a peek inside the fishbowl

29 Jun, 2011

To ring, or not to ring

Posted by andrea tomkins in: - Westboro|Yaktivism

Where do you stand on bike bell usage?

The girls are fairly competent bike riders now (remember our bike ride to Quebec?). It’s always been a dream of mine to be the parent of a family who goes on long rambling bike rides together. The sad reality is that bike rides around Ottawa are still frought with danger and rather stressful and worrisome for me.

I still worry about them having an accident as a result of an errant pothole or someone’s drifting attention (whether it’s their own or that of a driver or a fellow cyclist).

I think that more than anything, they should be most afraid of cyclists, not cars or potholes. My biggest issue is with riders’ lack of bell usage. I am terrified that my kids are going to be knocked over or run down by a cyclist.

If one cyclist passes another cyclist or any other person engaged in any activity on the bike path (i.e. walking, rollerblading, running) they are required to ring their bell in order to notify them of their passing. It’s the law.

It’s not rude, it’s not pushy, it’s a courtesy, a safety issue… especially for kids who are learning how to use the path.

The bell is an auditory cue that must be interpreted as: “HELLO, I’m here! I’m about to pass so don’t do anything crazy.”

And not: “Get the frig out of my way before I run you down you hoser.”

When a cyclist rings their bell this is what you (as a cyclist or pedestrian) need to do; stay the course! Don’t stop or turn around or take a step in any direction. The approaching cyclist should be able to anticipate the fact that you’re moving in a straight line.

Cyclists, when you ring your bell, do it so people have time to react. And then say thank you to that person, because that’s a nice thing to do.

The vast majority of people on the paths do not ring their bell. And I hate to say this because it’s so tar-and-feather of me, but I can honestly say that the worst offenders are the most accomplished racers, the ones outfitted in the greatest ration of spandex and cycling gear. They whiz past us at high speeds, sometimes within mere inches. It makes me ill to think that someone could get so badly hurt. What if one of the girls chose that moment to stick her arm (“Hey mum look at that!”) or veered to avoid something, or accidentally happened to stray toward the yellow line in the dreamy way that they do sometimes?

The other day the girls and I were on our bikes when a younger man zoomed past us. I’d had just about all I could take.

“USE YOUR BELL,” I shouted.

Within two or three minutes it happened again, this time with an older man. This time he really startled Sarah.


Here’s the thing, we stopped at some lights and we caught up to them. They were father and son. I let them have it while we waited for the light to change. They didn’t say much in their defense. They seemed sheepish. One had a bell, the other didn’t.

Poor Emma, she thought I scared them.

I was crazy mum. Shaking with anger, frustration and fear.

Perhaps I should have been nicer, but when Mama Bear gets out there is really no stopping her, is there?

Please Ottawa, I beg you, ring your bell as you approach anyone on the bike path. The path is there for all of us and we need to make it as safe a place as we can for everyone. Thank you.

34 Responses to "To ring, or not to ring"

1 | AllisonP

June 29th, 2011 at 11:38 am


As a regular dog-walker on paths I appreciate a bell ring and the time to react. Yes, it sometimes startles me but at least I know they are coming.

My dog actually got clipped by a cyclist who either didn’t have a bell or didn’t bother to use it and then didn’t bother to stop when it happened.

So I’m all for bell-ringin’ and hell-givin’ when required.

2 | Mark

June 29th, 2011 at 11:40 am


As someone who cycles to work I can confirm that rarely do people ring their bell when passing. I’ve kind of gotten used to it. There are certainly visual clues that should let you know it’s time to ring your bell…things like people walking dogs, young children on the path, wandering tourists. All reasons to give fair warning as you approach.

As an aside, my favourite are the people that yell LEFT! (to indicate they are passing on your left) when they are directly beside you thus startling you with the fact that someone has just yelled in your ear from a foot away.

Get a bell for corn’s sake.

3 | andrea

June 29th, 2011 at 11:41 am


I meant to mention the dog walkers too. YES. It’s so important. I tend to walk way over on the grass for this exact reason. Thank you Allison for the reminder!

4 | Glen Gower

June 29th, 2011 at 11:51 am


Thanks for this post Andrea, totally agree with you.
Also I’m amazed at how many people don’t have bells on their bikes. It’s one of the cheapest safety features you can buy and there’s no excuse not to have one.

