Lawbreaker No More!

Last week, I was dismayed to learn that in all the time I’ve been riding a bicycle on the mean streets of Tampa, I’ve been breaking the law over 3/4 of the time…

Me? A lawbreaker? That’s right. Apparently, there is an obscure law contained in Article III, Sec. 25-186 of the City of Tampa Code of Ordinances.

The section reads:

Sec. 25-186. Same–Warning signals.
No person shall operate a bicycle unless it is equipped with a bell or other device capable of giving a signal audible for a distance of at least one hundred (100) feet, except that a bicycle shall not be equipped with nor shall any person use upon a bicycle any siren or whistle.
(Ord. No. 89-258, § 2(57-218), 10-5-89)

Only two of my bikes are equipped with functioning bells, so whenever I’m riding my “regular” commuter bikes, I am in flagrant violation of the law. The even stranger thing is this is an arrestable offense…not a traffic ticket but a trip to the city lockup!

This came to light last week when The Tampa Tribune published an article describing the law and the legal challenge against it.


Good news, though, as the Tampa City Council repealed the law this evening.

Word to the wise — sometimes it is not enough to be familiar only with your state’s vehicle laws. There may be municipal or township codes and ordinances that apply to your situation, too.


  1. Daniel M. Perez (Slow Bike Miami)

    So I agree it’s silly that not having a bell on the bike is an arrestable offense; that part needed to go for sure. I do wish they (be it the city, or better yet, the state) would make having a bell or some form of audible signal maker obligatory. This is the case in Copenhagen; it just makes sense. If a bicycle is a vehicle, it needs a horn equivalent to let others know it’s coming their way. I sometimes wish I had an endless supply of cheap bike bells to hand out to every bike ninja that sneaks up on me when riding or walking.

    (And in a completely unrelated note, perhaps you’d consider adding to your WordPress the Subscribe to Comments plugin: )

  2. bike Jax

    Welcome to Florida. Run over a cyclist and at most walk away with a citation. Ride your bike without a bell, go to jail. Makes perfect sense.

  3. Raiyn

    I like my little Incredibell Brass Duets. They’re small, but loud enough for polite trail use. For impolite use I just make like a drill instructor. 😉

  4. Ghost Rider

    Well, no matter what — I am stocking up on bells. I like the Japanese brass bells that Velo Orange sells (my wife has one on her commuter rig).

  5. Andy

    No bell for me. My voicebox is audible for hundreds of feet. If someone is about to open a door in my face, “HHEEYYYY!!!” gets the point across much better than a little ding-ding. .

  6. Ghost Rider

    You know, that’s what I thought…every bicycle I own is equipped with a 120-decibel “holler”. But, under the old code, my voice didn’t qualify as “a signaling device”, much the same way that a cyclist’s legs don’t qualify as a braking device in areas where mechanical brakes are required on fixed-gear bicycles.

  7. db

    Excellent point summarized in that last paragraph — local ordinances can differ from the state. And in smaller communities, those regulations might not be available online, so make sure you get access to them.

  8. tadster

    There’s a bell law in NY state, too. At least ’round Buffalo. However, it is a law most cyclists break daily — just like slow rolling stops.

    For multi-use trails and paths, bells are great. They’re also alright for alerting peds walking into streets. But I think they’re useless for signaling to other drivers. If I have to react to a stupid driver, I want my hands on the bars and near the brake levers… not reaching for my bell!!

  9. Elizabeth

    I just gave a friend of mine a bell yesterday — maybe I should consider adding bells to my bikes, too. I only have my one commuter equipped with a bell….

  10. Jason Kearney

    My friend has a bell that is made out of wood. It makes a woodpecker type sound. Very non-obtrusive.
    I don’t have a bell on my commuter, or my road bike, or my single speed. I just call out.
    My stepson found a video on youtube of a guy who put a train whistle on his car. I was amazed at the amount of air it takes to power one. My stepson suggested putting it on my bike, and if it were physically possible, I’d do it, just for the fun of it. Do you think that would be a tad gauche?

  11. Ghost Rider

    Jason, there’s always the AirZound:

    Pretty cheap and wildly effective, or so I’ve heard.

  12. Beerfart

    I live in Tampa and I removed the bell from my commuter because no one seemed to hear it. I usually only ride on the road. But on the rare occasions I came up behind people, I would be ringing and ringing and they never seemed to hear it until I was close enough to startle them. A firm “on your left” works much better. For motor vehicles a combo of voice and hand signals works best for me.

  13. Michael

    These damn young punks on their bicycles, flaunting the rule of law. It’s got a stop I tell ya, it’s got a stop!

  14. rick

    My bike isn’t legal in Ohio because the disc brakes are not capable of skidding.

    But, I do have a bell.

  15. Marla Gnarla

    Indiana has that law,too. I should find out if Tennessee does, but since I’ve found my Temple of Tone bell I’m covered!

  16. Robert Anderson

    The interesting thing about a bicycle bell is that in alerting pedestrians, it seems to work better than yelling (I have a big set of pipes, also). I use my little “incredibell” all the time. See:

  17. Gordon

    Bicycle bells seem to to be effective in Japan

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