A Ding-Dong Battle — Three Boutique Bicycle Bells Go Head-To-Head
In the world of high-end bicycle bells, some standout brands are bringing style, craftsmanship, and extraordinary attention to detail to the humble act of ringing and dinging. It’s a realm where safety, function, and flair for design come together to provide yet another way for consummate bicycle enthusiasts to set themselves apart.
Founded in 2012, San Francisco-based Spurcycle came to prominence with a range of coloured and customisable handlebar Grip Rings before moving on to the lucrative high-end bicycle bell market. They are one of the few bell manufacturers whose product can boast of a ‘brass hammer covered in Renaissance wax.’
Their current product range includes just two bells and three bidons including a Krylon Spray Can tribute that I’m pretty sure they ripped off from FYXO. Despite this, Spurcycle have somehow still managed to consume most of their marketing budget with an impressively curated Instagram account.
Their website is typical San Fran chic, with an elegant design, simple shopping cart, and some carefully crafted prose.
‘We built functional innovation and enduring good looks into a bell crafted with precision.’
Spurcycle bells feature a versatile, simple mounting system that allows them to be fixed to your handlebars, stem, or many household implements.
‘All orders destined within the United States ship standard ground for $8. Orders over $75 ship FREE.’
While $75 worth of bicycle bells might seem a tad excessive, the pricing structure reveals that this only equates to two bells (or one bell and three bidons).
At US$39 (raw finish) and US$49 (matt black finish), many customers are likely to qualify for this free shipping once their ‘own oversized appetite for beautiful bicycle products’ takes hold.
Local Melbourne cyclist (and Spurcycle bell aficionado) @cookenick explained that, ‘with Spurcycle offering bells in both raw metal and matt black colourways, I can be heard equally well on both my custom raw titanium commuting bike AND my custom matt black carbon fibre road bike.’
But does the performance of a Spurcycle bell live up to its elegance and stylish design? Well @cookenick certainly thinks so:
‘Only the pretentious ding of a Spurcycle bell is so effortlessly able to cut through the thick layers of smug that often hover over many of Melbourne’s more affluent inner-west suburbs like Yarraville and Williamstown.’
As any Bayside Melbourne inner-urbanite will attest, when gazing over Hobson’s Bay from Port Melbourne on a particularly high-smug day, Williamstown is often barely visible, despite being only 3.5km away as the crow flies — or 500m (plus a 4km walk) as the punt sails.
At the other end of the social media spectrum is Osaka-based Crane Bell Co. While you won’t find them on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter, they have 20-years of old-fashioned marketing capital thanks to a celebrated history of solid Japanese craftsmanship and an incredible sound that has been said to bring tears of joy to even concert violinists.
The beautiful tone of the Suzu model, named after the Japanese Shinto bell, has been extolled in many reviews including the bikereviews.com website:
‘Even music experts who have heard its ring agree that it brings out a very clear tone that is capable of resonating for up to 15 seconds with just one solid strike.’
Thanks to this outstanding 15-second resonation time, Crane is one of the few companies that can afford to get away without even having a website these days. After several hours searching (in both English and Japanese) the closest I was able to come were the homepages of their distributors in the USA and Europe.
This lack of web presence somehow adds to the allure of the product, making it slightly less accessible to the common cycling consumer rabble. Although, if you really want to buy it online ‘you can avail it via Amazon for just around $12.’
Models include aluminium, brass, and copper bells, as well as a range of delightful hand-painted designs, with both handlebar and stem mounting options.
Priced a little cheaper than Spurcycle, Crane also offers a deeper range, with some more affordable models targeted at entry-level bell enthusiasts.
The classic materials and incredible attention to detail mean there is a lot to appreciate in a Crane Bell Co. product. However, the lack of a website and Instagram account will be a deal-breaker for some. After all, if there’s no way to garner social media capital and no emotively-written company history to connect with, then they risk alienating a large cohort of consumers. This is where Spurcycle’s impressive marketing copy certainly sets them apart:
‘We distilled your average bell into a trim, precision form. Smaller, more potent, and more streamlined’
However, when it comes to streamlined design, there’s a clear industry leader in the bicycle bell market segment.
Introducing the MKS Titanium Aero Bell.
If $30 or $40 for a bell already seems excessive, then take a deep breath and prepare to be wowed. The MKS Titanium Aero Bell costs around US$60! Popular cycling lifestyle website The Weekly Cycle published a fantastic review of this lightweight bell, that comes in at only 23 grams. Its aerodynamic benefits are not insignificant, with the (mostly fictional) report claiming gains of up to 60-seconds over a 40km time-trial.
MKS, or Mikashima Industrial Co., much like Crane, are not heavily reliant on social media or marketing, preferring to let their quality craftsmanship and extensive manufacturing experience sing (or perhaps ding) their praises. While more famous for pedals, they also make chain tensioners and some automobile parts. They have been manufacturing bicycle components since 1946, which probably puts them on par with Spurcycle when converted to Instagram years.
They also produce a stainless steel version of the Aero Bell for those less-discerning bell connoisseurs willing to sacrifice the 7 grams in weight savings that the titanium model offers.
Their website is impressively industrial, there is no flash animation, shopping cart, or media gallery. And they are still yet to adopt any hashtags. Their bells do appear on a number of online shopping sites, however, including this particularly expensive example.
At US$65.99 plus $44.10 shipping to Australia, the MKS Titanium Aero Bell is perhaps the first bicycle bell to exceed the mythical $100 ceiling, which was once thought unreachable.
Understandably many consumers will baulk at paying over US$110 for a Titanium Aero Bell, especially when you consider what that kind of money could otherwise be spent on — two Spurcycle bells and a bidon, for example.
But for those who live by the mantra that ‘aero is everything’, then this kind of investment is probably no more unreasonable than shelling out for aerodynamically-shaped bidons or a helmet that makes you look like a giant Smurf’s penis.
For consumers willing to catch a bit more wind, the Spurcycle bell will certainly gain you more likes on Instagram, even if you do have to sacrifice a few watts. Everything about their product is keenly designed, including the packaging. Compared with Crane’s simple cardboard backing, Spurcycle’s carefully thought-out sliding matchbox-style transportation capsule is like a work of art in its own right and might have you mistaking it for the latest iPhone.
Thankfully it won’t become obsolete anywhere near as quick as the iPhone, and ‘if at any point you want to restore some brilliance to your bell, any gentle metal polish will quickly deliver results.’
The Crane Bell Co. will be the natural choice for those who appreciate both classic design and a sound that has been lauded by music experts:
‘Rooted in Japan’s long history of biking culture…these little objets d’art are actually most renowned for their strong resonant ring which has been described as crystal-clear, enduring and even instrumental in tone.’
However, as bell reviewer @l0rence from The Weekly Cycle points out, while Crane bells do offer a certain amount of classic charm, it is somewhat overshadowed by the fact that ‘you have to make a pilgrimage to a monastery in the mountains of Hokkaido just to get a catalogue.’ But hey, sometimes, it is just all about the journey.