In Search of the Best Bike Bell: The Bikeway Shootout.
Whether used to warn ‘slow-walkers’ or just say hello in a universal language, bike bells rule. In our search for the best bike bell for the job, we narrowed our choices down to five contenders. Here’s our take on each. And read on to see which one really rang our bell. Ding ding.
To set the record straight, if someone told me a couple years back I’d be writing about bike bells, I’d have shuddered in disbelief. However, these days I love a good bike bell, so why not? For bikepacking — especially that of the dirt-touring variety — a bell is a key piece of equipment in my book. Ringing a bell is a polite way of letting people know that you are approaching. A little advanced warning goes a long way towards avoiding collisions. It also spares the unaware pedestrian the potential heart-pounding terror experienced by some humans when they are surprised. So in a sense, bells help keep peace between trail user groups. What’s more, a pleasant ring is just a nice way of acknowledging someone. Kids seem to get an especially big kick out of such melodic salutations.
Recently, the bike bell has also become a necessity for my everyday afternoon mountain bike rides. I live right on a bike path that gains access to singletrack after just a mile and a half. Even though it’s technically a ‘bikeway’, I usually have to negotiate a few human obstacles en route to forest trail solace. I’ll encounter a couple of joggers, ‘slow-walkers’, or spandex-clad headphone addicts who seem to opt for the absolute center of the narrow gravel path. On many occasions I’ve been stuck behind an older couple for what seemed like an eternity. In an effort to avoid actually speaking to someone, I’ve tried to get their attention via a solid shift ‘clunk’ or by backspinning my I9 freehub. That rarely works, so I’m forced to politely say “excuse me” a few times before they take notice. What I needed was a bell. So I decided that the bikeway would be the perfect bike bell proving ground.
After doing a little preliminary homework, we selected five different bells to test — all of which had ringing reviews. After trying each, both on the bikeway and bikepacking, I realized my criteria for finding the best bike bell is threefold: 1. Its tone must be perfect (in many cases bells are either unpleasant, too quiet, too high pitched, or too deep) 2. It needs to work with various bag configurations and cables, and 3. It has to be easily operable in terms of both its interface and positioning. Here are the five bells we tried, listed in alphabetical order, each with a short review followed by my findings at the end.
Best known for its eclectic range of blinky lights, locks, and accessories, Knog envisioned a bike bell that broke the mold – the Australian company didn’t get why bike bells had to ‘look and sound a bit ugly’. So with a lot of research, Knog designed its own from scratch. In lieu of a traditional dome, the Oi is designed around a hollow alloy cylinder and a plastic clamp that hugs the handlebar. The result is a subtle, unobtrusive component that works with the bars, has less cable interference, and is nice to look at.
The Oi is available in two sizes — the 31.8mm for the handlebar area close to the stem on most modern mountain and drop-bar bikes, and 22.2mm, which perfectly fits next to the shifter and/or brake levers on a flat bar. By using the included shims, the larger bell can also be reduced to fit 25.4 or 26mm bars. With its single allen bolt design, the Oi is easy to install without removing controls or grips. We tried both the large and the small sizes but preferred the small to enable access at the grip position for mountain bike handlebars. On flat bars the large requires a hand to leave the grip and reach towards the stem to ring, whereas the small version can be mounted alongside the shifter and operated with your thumb. The spring-operated lever is easy to use, and although it is plastic and looks relatively flimsy, we’ve put about 600 miles on it without issue. It’s also worth noting that the Oi was designed with an integrated channel so the large works well on drop bars allowing the bell to be mounted over the cables.
In terms of its sound, the small Knog OI’s cylindrical ring produces a very pleasant tone that’s kind of middle pitched. It’s also not too loud, and while it’s the quietest in this grouping, I didn’t find it too quiet. While using this bell, I rarely had problems warning pedestrians of my approach from 10, or even 20, feet back. The Oi metal ring comes in four anodized color options, brass, silver, black, copper, or silver.
