With Trails More Crowded Than Ever Before, Trail Bells Could Be a Welcome Solution

Riders at two Arizona trail systems can grab a free bell when they hit the trail this spring, and the news is music to hikers' ears.

Jonathan Sacks is a man with a passion for keeping trails open to bikes, and he’s on a mission. The 25-year bike industry veteran, and National Sales Manager for Kali Protectives, noticed an uptick in visitors on his local trails soon after Covid hit, and he saw an opportunity to help everyone have a great experience.

“When Covid-19 hit instantly trail users at my local trails were up more than double, possibly triple. We saw lots of new riders and hikers and I really wanted to avoid unpleasant interactions before they happen.”

Having seen trail bell boxes like the one at the Lynnmere trail in California pictured above left, Sacks decided to bring trail bells to his local trails in Arizona, starting with SanTan Regional Park near Phoenix. Sacks says riding with a bell has an advantage over relying on voices alone.

“Fellow trail users can hear this type of bell from 50 yards away. I’m told horses can hear them from 150 yards. The reason I like these is it’s a sound that gradually grows so our fellow trail users don’t jump out of their skin.

“Once in a while I meet someone who scoffs at the bell and says ‘I just yell on your left or coming through.’ These really are not the interactions we want riders known for.”

Trail bells are free to use and at the SanTan trailhead, they can be picked up at the existing bike repair station. Users are encouraged to return the bells after the ride, though fortunately they are fairly inexpensive in case folks forget or they want to hang onto one for future rides.

“I’d really like to be giving Timber bells away but I can’t afford to give out hundreds of $25 bells. So in the meantime I’m working with a USA manufacturer. I’m using my own money, sponsorship from local bike shops, along with donations on my web page to keep this thing going. So far we have given away thousands of bells.”

The response, especially from hikers, seems to be positive. Sacks says “On [my own rides with a bell] I’d get half a dozen hikers thanking me for having a bell, so it got me thinking how awesome it would be to have more bells on bikes.”

In addition to providing bells for riders to use, Sacks printed up a list of etiquette tips for riders that’s attached to each bell. Following the successful roll out at SanTan, Sacks added bells at Hawes and plans to bring the trail bells to South Mountain next.

“We have also been talking to trail advocacy groups that are looking to put bell boxes in other areas. The Prescott Valley Mountain Bike Association has approved a batch of bells and they are already talking about expanding the program.”

To donate or find out how to bring trail bells to your local trailhead, visit trailbells.com. Responses edited for clarity.