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History of the Motorcycle Bell

There are certain rules that go along with the bell that each motorcycle rider must understand, and if you are given one from a fellow rider take it as a sign that they truly care about you. We’ll get into more detail below.

Names Of The Bell

These bells are known as:

Guardian Bells
Gremlin Bells
Spirit Bells
Luck Bells
Road Bells
Ride Bells

They all refer to the same thing but are called by different names throughout the world.

Uses For The Bell
There are many stories of lost or tormented souls who wander the highways of the world in search of some soul to harass and make miserable like themselves. The motorcycle bell is a traditional gift from one rider to another that should be hung from the lowest point of your motorcycle, which is usually the frame or exhaust.

The idea is that when a motorcycle rider passes one of these gremlins on the road, as the gremlin tries to grab onto the motorcycles it gets caught in the bell and is trapped as long as that bell stays with that owner.

Many riders also use them just as decoration or throwback to the 1940’s and 50’s when this tradition first started.

Where The Legends Originated – Actual Stories
Just like with any legend, there are discrepancies about where the true origins came from. I’ll list the most common stories and let you choose for yourself which one sounds like the true origin.

Legend 1 – Religious Origins

There is history to support that bells were used in church services and funerals as early as the 1100’s in Europe. These bells were rang during services in order to frighten off evil spirits in order to protect the righteous living and the deceased.

The Catholic church itself encouraged the use of bells as a way to protect people from evil. In those days they were referred to as “dead bells”. The bell itself was baptized in holy water and then it possessed the power to frighten off any evil that waited in the shadows nearby.

During funeral processions, the bell would be rung by a priest in the front of the line as a way for him to call out to all those within hearing distance to pray for the deceased that their soul would make it to heaven and be protected from the evil spirits along the way.

Bells are still used in many churches to this day, maybe not as much to ward off evil spirits, but as a way to bring music to their cities. It is possible that this long standing religious tradition made its way into the motorcycle community.

Legend 2 – WWII Fighter Pilots

During WWII, many pilots were tasked with flying long missions and sleeping very little. There was constant gunfire and explosions all across Europe, Asia, and Northern Africa. Pilots were on constant call, if there was any sign of near danger they were expected to be airborne as soon as possible to help fight.

Many pilots have even recounted stories where they were afraid to go to sleep because they didn’t want to dream. Their dreams were so gruesome that they would rather stay awake. Those long days and nights were made possible by the military issuing drugs to the troops in order to help them stay awake and focused for longer.

On long flights, pilots would often start to see hallucinations. Out of the corner of their eyes they would envision things like small creatures outside their planes trying to make them crash, or dark hooded figures that wanted to cause them harm.

Many pilots chose not to take the drugs because they didn’t like the way it made them feel, so some began hanging small bells somewhere in the cockpit in order to keep them awake and sharp. The constant jingle of the bell would help them focus.

These bells would metaphorically help keep the “gremlins” away and keep the pilot safe.

When the pilots came home from the war, many of them missed feeling the rush of flying and got into motorcycle riding. There is nothing quite like the rush of flying, but a way to help compensate for that was to drive like mad on a motorcycle on the open road.

The tradition of the gremlin bell followed them home and many of the pilots would hang their bell from the war onto their motorcycle as a way to fight off any unseen demons on the road. To ever receive one of the bells from a pilot was seen as an honor in the motorcycle community and the tradition has continued to this day.

Legend 3 – The Road Trip From Mexico

One night there was a man on his way home from a road trip to Mexico on his motorcycle. He was several miles North of the Mexican border and enjoying the open road all to himself. Unbeknownst to him, there was a group of gremlins up ahead who had left some obstacles in the road to cause an accident.

Gremlins are those mischievous evil spirits that like to cause problems for people just so we will be as miserable as they are.

The rider didn’t have time to react since it was dark and the road was poorly lit. He crashed his motorcycle and skidded to a stop near one of his saddlebags. Beat and battered, the rider couldn’t get up, and as the gremlins drew closer to him he began to throw things at them from his saddlebag.

The last thing he had left in his saddlebag was a small bell. As he began ringing it to try to scare them off, two other nearby riders who had make camp for the night heard the bell and were curious where it was coming from. They hiked back to the road to find this injured rider being attacked by the gremlins.

This group of bikers fought off the gremlins and nursed their fellow rider back to health. As a token of appreciation, the injured rider gave the bell to one of the men and told him that if he ever needed help, just to ring that bell and a fellow rider would be there to help him.

So if you ever see a motorcycle with a bell hanging from it, know that that person has been given a great gift from a fellow rider, the gift that they are always looking out for you.

Legend 4 – Commemorative Bell

This legend has similar roots to that of the “dead bell” that was rung at funerals to ward off evil spirits. But instead of trying to ward off gremlins, commemorative bells are hung from a motorcycle for those who have lost close friends or family members in a motorcycle accident.

All of us who have been riding for any length of time have lost a friend to an accident, and if you haven’t then consider yourself lucky. Motorcycle accidents do happen, and tend to be more severe than most auto accidents.

Commemorative bells can be used to honor those who have left us behind.

Legend 5 – The Hooded Figure

This legend has its origins in the early days of motorcycles. A man was riding his motorcycle late one night down an open road. His motorcycle began to have electrical issues and his light went dead. The engine lost power and he slowly rolled to a stop at the side of the road.

Obviously frustrated, he climbed off the bike to look for any of the evident signs of failure like leaking fluids or loose wires. As he was bent down looking for the problem the hair on the back of his neck stood up, like the feeling you get when you know someone is watching you.