5 | Lorrie Douthwright

June 29th, 2011 at 12:01 pm


I ding, but my husband is always embarrassed when I do. I know I’m saying – hello, I’m here and will be beside you in a second. He feels it has more of a bossy get out of the way tone. I think either way you take it saves accidents.

6 | andrea

June 29th, 2011 at 12:05 pm


I think you made a good point Lorrie. It’s a tiny DING. Of course it says ‘hello’ … now if you had a bullhorn or something it might be interpreted slightly differently.

7 | Lisa

June 29th, 2011 at 12:10 pm


Great post! As a cyclist, this made me laugh. I’ve been yelled at for ringing the bell, and I’ve been yelled at for not ringing the bell (during a brief period when I was tired of being yelled at).

I love your instructions for what to do when a cyclist rings their bell. Maybe you could add, “Don’t yell at them!”.

8 | Finola

June 29th, 2011 at 12:24 pm


Great post Andrea. I’m an active cyclist, and we are a cycling family too. I like to think of myself as a rule-following, courteous, and assertive (not aggressive) cyclist. These are all important in my opinion for staying safe on the roads.

In reading your link, I believe that it is the law to have a bell, but ringing the bell seems to come under the ‘rules’ section for using the paths – or am I missing something? I am always careful to ring my bell when I am passing children, pets, geese that are too close to the path, or meanderers, but I don’t necessarily use it every time I pass another adult cyclist or walker. When I am biking or walking on the paths, I am aware that I need to focus on staying to the right, and if I want to move out in my lane, I need to shoulder check. I wouldn’t want every cyclist who passes me to ring their bell because I think it’s distracting and disruptive. I am aware that people will be passing.

BUT, people should not pass at high speed, or too close to the other person. I think it comes down to common sense and common courtesy too.

9 | Valerie

June 29th, 2011 at 12:52 pm


I think Finola is right that the law is to have a bell, not to use it. I tend to ring or call out “on your left” (from a distance) if people seem to be wandering. And I slow way down for kids, especially after we ran into a young boy on a bike that swerved the wrong way on hearing our bell (no one hurt, TG). On the tandem, triplet, or quad (though we rarely ride them on paths, due to speed), we tell the kids to ring and they go a little crazy. Most people just laugh. We also buy “ching ching” bells or “honka honka” horns which seem friendlier than the single “ding” bell which is so prevalent in bike stores.

10 | Ross Brown

June 29th, 2011 at 12:54 pm


I liked this post, Andrea. I use my bell and I thank those who stay the course and allow me to pass in safety.

Bikers need to remember that on the recreational paths, the speed limit is 20 kph. If you’re a biker who wants a workout, consider the road.

By the same token, pedestrians and biking families on the paths must stay on their side of the path. If you have a young child who is cycling on the path, you need to educate that child about the rules–to not cross the line without checking first, to pull over before stopping, and to continue moving in a straight path when they hear that bell.

I have been run off the road by kids who zig-zag or turn suddenly, after I have indicated, with my bell, that I intended to pass.

Everyone who uses the recreational paths should know the rules so that everyone stays safe.

11 | binki

June 29th, 2011 at 12:55 pm


YES, RING YOUR BELL. Thanks for this post. I don’t bring my cycling kids (a bit wobbly) on the bike paths because it’s way too dangerous, and seems to be getting more dangerous.

One “ding” about 10m (30 feet) is perfect. Oh and unless you’re passing a fast confident cyclist, you MUST slow down. I’m saying this a very experienced cyclist. I ding and slow down, if I cycle on a bike path. I almost always cycle on the road. Much safer.

Totally agree with the spandex crowd being STUPID for racing on a bike path. You want to race? Use the road. IDIOT. I’ve been passed, while walking with my girls, by a large group of spandex cyclists moving a high speed. No advance warning at all. Oh and we were doing the Terry Fox Walk (in Aylmer).

12 | andrea

June 29th, 2011 at 12:59 pm


Hmm. I’m not sure now if it’s actually “law” or just a “rule” but it doesn’t really matter. I don’t think it should be left as an option for the cyclist to decide whether or not the situation warrants a ding (or a ‘honk’ or a ‘hey there’) or not. Everyone has to use start doing it otherwise the system doesn’t work and is set up for failure.

13 | andrea

June 29th, 2011 at 12:59 pm


And if it can prevent an accident, what’s the big deal?

14 | kaitlin

June 29th, 2011 at 1:27 pm


My understanding is that it’s technically a law on the NCC Pathways, for which you could be fined by a conservation officer. At the very least, Quebec law requires that each bicycle is equipped with a working light and bell.

