Ding ding: Crane e-Ne review and a bike bell battle royale

by Iain Treloar


Cast your mind back to 2013. Biiiig year. Pope Francis was elected, Denmark won Eurovision, Australia went through three prime ministers, and ‘twerking’ entered the popular vernacular.

But even more significant than all that was this: premium bike bells became a thing.

The product that kickstarted (ha!) the movement was Spurcycle, whose beautiful bell went nuts on crowdfunding platforms and then sparked a slew of imitators. A few years later, Knog’s Oi bell joined the party, raising the Australian company more than a million dollars in crowdfunded capital.

At some point along the way there, a bell stopped being an item you took off as soon as you bought a new bike, and became something that a lot of people felt very, very strongly about.

Crane, a Japanese company based in Osaka, sailed through all that turbulence without Kickstarter’s help, or even much of a web presence. They’ve been quietly making beautiful bells for longer than either Knog or Spurcycle have existed – big brass-domed bruisers, hand-painted stunners, and those old timey ones that sound like somebody gargling (but melodiously, ya know?) Around the time that the Spurcycle came out – a bit after, as far as I can tell – Crane’s range expanded with the addition of the e-Ne.

Spurcycle has had a long and complicated history with imitators, and in an interview with CyclingTips’ James Huang, pointed the finger at Crane as having appropriated elements of Spurcycle’s design. It’s a valid accusation: the e-Ne attaches in the same way and has a similar form. But unlike the blatant (and shitty) Rock Brothers rip-off, the e-Ne occupies a similarly sturdy and similarly artisanal space as Spurcycle’s bell – at about half the price.

Which takes us to a couple of weeks ago when I bought a bike and needed a bell to put on it.

Crane versus Spurcycle

The Crane e-Ne is available in 10 different variations of colour and material, with the cheaper ones having an aluminium dome that sounds a bit flatter and resonates for a shorter time than the more expensive brass-domed versions. The Neo Black Brass version reviewed here retails in Australia for an extremely bloody specific $48.67 through SCV Imports (nope, I’m not joking).

Next to the Spurcycle that I own and love, the resemblance is clear, although the Crane is quite a bit bigger and a little more rustic in appearance. The Crane’s heavier at 48 grams to the Spurcycle’s 35 grams, which is obviously going to absolutely destroy you in your next Strava KOM attempt. Both bells mount the same way – a 2.5 mm hex screw in the centre of the dome pulls the bell into the bar, bracing against a band wrapped around it.

Unlike the two bands that the Spurcycle bell ships with, the Crane has just one, allowing it to mount to bars in diameters from 22.2 to 31.8 mm. It’s nylon-dipped, which saves it from leaving a sharp-edged indentation on painted handlebars as the Spurcycle does.

The spring action of the hammer is a bit lighter on the Crane but both produce a clear tone. The smaller Spurcycle bell sounds higher, and more piercing; the Crane is a little deeper, a little more mellow, and doesn’t resonate for quite as long.

Crane e-Ne vs Spurcycle vs Knog Oi Luxe

I wanted to compare the Crane to the Spurcycle, but for a true survey of the premium bells on the market, there was another that needed to join the party – the Knog Oi Luxe.

The original Oi, which found more than 20,000 backers on Kickstarter when it first launched, was one of the items that ushered in the renaissance of the bicycle bell. However, despite promising to sound “like an angel playing a glockenspiel” – which sounds like something I would write on a particularly florid flight of fancy – it failed to impress in the real world. That sent Knog’s designers back to the drawing board for revisions and improvements to the original Oi, and eventually led to the development of the premium Oi Luxe model.

Photo: Dave Rome

The Luxe is heaps better than the original version of the Oi, which was beautiful but had the auditory charisma of a spatula slapping the meniscus of a jug of custard. Now, it’s much louder, all metal, extremely handsome and appears to borrow some cues from the Spurcycle in its hammer design. It’s also the most innovative design of the trio, and the most discreet in appearance.

And with that, the stage was set: a futuristic upstart, a beloved icon, and an apparent imitator. Three bikes hanging off a washing line, one sanitiser-ravaged thumb and one mobile phone to film it all. The battle of the bells.

Ding ding, folks.

Enjoyed the video but want what you’ve just listened to presented in a series of rankings across the various categories you might care about? Oh, I got ya:

Category Spurcycle Knog Oi Luxe Crane e-Ne
Volume 1 3 2
Sustain 1 3 2
Design 2 1 3
‘Angel on glockenspiel’-ness 2 1 3
Artisanal charm 2 3 1
Value for money 3 2 1
Reassuring heft 3 2 1
Cuteness 1 2 3
Actual ability to get people out of your way
(without any truly rigorous data to back it up)
2 3 1
Likelihood you’d give it to your Dad for his 60th birthday 1 3 2
Je ne sais quoi 1 3 2

So where does that leave us?

I don’t really know, to be honest. The Spurcycle wins on the metrics that most people seem to care about (especially the all-important ‘hey, it’s Dad’s birthday soon’ measure). In volume and resonance, it absolutely romps it in. However, it’s pitched so high that – entirely anecdotally – it seems some people struggle to perceive it or identify it as a bicycle bell. The Crane, in a more familiar register, seems to deliver slightly better results over the couple of weeks I’ve been using it.

The Knog Oi Luxe, while much improved in performance and the most elegant design of the three, is just too polite in its output to knock my socks off, although it’s the most pleasing tone to my ear. All three are durable and beautiful in their own way, and miles better than the awful plastic bells that bikes ship with.

I will say this, though. When I bought my new bike, I made the decision to save $50 by buying a Crane e-Ne over a Spurcycle. It’s a great bell and I don’t regret the purchase, nor do I regret having that $50 in my pocket. If I was raking it in, I’d probably get Spurcycles on all of my bikes, but life is a series of compromises and this is one I will lose precisely zero sleep over.

And on that note, I’m chiming off.

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