He jumped around ready to fight and found himself face to face with a dark hooded figure. The person put up their hand and said, “No need to be worried, I’m here to help.” He handed the rider a small brass bell and gave the instructions to hang it from the lowest part of his motorcycle.

“As you ride along, the gremlins along the road will find themselves caught in the bell and as the bell rings the gremlin will fall out of the bell onto the road. You’ll leave them safe behind.”

The figure asked the man to spread the word and disappeared into the trees. The rider hung the bell from his motorcycle and tried to start up his motorcycle. The engine sprang to life and he made his way home safe, never worrying about the gremlins again.

Legend 6 – Cheap Insurance

When motorcycles first became popular for the general public there were no alarm systems and no insurance companies to protect your motorcycle. It is said that many riders would hang a bell from the bottom of their motorcycle so if someone tried to steal it during the night, the owner could hear the bell and run out to catch the thief.

The bells were used as a cheap way to prevent easy theft and saved many owners the heartache of losing their motorcycle.

How To Give And Receive The Bell
There are also discrepancies concerning how to give and receive a guardian bell. The most common theme throughout the motorcycle community is that you may buy yourself a guardian bell, but it will not have the same effect as if a fellow rider had given it to you.

And then there are those lucky few who have actually inherited a gremlin bell from a WWII pilot. These bells are the ones endowed with the greatest strength against gremlins, because it has fought off the strongest gremlins there were.

Whatever legend you believe in, these small bells have a deep significance: To show someone how much you care about their safety. A guardian bell would make a great gift for any motorcycle rider in your family.

When you sell a motorcycle, you should keep your bell, do not transfer it with the motorcycle. If you wish to give it to the new rider, you must remove the bell and hand it to them face to face, that is the sign of friendship that gives the bell its power.

If someone steals a motorcycle that has a bell on it, all those gremlins that were trapped in the bell now have the ability to torment that thief.

The Version I like

The story is told of an old grey bearded biker who, late one night, was headed home from a road trip to Mexico. In his saddlebags were gifts and trinkets for the kids that lived at the orphanage where he worked.

As he rode alone in the cool desert air, he felt blessed for his own life, the children at the home, his biker friends and most importantly his bike, that had never let him down.

He had spent many a mile on the highway with this bike and the two had formed a bond, as only bikers can understand.

As he rumbled along the high desert, the full moon lighted up the sky and silhouettes of the cactus cast eerie shadows along the desert floor, the old graybeard was unaware that a few miles up the road awaited a nasty little group of road goblins, intent on its next victim.

Road goblins are evil little creatures that leave obstacles in your path- old mufflers, pieces of rubber, boxes, diesel fuel, and unexplained objects you never see that cause a tire to go flat or a chain or belt to break.

They also chase animals and deer into the path of unsuspecting bikers.

Road goblins sole purpose is to make a biker crash…adding notches to their little belts. They are evil and nasty little pieces of creation.

As the biker rounded the curve, the road gremlins ambushed him with everything they had, causing him to crash and skid. He awoke in the ditch, barely alive. Nearby was one of his saddlebags that had ripped off his bike.

The biker lay there, helpless and unable to move as the road gremlins began moving in to finish him off. The old graybeard wasn’t going to give up easily and started throwing things from the saddlebag at them. Finally, he had nothing left to throw but a tiny bell and he started ringing it…..not knowing if it would help, but he wanted to die thinking of the children at the home he would be leaving behind.

Surprisingly the sound of the tinkling bell seemed to confuse the goblins, and they paused in their attack. The old biker was encouraged, but he was still in a bad way. He didn’t know how long the bell would keep the goblins away, and the goblins were between him and his bike with no way for him to make a fast getaway.

Not far away, two other bikers coincidentally had just stopped to make camp for the night. They were unaware of the crash, as they had been riding 30 miles or so behind the old biker and stopped before the curve of the crash site. As they dismounted, they heard the bell ringing and ringing. Thinking that was an odd thing to hear in the middle of the desert, they quickly went to investigate.

They came upon the old biker in the ditch with the goblins surrounding him. With a vengeance, and without concern for their own safety, the two bikers attacked the gang of road goblins, killing several and scaring off the rest.

The old biker was grateful for their help and offered money to his saviors, but they refused to accept any payment. The old biker wanted to show his gratitude and wouldn’t let the two bikers leave without something for their good deed. The old biker cut off two pieces of leather from his saddlebags tassels and tied a bell to each piece. He then attached the bells to the two bikers bikes as close to the ground as possible.

The old biker then told his new friends that with those bells attached to their bikes, they would be protected from the road goblins and if they were ever in trouble, to ring the bell and a fellow biker would come to their aid.

So whenever you see a biker with a bell you’ll know that he has been blessed with the most important thing in life — friendship from a fellow biker.

Others believe goblins live on motorcycles because they love to ride and are the cause of most bikers’ problems, like when the tires go flat, the horn won’t work or any several hundreds of things that can go wrong.

Evil road spirits can’t live near a bell because they get trapped in the hollow of the bell. Their hearing is hypersensitive so the constant ringing in a confined space drives them insane. They lose their grip and eventually fall onto the roadway. That is how potholes are formed.

If you buy your own bell, the magic will still work but if you receive one as a gift from a friend or a loved one the magic is doubled because out there somewhere you have a friend looking out for you.

If you steal a bell from a biker, you steal all the gremlins and the evil that comes with them. It is ill-advised that you steal a bell, the consequences could be dire.

Ride bells are more of a tradition than a superstition among bikers… so they make a great gift for the rider in your life!

Find one for your friend here –>> North Auckland Harley Davidson

Info Credit: Bikernation.biz

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Empire motoring Journalist, Vlogger and general larakin. Pro food and lifting heavy things.

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