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Runbell: The bell for urban runners


Runners, admit it. Sometimes you wish you could be a cyclist. Running along a busy walkway, you’ve got to watch

Bell envy
Bell envy

You’re step dodging cars, strollers, and sauntering pedestrians with their toy dogs. It’s tough out there. When winter hits, snowbanks invade your space too. All too often, you have to halt in your tracks when the sidewalk bottleneck just becomes too much. Just as your blood has hit a near boil, a cyclist cruises by, dings his bell at the person obstructing his path and carries on. You observe that, because of this bell, there is nearly zero interference for cyclists. “They have it better,” you think to yourself. There’s a term for that. It’s called bell envy.

Solving bell envy

Runners, suffer from bell envy no more. Runbell is on the market. It’s a double finger ring made of brass with a miniature bell that sits on top. Now that the Runbell is here, you too can ding at people. The concept is the same as the bike bell, to warn people that you are behind them. This nifty piece of gear with a musical ring is designed for the urban runner who navigates busy streets.

It caters to a much wider population than that.

Those not convinced might argue that runners could merely shout “excuse me” or “coming up on your left.” Not every runner has that advantage. It’s particularly not the case for quiet people, runners with wired jaws or for mimes who run. And while another option could be a mini bell horn, that would be ridiculous, not to mention, cumbersome.

Mime who runs.
Mime who runs.

With all of these perks considered, we couldn’t confirm anything about the Runbell until tested. I tested it this week. For the sake of being transparent, I am not a mime who runs, nor has the cat got my tongue. I took it for a spin anyway.

My run with Runbell 

This adventure began in my downtown Toronto home. My run partner arrived, I told him I’d be testing the bell. He said “Are you serious?” I said “Yes.”

I first had the chance to ring my bell at someone 200 metres into the run. I spotted a slow-moving pedestrian up ahead. He was in our way so when we got closer, I rang Runbell loud and clear. The pedestrian did not move. He instead looked down at my hand in curiosity. Luckily we thought to move around him to avoid all disaster. We continued on to find a couple immediately in our way. They ignored the shrill ring.

Kilometre #1

After about one kilometre into the run, I had rang the bell a few times. Some people got out of our way, some looked at us blankly, most ignored us. We couldn’t figure out why. That’s when we hit a busy street. I rang Runbell to alert drivers that I was coming. I did think this could be a great use for the accessory since drivers don’t always watch out for runners and can’t hear verbal warnings. Sometimes it can be tempting to give them the finger, don’t.

Kilometre # 2-3

When a bus stopped up ahead, a small group of people filed out. Again we got stares. Blank stares. People acted like they were caught off guard even though I rang it from a distance. They moved out of our way once we approached. Again, a few glanced down at my hand in curiosity.

Man staring blankly.
Man staring blankly.

Kilometre #5

About 5K into our route we hit a dog park. We tested Runbell on dogs. They looked our way but carried about their business.

Kilometre # 6-7: The epiphany stretch  

At 6K into our run with a few more to go, we were starting to wonder why the most common reaction was no reaction at all. We were running along a street with lots of cyclists on our left. That’s when we realized that those sharing the sidewalk weren’t intentionally not moving to share the path. In Toronto, the sound of a bell is associated with cyclists. Cyclists are on the road ringing the bell at those they share it with– not people on the sidewalk. Pedestrians were ignoring my Runbell because they assumed it wasn’t directed at them.

A second epiphany came after this one. At kilometre seven, I rang it again but the woman looked as though she didn’t hear. We realized that since the pitch is high, it is less likely to be effective on pedestrians who can’t hear high notes. In those cases, I suggest you suck it up and bellow in baritone.

Kilometre # 8-10

The last stretch of our run was through a park and on one of the city’s most heavily-trafficked streets. We succeeded in getting a couple with a stroller to move aside. As we neared home, I rang the bell at two women. Right once we passed them, we heard whispers. We reached home, my partner said something sarcastic about the run and we took a walk to cool down.




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