

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  4. atom

    @Lesley – you’re “worried about appearing rude”, so instead of ringing a bell as you approach others to notify them of your presence, you come zooming out of their blindspot, through their peripheral vision, and then off into the distance? this fails the logic test: it’s much less rude to make some noise during your approach, instead of scaring the crap out of people as you pass.

    you say that you “avoid ringing [your] bell for fear of communicating anger or irritation” but as a pedestrian, often with a young child who zig-zags & hasn’t yet mastered the art of looking where he’s going, the anger and irritation i have is with cyclists who ASSume that i know they’re behind me, and ASSume that i’ll maintain a straight line.

    as a cyclist, most people hear my bell and move over; THAT KEEPS BOTH OF US SAFER. that doesn’t help when some lard-ass in the tunnel has their i-pod turned up to eleven, but there are other ways to deal with that >;)

    @Malcolm – you won’t feel silly when people move over to let you pass.

    personally, i’m against helmet laws (not against helmets, just the laws that require them for adults) but i think bell/horn laws are a good idea (except, eg, in closed-road races).

    @Megan – another source for cheap bells & lights is dealextreme.com. i got a bunch of blinkies from there, and i’ve been giving them to ninja cyclists.

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  5. Pingback: Confessional: Sometimes I ride on the pavement. /  Cycling in Wellington

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