Cycling is having a moment. Even though it has been impossible to get new bikes in Nova Scotia, we have certainly seen an increase in cycling across the province. Cycling Nova Scotia has heard from Yarmouth to Sydney that the trails are full of people. While we are lucky to have such amazing trails in the province, we aren’t used to the kind of traffic that we are seeing now, and that can raise some conflict between users. And the thing we hear about the most, is bells.

Bicycles are an incredibly efficient, and quiet, transportation tool. It can be scary to have a bicycle appear suddenly beside you, sometimes feeling a lot closer than necessary whizzing past you on the path. Especially at night on lower trafficked trails, it isn’t a pleasant experience to be surprised by a fast moving vehicle.

Why A Bell?

I have traditionally been somewhat anti-bell and haven’t always had one fitted on my bike for two reasons: 1. They feel aggressive towards pedestrians and 2. People in cars can’t hear them anyway. I thought the best thing to do on the trial was to slow down, say a friendly little “on your left” and then go around if there is room (or wait until there is room) and give a quick “thanks” before speeding up again once past the person. Though to be fair, I am not often trying to beat my Strava times.

However, moving to Nova Scotia it became clear to me quickly in my conversations with trail groups that the expectation for bicycles to “Pass with Class”, is for us to ring our bells. I have heard this from a number of people on trails, and Halifax’s new etiquette signs on the Chain of Lakes Trail specifically identifies that bells should be used when passing.

And it makes sense, nothing says “bicycle coming through” better than a bell. The noise travels much better, even when other trail users may be hard of hearing or using headphones. Additionally, it may be better for our collective perception (and our throats) than yelling, even politely, that we are approaching.

New to bells? –Ring it early, not often and be ready for anything

It is a good idea to ring twice, if you only ring it once, you risk not being heard. If it appears someone hasn’t heard, you can ring more, but run the risk of alienating your fellow trial user when you need them the most. Reactions to the bell can vary greatly, so be prepared for anything. It is still a good idea to reduce speed a bit, particularly on some of our narrower trials and ensure that there is a comfortable amount of space. And in situations where people are able to move out of the way, always a good idea to give a quick thanks!

STILL Not Sure About A Bell?

While you legally must have a bell fitted to your bicycle, one option to get the benefits of a bell while toning down the aggression is to buy a bell. A ‘jingle bell’ if you will. That way, pedestrians on trails can hear you coming, without you needing to change hand position or sound the pointed tone. I have recently adopted this practice and it makes my rides much more joyful. Neither of these methods will work if an individual is deaf, hard of hearing, or wearing noise cancelling headphones, so make sure you give people lots of space and prepare to slow down to pass other trial users safely.

We need to make bicycle bells a common noise in all our shared spaces, trails and streets. This is the best way to ensure that noise is interpreted as a courteous ring, not a rude ding.


Alison Carlyle is a former Director of Blue Route Development and Cycling Advocacy at Cycling Nova Scotia. For more information on trail etiquette, visit the Cycling Nova Scotia website.