Bear bells save bike trails - Bike Magic

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Bear bells save bike trails

Here’s the story straight from Mike at

The Santa Barbara Mountain Bike Trail
Volunteers (SBMTV), in cooperation with Kona, have developed a simple
and effective solution to reduce trail user conflicts and keep trails
open to mountain bikers in the Santa Barbara, California-area. Downhill
mountain bikers are now encouraged to ride with a bear bell.

“About a year ago, we came close to having some of our front side trails
closed to bikers,” explains Kelly Steelman, Kona’s Southern California
sales rep and a member of SBMBTV. “Trail users were being spooked by the
sudden appearance of downhill riders. We needed to find a novel approach
that would be embraced by everyone.”

The area’s downhillers met to brainstorm ways to minimize their impact
on other trail users. Pro rider, Shaums March, mentioned that he had
been riding with a bear bell for some time and thought it had been
effective. He explained that the bell was unobtrusive and not obnoxious.

Steelman volunteered to try and get the bells through Kona. Kona agreed
to participate, and designed and purchased the Kona Bear Bells. The Bear
Bells are distributed through Velo Pro, a local dealer. Profits from the
sale of the bells are contributed back to SBMTV to help pay for trail
maintenance programs.

The bells, which are about the size of a regular cow bell, were an
instant success, according to SBMTV club president Chuck Anderson.
“Within two weeks of distributing the first bells, I received a call
from our National Forest contact saying how many positive comments he
had received. Most of the comments were from hikers,” he said.

Further endorsement of the program’s effectiveness came at a Santa
Barbara Trails Council Board of Directors meeting. Anderson was asked by
the president of the club, a long-time opponent of bikes on trails, ”Is
there any way we can get it so every biker rides with a bell?”

“My jaw dropped,” said Anderson.

As well, Anderson presented the program to the Los Padres Trail Riders,
a local equestrian club, and received similar praise. ”They said horses
are very familiar with the sound (of cow bells), far more than a
standard bike bell, which isn’t rung until it is too late anyway.”

The program was so well received that is has been endorsed by the Los
Padres National Forest. The forest has pledged to help SBMTV with the
next phase of the program: Bear Bell Boxes. They will be placing a Bear
Bell Box at the top of trails with a sign explaining the situation and
the reason for the bells. Riders are encouraged to strap a bell on to
their handlebars for the duration of the descent. At the bottom of the
trail is another box for the riders to deposit the bells.

“We don’t know how practical it is, or how long the bells will last,”
said Anderson, “but it would insure that more riders are using the bells
and are aware of the situation.”

Steelman says that the bells have proven to be a simple, affordable and
unobtrusive way to let other trail users aware of the mountain biker’s
approach. “Santa Barbara could become a model program,” said Steelman.
“If Bear Bells are accepted and effective here, in hyper-sensitive
California, there is no reason they won’t be accepted across the U.S.”.

In the future, Kona plans to make the bells available to all of their
dealers, and will eventually make them available on their web site,

So is this the future of mountain biking? Will all the trails soon be ringing to the sounds of bear bells just like an alpine pasture? Will they become compulsory for off road use, and how long would you have to ride before you just became use to the clanging?


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