- Weight (small): 17g (0.6oz)
- Tone: Medium to high
- Price: $19.95
- Place of Manufacture: China
- Contact: knog.com.au
The Orp Bike Horn
First let me say that this isn’t your average bike bell, and it’s a huge departure from the rest of the subjects listed here. The ORP isn’t actually a bell. Instead, it’s a battery operated bike horn that produces two digitally-generated sounds — a ‘friendly’ sound that’s reminiscent of a ‘bleep-bloop’ submarine style noise, and an aggressive and slightly annoying buzzer. I have to be honest, the ORP wasn’t for me, so I only used it a couple of times. During my limited testing, I used it on one day when there were plenty of walkers and joggers out on the trail. I literally scared one lady into the bushes… and that was with the claimed 75db ‘friendly’ sound — the 96db sound could have given her a heart attack. Fortunately she was good natured about it, smiled, and said “I didn’t know what that was!”
I will add that there’s a place for the ORP. It has a lot of features. In addition to the two-way sound lever, it also has two 70 lumen LEDs. Aside from lighting up when the horn switch is pressed, maximizing the impact, the lights have five modes controlled with a top push button. ORP claims the battery life is about three hours with the lights at their full 140 lumen constant. So really it’s a light and a noisemaker. It’s also USB rechargeable.
The ORP shell and strap is constructed out of a jelly rubber and comes in several colors including the one shown… Snot Green. Each ORP also comes with a RemOrp… a minimal wired remote that you can strap next to your shift lever to allow thumb access. This is an especially nice option for drop bars as it can be strapped next to the hoods for easy access. If you are a commuter or planning on cycling somewhere that might require aggressive ‘defensive’ biking, this might be your tool of choice. However, if you are looking for a bell for a friendly ‘hello’ or ‘please slide over’, this isn’t the one.
- Weight: 89g (3.17oz)
- Tone: Loud!
- Price: $65
- Place of Manufacture: China
- Contact: OrpLand.com
Back in 2014, Spurcycle set out to renovate the bicycle bell and eliminate several issues that plagued the clunker bells of the past. No more bump induced unwarranted dings, or improperly fitting giant bells. In their words they “tasked [themselves] with distilling your average clunker bell into a smaller, more potent, and more streamlined form.” When you hear, “I want one of those,” synonymously with bike bell it’s likely in reference to the Spurcycle bell. Proving they did something right — and timely — Spurcycle collected an astounding $331,938 through Kickstarter between August and September of 2014.
Indeed they met their mark. The result is an elegantly crafted all metal bell constructed from stainless steel, aluminum, and brass — aside from the rubber sound dampener that fits against the handlebars. This is refreshing considering most of the other options here are made up of plastic bits. The dome shaped bell has a top allen bolt that tightens the assembly against the bars via one of two included metal straps (large for dropbars and 31.8mm, and one for smaller bars or next to the grip on a mountain bike bar). The Spurcycle Bell is perfectly streamlined to fit almost any handlebar and be relatively unobtrusive. We tried it alongside a gas tank, feedbag, and a handlebar bag without any issues.
The Spurcycle Bell is made in the USA and comes in silver for $49 or black for $59. Arguably the most classically attractive bell of the bunch, the Spurcycle bell also possesses the most pure sound and resonates for quite some time. My one small complaint is that it’s a little high pitched for my taste. It has the highest pitch of the group and is also the loudest — other than the ORP. As with other bells here, you can visit their site to hear a sample of the bell (although they never quite do them justice).
- Weight: 42g (1.48oz)
- Tone: Sustained high pitch (loudest of group)
- Price: $59
- Place of Manufacture: USA
- Contact: Spurcycle.com
I’ll start this off with a story about an incident that occurred two weeks ago. My wife Virginia was riding a two-way twisty and semi-technical trail in Pisgah (Brevard, NC) when she came around a tight corner and met another rider head on. Without time to brake, they plowed into one another, and she landed with her chin impaled by a rhododendron branch. After several stitches, the one inch deep stab wound is pretty well healed. Had the laceration been a few inches lower, the outcome could have been far worse. Had she been using a Timberbell at the time, the whole accident may have been avoided.