The key for me is that it doesn’t have to be a bell, but some form of communication. It kind of startles me when someone says, “on your left”, but it’s also much more communicative that just “ding” and I’m alright with that.

I think everyone who uses the bike paths need to understand that it is a shared pathway. You, as a cyclist (recreational or commuting) have the same right to be there as anyone else and as long as the pathway isn’t closed, that needs to be respected.

For example, my husband & I went biking the weekend of the CN Bike Weekend. The bike race was taking place on roads, but there were some walkers using the bike path – but the bike path (the Ottawa River Pathway) was not officially closed. We stumbled upon nearly a hundred walkers, some with children. We tried our best to keep to the side and be as communicative as possible, but at one point someone yelled “this is OUR path way. You don’t belong on it!” And that really frustrated me. Possibly more so than someone forgetting to ring their bell ;)

15 | Siobhan

June 29th, 2011 at 1:48 pm


I’m kind of surprised no one has developed some sort of bike chimes. Something that makes a pleasant sound while you’re cycling – something people can hear from a distance, and they can tell if you’re getting closer because the chimes would get louder. The reason it can be startling to hear the bike bell is that bikes are so quiet otherwise – I wonder if there’s a pleasant way to make them a bit louder and give everyone a bit more warning? It would probably still be a good idea to ring a bell or yell out “to you left!”, but it wouldn’t be as startling if you’d already heard them in the distance.

In the mean time, I like the option of finding a more fun sounding bell that’s not as harsh as the basic ones.

16 | Mary V.

June 29th, 2011 at 2:08 pm


Whether it’s the law or not isn’t really the point – it’s just plain silly to not ring your bell to let people know you’re coming.

My six-year-olds and I enjoy rambling through the paths that cut through Beaverbrook in kanata and I’m trying to teach them to be good bell ringers. It always amazes me how many pedestrians give us this look like we’re being rude. Hello, I’m just trying to tell you we’re riding past!

Yeah, I don’t get why people don’t use their bell. Just as I don’t understand why parents on family bike rides make their kids strap on a helmet but they ride helmet-less. Are little Timmy and Tammy supposed to scoop your brains off the sidewalk for you? Just wondering.

17 | Fiona

June 29th, 2011 at 3:14 pm


I accompany my bell ding with “Passing on your left” so people don’t step out in front of me and try to say it in a very friendly way I’ve also be training my children when on NCC pathways to walk FACING traffic, as if they are on a roadway. That way we can see cyclists, cyclists can make eye contact with us and we can step off the path if we choose to.

18 | Marc B.

June 29th, 2011 at 3:35 pm


I definitely understand your concerns. I don’t have a bell, but I do yell “Passing on your left/right!” depending on the situation.

19 | Sasha

June 29th, 2011 at 3:35 pm


I think it’s mostly an education issue – many people probably honestly don’t realize it’s a courtesy, not an obnoxious act. I know I didn’t ring before I learned this – and I got yelled at for it once too – although what irked me then was that the person (a path patroller) who yelled had already seen me coming. I was sorely tempted to slam on the brakes and tell her why I hadn’t rung.

But anyways – i was reflecting just the other day that some bold, simple signage along the paths could go a long way.


That’s it. In something less demure than the current NCC signage colour scheme. It would tell cyclists what they need to do, and tell pedestrians that they’re not just being pushy.

I may take the same approach as Fiona, once my girls are out of the stroller on the pathways. But if I do, we’ll definitely be stepping off the path for the oncoming traffic – its their lane.

20 | Cheryl

June 29th, 2011 at 3:50 pm


Go mamma bear!! I feel the same way. One of the first things I did when I started taking my family biking was to teach them to use their bells when passing…it’s so much safer.

21 | Lorrie Douthwright

June 29th, 2011 at 4:21 pm


I like Sasha’s idea. …and now I can’t stop singing, “ring my beeelll, ring my bell”

22 | Dee

June 29th, 2011 at 5:19 pm


Please ring your bell! It gives people the heads up to not gesticulate quite so much, not to move to the side when acting out a conversation, and so on. Having almost smacked a cyclist in the face while gesticulating, it’s truly for the good of all parties to give us chatty walkers a heads up.

