Thursday, April 24, 2014

Bob Dunning: A bell on every Davis bicycle


From page A2 | April 03, 2013 | 2 Comments

My dad used to love that old “If at first you don’t succeed” expression, though he seemed to use it more on me than any of his five children. Well, my friend Jim — same name as my dad, ironically — has a new twist on that, with his personal philosophy that “the key to success is to increase your failure rate.”

Certainly seems to be the philosophy of several government agencies I’ve come into contact with. Then again, maybe it’s why my employer allows me five full columns a week, hoping I’ll ring the bell with at least one of them.

Jim, it seems, fears our beloved town is losing its touch. I mean, how long has it been since Prince Charles or Jimmy Carter or NBC Nightly News or Comedy Central have visited our fair city? They all used to be regulars.

On a bike ride last Sunday, Jim started thinking, which is always a dangerous thing. He says it occurred to him during his ride “that we are entering a lull in Davis.” He went on to explain that we’ve already legislated “sustainable and clean water, dark night skies, no snoring and safe frogs.”

Indeed, we seem to have lost our touch for innovation and, more importantly, the ability to attract news crews and satellite trucks. In short, we’ve been distinctly lacking in newsworthy controversies of late.

“What we need,” Jim continues “is a new action worthy of BBC attention, something no one has ever done and is, well, kind of silly. You either move forward or others will pass you. If that ‘something’ happens to solve a real problem, that would be great, but that is not a requirement.”

At this point I’m beginning to wonder if maybe Jim has been riding in the sun too long,

“Now don’t laugh until you finish reading this, but we need to enact an ordinance that requires a bicycle bell on every bicycle operated in Davis.”

That does it, Jim. You’ve left planet Earth without an adequate supply of oxygen and are out there orbiting on your own. Give me a call when you return to your senses.

Undaunted, Jim adds: “And a vehicle code that requires operation of the bell at least 20 feet before passing any pedestrian.”

Whoa, now you’re starting to talk my language. In fact, just last week I was talking about how terrifying it is to be walking along the greenbelt and have a bicyclist call out “On your left” just before roaring by at twice the speed of sound.

“Think of it,” Jim notes. “Downtown will be filled with music, and pedestrians will know bicycles are about to pass them so they can just freeze wherever they are.”

Much more neighborly than the cold and clinical “On your left.”

“As it turns out, I share your angst with inconsiderate, rude and downright dangerous bikers. I am an avid biker and bicycling in Davis was no small part of why I came here. In fact, I rode the Davis Double Century two years before I even knew about UC Davis and accepted a faculty position here.”

You rode a bicycle 200 miles and still got hired to teach the best and the brightest? I wouldn’t even drive that far without getting a motel room somewhere in between.

“Bicycle bells can be rung gently with just enough sound to alert a pedestrian of your presence or they can be rung repeatedly, loudly and frantically, to get the attention of a crowd blocking the way. One reason I share your angst is because the jerks who ride as you describe in your column endanger me. They make people hate bicyclists. I have had things thrown at me, been forced off the road, been cursed and have even been hit three times by cars.”

Guilty as charged, Jim, but I didn’t mean to hit you.

“So far as the ‘on your left’ callout, that is so dumb when used for pedestrians. It is intended for bicycle to bicycle on the road, not for passing pedestrians. And it really makes me mad when bicyclists pass pedestrians at speed. If you are on the greenbelt and coming up on some walkers, a gentle ‘ding’ on the bell and then very slowly passing the walker is the only polite and safe way to mix. And the younger the walker, the slower and more careful you must be.”

Makes sense to me, even if Jim does admit he sometimes rings his bell just because he likes the sound of it. Which, truth be told, is exactly what I used to do with my ’56 Schwinn, the first bicycle I ever had as a kid, outfitted smartly with a bright silver bell.

So it’s decided. Davis will become the first city in America to require a chicken in every pot and a bell on every bicycle. Jim, your job is to notify Joe and Dan and Brett and Lucas and Rochelle and have them draw up the appropriate legislation.

Me, I’ll alert the media.

— Reach Bob Dunning at


Discussion | 2 comments

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  • Tray BiasiolliApril 03, 2013 - 12:28 pm

    Bob, the requirement for a bicycle to have a bell is old hat in many states - for example, see those wacky trendsetters in Indiana, item #IC 9-21-11-8 in their vehicle code: "A person may not ride a bicycle unless the bicycle is equipped with a bell or other device capable of giving a signal audible for a distance of at least one hundred (100) feet." California oddly hasn't mandated this. Though admittedly, Jim's idea of required use would be novel - I don't think that's been mandated anywhere.

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  • Bells don't work in DavisApril 03, 2013 - 10:16 pm

    Bells simply don't work well here. I outfitted all my bikes with bells a few years ago. Including one the same model that one that race in France two years ago. They simply don't work. Less than one in three groups or people I pass, after ringing and slowing down, actually pay any heed whatsoever. Davis pedestrians are far too focused on their iPods or conversations to acknowledge a bell. Or a bicycle.

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