I’m surprised by the number of bicyclists I see who don’t have bells on their bikes. I suppose some might view them as childish and uncool, but I find them to be an important safety item and I think of them as the goodwill ambassadors of the bike trail.
Horns are for cars
I tried one of those super-loud air horns made for bicycles. I found it largely ineffective for getting the attention of motorists, but far too loud for use on multi-use paths and bike lanes. Every time I used the horn on a path to get someone’s attention, they practically leapt off the trail they were startled so badly. Needless to say, this is not an effective way to develop good relations between bicyclists and other trail users.
The old “on your left” method for announcing your approach is OK among seasoned bicyclists because they’re accustomed to hearing it, but casual bicyclists and pedestrians have no idea what it means, particularly when it’s yelled at them from behind. Like the horn, more often than not it startles other trail users and reinforces the stereotype that bicyclists are rude and unsafe.
The friendly bell
Bells, if used properly, signal your presence to other non-motorized road and trail users in a gentle, polite manner. I think this is very important.
I usually ring my bell a couple of times from a fair distance to give others an opportunity to figure out where the sound is coming from, then, if they don’t respond, I slow and give a couple of more rings as I get closer. This works nearly 100% of the time and I rarely startle anyone.
Consider the friendly bell if you don’t already use one. Approaching others carefully and politely builds goodwill and presents a positive image of bicyclists and bicycling, something we should all be trying to do.