Saturday, August 30, 2008

Safety Equipment I - Bells

The laws of the State of Maryland (where I live) has this to say about how a bicycle ridden on public byways is to be equipped:
By law, all bicycles must be equipped with:
  • Brakes that enable the operator to make the braked wheel skid on dry, level, clean pavement.
  • An audible device (bell or horn) that can be heard for at least 100 feet. Sirens and whistles are prohibited.
  • A white beam headlight, visible at a distance of 500 feet, and a red rear reflector, visible at a distance of 600 feet, if ridden at night or during unfavorable light conditions.
  • A safety seat, firmly secured to the bicycle, or a trailer must be used if traveling with a small child.
  • A bicycle basket, rack or bag must be used in transporting small articles so that both hands may be kept on the handlebars.
For the longest time, even though I'm a safety fanatic, I ignored the bell requirement. After all, I reasoned, I can yell, "Bicycle!" or "On your left!" much louder than any silly bell. But a couple of weeks ago, after a close brush with a car, I dug a bell that I bought several years ago out of my parts box and installed it. It's one of those "incredibells," very compact. They don't muck up the looks of your bike nor do they get in the way if properly installed.

I was motivated after the close brush because I realized that if I were in an accident, my not being fully and properly equipped according to the state law would weaken my position in any litigation. A bike bell seems like a small burden to bolster your standing in this way.

In the two weeks that I've had the bell installed, I've made an interesting observation. Bike bells work. They work to alert people ahead of you that there's a "bike back," and they seem to be effective for two reasons:
  • They don't require the hearer to understand English, and
  • They are universally (or almost so) recognized as the sound of a bicycle
So, I say, if you ride on the street, make sure your bike's properly and legally equipped. You might just find that things work more smoothly to boot.

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