A common theme in the cycling business seems to be “reinventing the wheel” – this included everything from the bicycles themselves, to any and all their parts, to accessories, to clothes, to pretty much anything else cycling related – the next better best new and improved version is right around the corner.
Curiously, many cycling-related great ideas and redesigns get their start on kickstarter, a website that acts as an investment zone for professional and unprofessional inventors and companies alike to get their hands on some quick capital to make their products come to life. There are a ton of bicycle-related products on kickstarter, some of which are, how do I put this nicely, very imaginative and some that are legitimately useful.
Most things are improved for (hopefully) some good reason and not just to turn a profit, but there are some products that you wouldn’t think warranted much improvement, like say the lowly bike bell. I mean, it just needs to be a functional noise maker right? Just ding and I’ll be happy, right? Wrong. Even the humble bike bell is subject to regular overhaul and redesign and promise of “the best one ever”.
About a year and a half ago, knog, a company known for funky lights and other accessories (people still ask for the sausage lock believe it or not), presented a kickstarter campaign for a bell called the Oi that caught our attention at the shop. Unlike the standard bell design, which is, well, bell-shaped, the knog bell had a different aesthetic: a low-profile, more of a wrap-around the bar design that was proposed to come in a few different attractive metal finishes. We were all more or less keen on this attractive new bell, but as is sometimes the case with crowdfunded projects, things seemed to fizzle out, and no new bells were ever seen or heard of…
That is until a couple weeks ago when Brent and his wizard sleeves managed to make one appear before my very eyes to take for a test run!
The packaging was definitely a step up from the $8.99 go-to bells we sell at the shop, and the initial visual impression was good – the unit indeed appeared to be a low profile design that would hug the bar closely, and the silver finish was quite becoming. Sadly, it wasn’t the exclusive titanium version, but the polished steel Oi Brent had gifted me was still pretty darn nice looking.
At this point it became clear that maybe some of the delay in the production of the Oi bell was in part due to the packaging – certainly quite deluxe, with the bell nestled cozily in one of those form-fitting, velvet covered plastic trays usually reserved for special Christmas ornaments. Along for the ride was a small Allen key, a spacer ribbon, and an instruction sheet. Class act.
My initial impressions upon freeing the bell from its cozy love den were that it was a lot more plastic-y and lighter than expected. It was certainly a well-finished product, but less overall metal and machining than I had imagined.
Installing the Oi was certainly quick. The inner mounting surface of the bell was plastic, but easy enough to coerce around and affix snuggly to my bars. A very nice design feature is the placement of notches in the plastic mold so that the bell plays nicely with your cables. The fit was very good indeed, although with this notched design, the orientation of the bell and the bell-striking mechanism (i.e., the “dinger-thingy”) is fixed and not adjustable. The location it ended up at for me was good enough, but if you had desires of customizing the dinging position, you’d be out of luck. Once mounted, I wasn’t sure about the look. Nevertheless, I wanted to give the Oi a chance to sing its song before I made up my mind.
I reached out and rang the bell. I’m not sure what I was expecting exactly, but the noise the Oi emitted wasn’t it. Now, as a bit of a disclaimer, I have a Crane E-ne bell on my commuter bike, and that is a lovely bell – a very sonically pleasing ring to it – a nice note, nice overtones – reminds me sometimes of a handbell choir. When I ring that bell, I’m almost embarrassed because it sounds so damn good. If I’m at one end of the High Level Bridge, I’m pretty sure everyone along the length of the bridge hears my bell and smiles. So maybe my expectations were a bit high then, but when I rang the Oi bell I have to admit I was a bit disappointed. It just didn’t seem to be a very good bell note.
You can watch the video here: https://vimeo.com/195113149
Initial impressions aside, I used the Oi for a couple weeks to give it a fair shake, and while the sound grew on me mildly, in the end the tone just didn’t do it for me. It was a bit too high-pitched, and just didn’t sound like a bicycle bell. Case in point, most people I rang at didn’t seem to realize it was signaling the approach of a bicycle. Maybe in part because it wasn’t all that loud, but also in part due to the ding sounding more like one of those “ring for service” bells you see at the tailor or accountant’s office. I certainly don’t need to be confusing some of those path users more than they already are.
In the end, I returned the Oi bell to Brent with hopes that someone else might try it out and find the the joy and appreciation with it that I didn’t. Upon entering my house, I reached over and rang my Crane E-ne for good measure. All smiles. Now call me old-fashioned, but that there, that’s a fine sounding bicycle bell.