Design Object Oriented

Bicycle Bell

Image for Bicycle Bell

Photo: Thierry Mortier

I was 44 when I bought my first brand-new bicycle. Born in Belgium, the land of the Flandriens, those track cycling legends from the 1910-20s, you can bank on being on two wheels as soon as you hit 3-4 years. Bicycling is just part of my cultural DNA and it came as a surprise that although I had owned a great many bicycles before, I never had a new one. My older brother started the recurring cynical response, “Aw, poor you, never owned a new bicycle”. He didn’t pick up on the fact that after four decades of riding secondhand bicycles I felt proud of this under-consumption.

When I looked for wheels in Sweden, hitting the secondhand market came naturally. Stockholm is bicycle-theft central after all, why buy new? Don’t get me wrong — I put in the effort, but I could not, for the life of me, find a frame size that would give my back a smooth ride. Ironically, I found my new bike on sale — for the same reason I couldn’t find it secondhand: The average Swede is just that little bit taller than me. 

It’s a decent bike, nothing fancy, Swedish make — if you buy new, buy local, right?  —  and I love riding it through town. But, it came with a really crappy bell that broke off in no time. For a few measly bucks each time, I replaced it with even crappier bells that I found at the local hardware store. 

One day, after nearly missing an appointment — Google Maps does not take the crappiness of one’s bell into account when predicting estimated time of arrival — I went straight from the meeting into a hipster bicycle store just across the street. The guy behind the counter clearly felt that neither my bicycle nor I belonged there, but he was helpful nonetheless.

“I need a decent bell,” I said.

“You do,” he replied, and continued, “The only one we’ve got that will fit is this one.”

“But is it decent?” I asked. 

It is. Since that day, I’m not worried that someone ran off with my unexciting bicycle when I walk to where I’ve chained up last in bicycle-theft central. I worry about losing this precious, little bell — and its tantalizing chant.

It’s so unbelievably clear. It rings; it chimes. It projects its sound waves with a decisive lucidity that is startlingly delicate. It produces a sound fit for an orchestra at a pristine church wedding. People jump at its voice and delight in its intrusion. Whenever I take my bike I need to muster my utmost self-control not to ring the bell instantly.

Riding home late at night or when there are no people around, I ring my bell, just so I get to travel through its brightness for a fleeting moment. 


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Tags: Semiotician, Talisman