Of all the accessories that you can buy for your bicycle, the kiddie bell has to be the geekiest. That being said you should have one on your bike, especially if you do a lot of riding on multi use recreation trails.
The issue here is safety and not just for the cyclist. People are taught to look both ways before crossing the street from childhood, but I've learned the hard way that many people listen both ways instead of look. I've had more close calls with pedestrians stepping out in front of me than any other hazard. A friendly tinkle is almost always enough to get their attention.
The bell's value increases exponentially when you travel on multi use recreation trails. Dodging pedestrians, cyclists and dogs can be almost as hazardous as driving on a busy street. Get everyone's attention and it's smooth sailing.
Why a bell instead of some other warning device?
The most obvious alternative is the bicycle horn. I don't like them for one simple reason. That rubber squeeze ball has a very limited life span. Being a born cheapskate, I don't see the point in spending extra cash for something that isn't going to last. One of those kiddie bells with rust inhibiting oil squirted into it a few times a year will out last anything else.
Electronic warning devices are finicky. There are a multitude of reasons for them to fail besides a dead battery. I will admit that a twelve volt battery strapped under your seat powering the loudest car horns on the market has a lot more cool factor. Think about what you're trying to accomplish though. Are you trying to give people a friendly warning or are you trying to scare the hell out of someone three blocks up the street? In general I'm aiming at the friendly warning, however, there have been times... My tinkly bell has been enough to send a pair of power walkers headlong into the bushes beside the recreation trail. Again, I can make the cost argument here as well.
Where do you mount your bell?
This might be a 'duh' question for some. It has to be somewhere where it can be easily reached and used. Most people mount it on their handlebars right where they can put their thumb on the lever and activate it as needed. I don't like it there. In the picture below if you look close you can see I mount mine sideways on the handlebar stem, still in easy reach. It is black like the handlebars so it is difficult to see. My feeling is this: There is enough on my handlebars already. My brakes and shifters are there. I added a light, cyclo-computer and a bell. That's a crowded pair of handlebars. I almost fell once because something caused me to lose my balance and I shifted my hand position to catch myself. I grabbed my new light and broke it off the bracket and almost went down anyway. Didn't look so cool attached to my bike with duct tape. I attach my light differently now as well. My handlebars are now for controlling the bike and nothing else.
There is one drawback to mounting the bell the way I do. The weather gets into it and I have to keep it oiled to make sure it's there for me when I need it.
You can ride safer with a bicycle bell. If you mount it like I do, no one has to know until you use it.
A Few More Stories From Pico's Cycling (click photos or titles for full articles)
Stop - Yes That Means You!
Rules of the road were designed for the safety of those using them. On the other hand I don't think the issue is as bad as some make it seem.
Not Just Water
If you're riding in a place that is hot and dry you need to pay special attention to keeping your body hydrated and your electrolytes balanced. I learned this with another tough lesson.