When I first heard of the Timberbell, I thought it was kind of an odd solution to a problem that didn’t really exist. Obviously I was wrong. This quirky looking contraption works by way of a small metal ball suspended inside a steel bell on a semi-stiff cable. When the bell is “unlocked,” the ball moves freely with the bumps and dips that naturally occur on a mountain bike trail, creating a pleasantly pitched cowbell-like ding. When you want to enjoy quiet, the Timberbell can be switched off with a lever that pulls the ball against the top of the bell, so that it can’t move. In addition, the Timberbell lever can also be fine tuned in the middle somewhere to ring less or more, depending on your desired outcome. On winding singletrack, or more fitting with the name, falling descents, let her loose to continuously warn folks that you’re coming their way. T-I-M-B-E-R! Get it? Better yet, on multi-use tracks, the Timberbell can be used to keep other trail users abreast of your location. A pretty good step towards responsible trail-use.
Honestly, the Timberbell has what I would consider one of the most pleasing sounds of the bells listed here. It’s comes in either a bolt-on model or quick release for $20. Neither require grip removal for installation. Last but not least, even on non-bumpy terrain, the Timberbell can be rung in the ‘open’ setting by simply jiggling the handlebars.
- Weight (O-ring version): 70g (2.47oz)
- Tone: cowbellish/pleasant/full
- Price: $20
- Place of Manufacture: China
- Contact: mtbbell.com
Van Nicholas Titanium Bike Bell
Dutch titanium specialists, Van Nicholas, are known for their brushed Ti finished high-end road bikes and components. To complement their lineup Van Nicholas created a very unique bell that’s made of 100% titanium. While it’s not the most user-friendly of the group, it is definitely wins the design award. It has a four piece construction, all titanium, consisting of the bell welded to a threaded rod, the top half of the mount which also consists of the swirling spring lever, the bottom mount half that connects via a nice horseshoe miter, and a single T20 bolt. The design is stunningly simple and beautiful.
Van Nicholas makes two versions of the bell and we tested the larger version, which only works on the interior 31.8 position of a mountain bike handlebar or that of a drop bar. Van Nicholas doesn’t include any kind of spacer or shim, although the other version (which I’d have preferred) is a 22.2mm diameter which should work next to the grips on a flat bar.
The Van Nicholas bell has a pleasant sound, overall. My one complaint is that it has a slight buzz that comes from the spring lever. Not a big deal though. It also is quite expensive at 89 Euros. But, it is all titanium!
- Weight: 34g (1.2oz)
- Tone: Medium-high/not too loud
- Price: 89€
- Place of Manufacture: The Netherlands
- Contact: vannicholas.com
Wrap up: which is the best bike bell of the group?
At this point, most folks will probably want to know our favorite of the group. In terms of pitch, the Spurcycle Bell has the highest ring, followed by the Van Nicholas, the Timberbell, and the small Knog OI, which has the deepest pitch. I’ll also add that the Spurcycle and Timberbell have the most ‘pure’ tones. Of the two metal only bells, the Spurcycle’s lasts forever, while the funky metal lever on the Van Nicholas creates a little vibration interference. The Oi’s sound is slightly deadened by the plastic clamp, although it’s still very pleasant and effective.
As far as how well the bells work with different bikepacking bags, both the Oi, Spurcycle, and Timberbell all have multiple mounting possibilities and are fairly bag friendly. The issue I had with ORP is that it could only be positioned at the 31.8mm wide area of a MTB handlebar (or dropbar) whereas the Timberbell (clamp version) and Spurcycle each had options to fit them adjacent to the grips as well. The Oi and Van Nicholas each come in two sizes… a large for 31.8mm or dropbars, and the small, designed specifically for the grip position on a mountain bike.
Overall I’d have to say that my go-to favorite is the small Knog Oi bell. For $20, it’s incredibly lightweight, has a very pleasant yet effective tone, looks really sharp, and is highly unobtrusive so that it works well with an assortment of straps, cables and bikepacking bag attachments. However, I’d also give kudos to the Timberbell for creating a unique solution to a different problem. For trail riding, stewardship, and warding off bears, it’s a great bike bell. The Spurcycle is also an excellent choice if you are into classic looks and prefer a high pitched tone. One more thing I’ll add post, after a bit of discussion, is that the Oi might be a bit too quiet when used in a loud city or urban setting. On the bikeway it’s perfect. But if you are looking for a loud bell to be heard in a multitude of situations, the Spurcycle might be a better bet.
I guess we can’t really claim to have found our version of the ‘world’s best bike bell’ since we haven’t tried them all. If you have a favorite, leave a comment below…