After a bit of research about bicycle bells, I think Spurcycle is on to something with their custom-built bell.
There are THOUSANDS of bike bells — bells shaped like a teapot, ladybug bells, soccer bells, cartoon character bells, turtle bells, on and on. Mostly they’re dirt cheap.
So what is it about the bell that we find so alluring? I knew just where to go – the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics on Arastradero Road.
After a few phone calls I found a world-renowned authority who would talk to me. He’s Dr. Gotthis Bellrung, a Finnish acoustics researcher who has spent his life studying bells and the sounds they make.
Q. What is it about the sound a bell makes that people find so compelling?
A. It’s primordial, no doubt. We are bathed in sound from birth. Sound is analog, carried on waves of energy much like waves in the sea. Over the eons humans have evolved to appreciate sound waves with pleasing acoustic qualities, and there is nothing more sonorous than the sound of a ringing bell.
Bell sounds are predominantly associated with happy occasions or situations – church bells, jingle bells, door bells, even cow bells. Is it any wonder Blue Oyster Cult needed more cowbell in their famous song “Don’t Fear the Reaper?”
Q. Dr. Bellrung, a bicycle bell has a unique sound about it. Why is that?
A. You would have to ask John Richard Dedicoat, inventor of the bicycle bell in 1877. He had a knack for designing with springs and a keen ear. His pencil-sharpening machine wasn’t half bad either.
It’s the clarity of the bell ring that makes bike bells so distinctive. There’s octave equivalency, which happens to appeal to the neurons in your auditory thalamus. Our brain’s neural network enjoys pitched notes.
Q. Can the bell sound be changed based on its contour?
A. Sure. Bells have distinctive sounds based on their shape. We refer to bell science as campanology. It’s really quite complicated. Bell sounds can be altered by the kind of material, the shape of the bell, the size and shape of the clapper and the depth of the bowl.
There’s an in-depth article on the acoustics of bells you can read online.
If you’re in India you can take a course at the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur on the bicycle bell.
There is no shortage of interest in this fascinating subject.