Evidently, I'm very, very late to the party on this one. I just spotted the picture above on Strava the other day, and did some research.
The notion is that riders can take a bell, and either keep & use it, or drop it back in the box when they finish their ride. There are evidently several boxes in the Simi & T.O. area, placed by the Conejo Open Space Foundation in partnership with Conejo Open Space Conservation Agency and Concerned Off-Road Bicyclists Association, who are providing the bells. (The note from CORBA is here.) And a bit of searching turned up a note indicating that SHARE MTB Club is doing something similar here in O.C.
I'm of two minds in my reaction to this. I think it's a great idea, and encourages good behavior. But I also think the communication surrounding the bells needs improvement.
I posted the picture above to Facebook with the (slightly snarky) caption:
I can only assume there's a second box nearby where runners and hikers can leave their headphones. ;)
That's where I think the communication falls short. I see plenty of trailhead signs featuring simple "be alert and courteous" advise for hikers, followed by an extensive, specific, bullet-point list of all the stuff cyclists should do.
I like bike bells. I have an Incredibell on my mountain bike (proof), and use it freely. I let hikers know I'm coming way before I actually need to pass, and I do my best to communicate verbally. My goal is simple: smile, and get a smile in return. It's amazing how easy it is.
But I think it's a problem that discussions of trail etiquette always seem to lead to what mountain bikers should do. We all have to work together to keep each other safe. Hikers, horseback riders, and mountain bikers. It's amazing the difference courtesy can make in how crowded the trails feel.
I'd like to see the sign replaced with something like this, which places more emphasis on cooperation among trail users.
Let's all work together.
Bicyclists: Please take a bell to alert others to your presence.
Hikers: Be alert and courteous. If you wear headphones, ensure that you can still hear others on the trail.
Equestrians: Always control your steed. Be aware of other trail users.
I'm all in favor of doing what we can ("we" meaning "all trail users") to keep each other safe.
I just wish that official signage didn't so consistently reinforce the perception that mountain bikers are the only ones who need to mind their manners on the trail.