Author: Rex Harris, proprietor and trail guide for Urban Trails SF, SF Urban Rider and Sutro Stewards Volunteer.
When it comes to riding any trail, communication with fellow trail users is absolutely critical. Not only to avoid accidents, but also to ensure everyone can enjoy the trails in a carefree manner and with peace of mind. Isn’t that why we all journey into the woods in the first place? This communication is even more important when you’re on multi-use trails and it’s especially crucial in highly-trafficked open spaces - and every natural area in San Francisco is highly trafficked.
Instead of relying solely on your lung capacity to handle this communication for you (hey, shouldn’t you be out of breath anyway, you must not be working hard enough!), why not strap a bell to your handlebars to alert fellow trail users of your presence? The Sutro Stewards, have heard from many hikers that they love the bells to alert them of a cyclist coming, and it helps prevent awkward encounters around corners.
Perhaps you're asking "how can I reliably ring a bell when I’ve got four fingers wrapped around the handlebars and the remaining finger pulling on the brake lever?” Great question! SF Urban Riders has found two good options for you to try. One is a mini classic cow bell which rings all the time. They have been distributed to volunteers and at events throughout the city. Does that make you wonder, “how do I silence it when I'm riding near people's houses?” Another great question.
Just recently, SF Urban Riders partnered with a mountain-bike-specific bell company, TIMBER, to bring their passive mountain bike bell design to a few participating shops here in SF. They provide a loud enough jingle to make your presence known but with a much more pleasant sound than a traditional bike bell. They’ve also got a handy “silent mode” that allows you to turn off the noise entirely when you’re riding to and from the trails. These neat little contraptions make effective trail communication a cinch.
So, if you’re interested in providing the aforementioned peace of mind to your fellow trail users and continuing to promote mountain bike usage on the trails you love, all the while emulating Christopher Walken in that famed SNL skit… show up at an SF Urban Riders event, or stop by a shop like Wiggle Bicycles and pick yourself up an SF Urban Riders TIMBER mountain bike bell. A $20 can go a long way to happy trail users, just try it! Your fellow trail users will thank you!