The use of bicycle bells in Toronto seems to cause frequent confusion among cyclists and other road users. I’ve been riding around here long enough to have picked up some of the language and so I offer some tentative definitions here for purpose of clarification.
“Here I am! And you should be expecting me to be here.”
Some people erroneously take this to be a sign of rudeness, but the fact is that approaching bikes are too quiet for most people to hear. The ding is just a sound, like a bird chirp, that alerts one to the cyclist’s presence.
Same as the above, but to a pedestrian. A deferential nod to a fellow human and polite request for the same.
“Here I am! And something you have done has indicated that you are unaware of the norms for polite behavior.“
This is used often, for example when someone looks ready to cross the bike trail without first making eye contact, or when a person has chosen to drive a car on the road. Many people are new to the city, and don’t yet know the rules – the double ding invites them to think about their proper place on the road while acknowledging the likelihood of simple ignorance.
“Violation! The rules have been broken! Get back in your place!”
Used for car doors or other blockages entering into bike lanes, double parked delivery trucks, riders passing open streetcar doors, and so on. The triple ding is a shaming ding, a “you should know better,” but not yet accompanied by anger.
With more than three we are in multi-ding territory and the meaning is all the same. The multi-ding is a sign of anger, a hostile insistence that one’s presence is, perhaps intentionally or dangerously, not being acknowledged.