23 | Natalie

June 29th, 2011 at 8:33 pm


Thank you for posting this! I am wholeheartedly with you on this and I am quite bearish when it comes to using the path with my three little ones both on bikes and on foot. We are teaching the kids to use the bells and we really appreciate it when others do too. To me, safety issues are non-negotiable. Sasha’s idea of signage along paths is a good one. A little path etiquette goes along way :)

24 | Laura

June 29th, 2011 at 9:32 pm


Thank you for this post. I appreciate whenever someone rings the bell. If they say they are passing on the left/right that’s even better. I also thank them as they ride past.

(Another HUGE fear of mine is cyclists that run stop signs – but that is off topic.)

25 | lacoop

June 30th, 2011 at 6:04 am


Totally agree. I have also just accepted that I have to bike slow on the pathways, because there are young people, old people, pedestrians, pets and everything else. We bikers often complain about cars and their selfish attitude…and then I see bikers who exhibit the same behaviour. Slow down and everyone will be OK. If you want to go fast, get on the road (where I also go slow to give myself room to deal with parked cars where someone can open the door). My commute to work is probably 15 minutes longer because of this approach…but I am never stressed out.

26 | Warren

June 30th, 2011 at 8:29 am


When I cycle, I always ring. I hate seeing people panic, though, because they often think that I’m ringing it to tell them to move out of my way.

I probably need a second bell that sounds more polite (or, as someone mentioned above, “bike chimes”).

27 | Steph

June 30th, 2011 at 10:00 am


Ottawa cyclists are terrible, most don’t use a bell. It is like a car horn, people here think these tools are only for expressing anger rather than letting others knw what is going on around them. Come to think of it, put turns signals in the same list.

28 | Adrian

June 30th, 2011 at 10:01 am


A bigger problem seemingly is people riding faster than the 20 km/h recommendatory speed.

29 | Scott Paterson

June 30th, 2011 at 10:04 am


I’d prefer if pedestrians would step a little to the right when I ring my bell rather than “stay the course”. I realize that we all share the path, but far too often they’re walking down the middle of the path and if it’s narrow, it can make passing tricky in some areas.

30 | Ken

July 1st, 2011 at 12:20 am


I agree bells are wonderful.
I am a regular cyclist on the pathways and the road. My road bike has no bell and I like it like that. It never goes on paths so it doesn’t need it.
However my commuter/mountain bike does have a bell that I don’t always use.

Kids tend to turn around and step in front of me if I ring from 5 metres away,and not hear it if I ring from 20 metres away. Exercisers same thing, only then they yell at me for either ringing too close or not ringing, even if I have.
Older people (sorry about the serotype) get confused and either leap out of the way, making me feel guilty, or they start looking around wondering what THAT noise was.
People together, on MP3’s or phones never hear.

So I make judgements as I go.
–single, middle aged, moving fast, no earphones – one ding at 5 metres.
— kids together, talking, spread across path – lots of dings starting 20 metres awaay. the non-verbal “get out of the way”
— older, wandering – one ding and a “on your left” as I go by.
— jogger with Ipod – no ring

just like driving quick decisions need to be made for every diferent situation. If cyclists don’t feel comfortable with this maybe a playing card in the spokes, just like when we were kids, would be good to warn everyone that something is coming.

31 | coffee with julie

July 2nd, 2011 at 11:45 am


We encountered this kind of thing all day yesterday as we were biking. We are in a habit of always calling out “passing on your left” and yet not one other biker did us the same courtesy (calling or ringing). It really makes me nervous for my daughter … it would be awful to be knocked from behind by an adult biker going full speed. Instead, I was at the back and anytime a biker started passing me I would call out ahead to hubby and my daughter “Someone’s passing on the left!!!”

32 | WTL

July 2nd, 2011 at 12:53 pm


I use my bell regularly when cycling, and am often dismayed when others don’t. I’m not sure why they don’t use their bell – nearly everyone has one (it’s the law, after all), so what’s the big deal for not using it?

33 | Lana

July 7th, 2011 at 4:35 pm


I normally give a polite ‘ding’ when passing.. during “run club” on Sunday mornings? A more aggressive… DING DING. Often several times. Because they never move! Ever! ARRRGH!

34 | A bit about Sunday Bikedays a.k.a. Alcatel-Lucent Sunday Bikedays >> a peek inside the fishbowl

July 8th, 2013 at 9:18 am


[…] seems to be optional (a personal bugaboo of mine and something I’ve written about before) so prepare to be passed at high-speeds. Some families may be more comfortable sticking to the bike […]

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My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human offspring: Emma (23) and Sarah (21). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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