No doubt you've noticed the small bells they sell at motorcycle shops and rallies. They go by several names: Guardian, Gremlin, Angel, Biker, Spirit and Goblin Bells are the most popular. Walk around any gathering of motorcycles and you'll likely find several bikes with the bells hanging low. They're usually silver or brass colored and have a design or message inscribed on them. If you're wondering why anyone would put a bell on their bike, you first need to understand about the power of the bell.
Bells have held a spiritual significance since ancient times. They were a centerpiece for many of life's ceremonies. Churches would ring their tower bells to ward off disease during medieval epidemics. Religious doctrine opined that the Devil feared the sound of a bell. Church bells were believed to hold special powers because of their location high in the church tower guarding the entrance to the afterlife and defending the living from demons. Today a bell on the door of a shop announces the arrival of a customer, in earlier times bells were hung in doorways of shops and homes to keep out evil spirits. Many people believed, and some still do, that bells have the power to ward off negative energy or unwanted visitors.
Bells on Bikes
How did miniature bells acquire status as a motorcycle accessory? Some say the idea originated with wartime pilots who carried a lucky charm to keep them safe on missions. It was believed to have originated with members of the British Royal Air Force around the time of World War I and was then adapted by their American counterparts. The charms ranged from dolls to lucky pendants to bells. Superstitions are hard to ignore and when American military vets from World War II returned safely home and began riding motorcycles, the idea of a lucky charm continued.
There are several versions of the legend. One of the most popular involves an old biker returning from Mexico with toys for some children at Christmastime and being ambushed by some gremlins. Long story short, he's saved by some bells and some bikers. You can search it online and find several variations. Each is entertaining and contributes to the legend's growth.
Most riders agree there is a certain amount of luck involved with having a safe ride, so anything that might push the needle in a positive direction is welcome. The bell legend does just that with all of the legends agreeing that a bell will help neutralize the power of the gremlins or bad spirits lurking along the roadway intent on doing harm to you or your motorcycle. The maladies can range from electrical problems, to fuel issues, to particular parts not operating as designed. Legend also says that gremlins love to ride on motorcycles, and they have super sensitive hearing. Gremlins that have not yet hooked a ride on your bike will hear the bell from a distance and it will drive them into hiding until you pass. The gremlins who do get a grip on your bike are captured in the hollow of the bell where the ringing drives them insane causing them to lose their grip and fall to their death. And that my friend, is how we get potholes. Are you a believer yet?
Rules of the Bell
If you're truly going to embrace the legend, you must follow the “Rules of the Bell”. The basics are that you shouldn't buy your own bell, rather it should be given to you by a friend, loved one, or fellow rider. This act of giving activates and increases the magic power of the bell. You can buy your own, but it will only be half as powerful as a gifted one. Then, the bell should be attached to the lowest part of the motorcycle. The bell, though attached to the bike, belongs to the rider and should be removed and kept by that rider if the bike is sold. Or, if the rider is generous, they may gift the bell to the new owner. True believers can explain the ownership transfer ceremony rules to you.
Marketing a Myth
It's quite a story, isn't it? Imagine being able to purchase a small bell, attach it to your bike, and be granted magical powers making you and your bike immune to the vagaries of the road. Now, imagine you're a company selling these magical bells. The bigger and better the myth, the more profit potential.
The Biker Bell Legend seems to have taken grip around the same time that Baby Boomers found out that motorcycles and second mortgages were cool. I've talked to the guys who have been riding since the 60's and 70's and they're response about having a bell was, “Never had one and don't know anyone else who did either”. In the past twenty years a lot has changed in the motorcycle lifestyle and many companies have enjoyed a profitable venture in catering to the expanding rider population. Today you can find a Biker Bell to fit just about any message or brand you wish to carry.
What I haven't seen is any vintage Biker Bells for sale and that says to me that this isn't a long time legend but rather a fairly recent marketing campaign within the motorcycle community. If there were actual bells out there from the 50's, 60's and such, I'd think there would be a community of collectors. That doesn't seem to be the case. Does that make the bell less powerful? No. For each of us, whatever we believe, that's the important part. And if having a bell attached to your bike makes you feel safer and more protected on your rides, that's all that matters. Enjoy the ride. Ring On!