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Bicycle bells are required in some countries as well as many local municipalities, but the exact rules and levels of enforcement vary widely – and even then, they’re rarely found on high-performance bikes that focus more on speed. So when I rolled up to a group road ride one morning in Seattle, Washington – an area that does not have any compulsory bell regulations – you can imagine my surprise when I noticed that all of the bikes had one thing in common: a bike bell.
Bike bells were once the sole domain of slow-moving city bikes, but they make sense for road bikes, too. Many of us are city dwellers who have to navigate our way through heavily trafficked streets or multi-use paths on our way to less heavily populated areas, and having a bell benefits both parties: slower-moving riders and pedestrians not only get a friendlier-sounding warning than the usual “on your left!”, but a good bell is often more effective at providing advanced notice than your own voice, so people are more likely to (happily) move out of your way.
Thankfully, bell companies have stepped up to serve this newfound user group with options better suited to the expensive machines on which they’re mounted, and I’ve spent the last couple of months alternating between the luxurious (and expensive) Spurcycle bell and Knog’s novel Oi design.
The Spurcycle Bell
Spurcycle launched its bike bell in August 2013 with a Kickstarter campaign that raised an impressive US$331,938 – 16 times more than what the company had originally targeted, despite a hefty price tag of US$49 each (or US$35 at the time of the Kickstarter campaign). 10,000 bells were produced to fulfill that initial round of Kickstarter orders and rewards, and several production rounds have been completed since then.
Precision made of premium nickel brass and stainless steel, the bell has a distinct dome shape and comes in either a brushed steel or matte DLC (diamond-like coating) black. It’s substantial, beautifully designed, and has a long, polite ring.
What Spurcycle has so successfully done is make an everyday tool into a beautiful accessory. Instead of a simple, expendable noisemaker, Spurcycle got people to buy into the idea that quality and design matters, even for utilitarian items.
The Knog Oi Bell
The Oi bell is the newcomer to the market, and one that had been highly anticipated. Knog has earned a respectable reputation for its fresh approach to bike lights, locks and other accessories, all with fun designs and innovative features.
So when they launched a Kickstarter campaign for a “bike bell that doesn’t look like a bike bell,” I was intrigued – and I wasn’t alone. In total, Knog’s campaign attracted 20,787 backers (many of whom bought more than one bell) and raised more than a million dollars.
Knog set out to redesign the bike bell with the Oi, going against the conventional dome design and instead using an arc-shaped piece of metal. The result was a cylindrical bell that more cleanly integrates with the shape of round handlebars for an aesthetically pleasing, low-profile look.
The Oi is offered in two diameters to fit bar diameters from 22.2-31.8mm, and a range of finishes, including aluminum, titanium, brass, copper and black.
Head to Head
Neither of these bells bear much resemblance to the ones many of us used as children, and the Spurcycle, in particular, feels reassuringly substantial and durable. Despite its compact shape, it’s relatively heavy at 45g – a strong testament to the stout materials used in its construction. The simple brushed finish look is also reminiscent of the days when things were built to last: retro, yet elegant and sleek. Its classic lines may seem out of place on a carbon bike, but in those instances, the black DLC finish may blend in a little better.
Unlike the Oi’s multiple size options, the Spurcycle ships with two thin stainless steel handlebar bands that measure just 4mm wide and less than 1mm thick. A single 3mm bolt up top tightens the bell securely on the bar with no additional rubber straps, pads or fiddling necessary, and the band easily tucks in behind the cable housing. The band-style clamp design also works with some non-round handlebars, depending on the exact shape and girth.
Knog’s Oi bell is significantly more discreet with a low-profile, wraparound design that stands out only in its unobtrusiveness. A mix of plastic and metal, the Oi feels (and looks) less durable than the Spurcycle. But on the upside, it’s also lighter at just 18–25g (depending on diameter) and takes up just 1cm of handlebar space.
Installing the Oi is simple: just remove the mounting bolt, snap the body around the bar, and then reinstall and secure the bolt. Channels are molded in for housing to pass through, which not only maintains the tidy appearance, but keeps errant lines from contacting the bell and dulling the sound.
While aesthetic preferences will certainly vary between the Spurcycle and the Oi, there’s little debate as to which of the two is more effective at its primary task: making noise.
Knog claims that the Oi bell sounds “like an angel playing a glockenspiel”, and it does, indeed, have a friendly ding to it. But when it comes to using it outside – on the road or on the trail – the contained ring simply isn’t loud enough. I found that I had to be approaching quite close to someone before they would hear me ringing.
On the other hand, when the Spurcycle’s hammer hits the nickel brass dome, what comes out is a sound that is not only substantially louder, but reverberates further than any other bike bell I’ve encountered – up to 100ft, according to the company. Yet despite the volume, the Spurcycle still sounds polite and inoffensive, garnering friendly waves from fellow trail and road users.
Both the Spurcycle and Knog Oi deserve praise for their innovative designs, but bells are still utilitarian items and function trumps style. While the Spurcycle bell sparks a kid-like joy about ringing a bell and is highly effective at alerting those around you, the Oi bell looks sleek, but falls disappointingly flat.