The History of Guardian Bells
Have you ever noticed a silver or pewter bell hanging somewhere on a motorcycle? These are guardian bells, and they are believed to have powers that protect motorcycle riders.
If you’re interested in learning about guardian bells and some stories about how they originated, this post is for you.
What is a Guardian Bell?
Motorcycle bells have several different nicknames. These include gremlin bell, angel bell, spirit bell and biker bell, among others. Arguably the most popular reference is guardian bell, which we’ll stick with for the sake of consistency.
Guardian bells are good luck charms for motorcycle riders. They are said to fend off evil and harmful spirits lurking the road on long travels. Difficult-to-diagnose mechanical issues are sometimes referred to as “gremlins.” It is these same gremlins that prowl the streets, waiting to pounce on your motorcycle and cause trouble.
Legend has it that once the gremlin has attached itself to your motorcycle, they will eventually make their way into the hollow part of the bell. Once inside, the incessant ringing of the bell infuriates these gremlins. This causes them to escape the bell as quickly as they can, and retreat to the roadways to find their next motorcycle.
Some even posit that potholes are formed by the gremlins releasing themselves and falling to the street.
Now that we know what guardian bells are, let’s talk about the history behind them. A few different theories exist about how they came to be, so we will review the most discussed legends of the origin.
Our first theory takes us back to the Middle Ages. Long ago in Europe, bells were introduced to church services and funerals. These bells rang throughout services in hopes of fending off nefarious spirits. The bells were named “dead bells.” The bells were baptized in holy water to grant them the power to fight against evil.
Priests would ring these dead bells during funeral services. The priest would stand in the very front of the line with the bell and call out to everyone who gathered. The priest then asked the group to pray for the person who had passed, in an effort to protect their soul from evil spirits on their way to heaven.
Bells still have a prevalent place in churches today, albeit for different reasons in some places. However, some believe that motorcycle riders adopted the church’s style of dead bells, and this is how guardian bells were born.
Royal Air Force Pilots
Our next theory only takes us back only one century. Shortly before and during World War II, Royal Air Force pilots would claim that mischievous creatures were sabotaging their aircrafts. The term “gremlin” was coined around this time, originating from the Old English word “gremman.” This translates to “anger, annoy or irritate.”
Many pilots were simply exhausted from long missions and severe lack of sleep. This extreme fatigue made it so some pilots would begin hallucinating. These hallucinations would then cause the pilots to see these gremlins attacking the planes out of the corners of their eyes.
Some versions of the story claim that the pilots were given drugs to help keep them awake and sharp for several hours on end. Many of them refused to take the drugs after some time, citing that they did not like how it made them feel. Instead of continuing to take the drugs they disliked, they decided to hang bells in the cockpit.
The bells were intended to ring often to help improve the pilots’ focus. A combination of a decrease in fatigue with the charm of the bell allowed the pilots to fight off these gremlins.
When pilots returned home from the war, riding motorcycles became an outlet for soldiers to keep up with the camaraderie they had formed. They brought the tradition of using the bells home with them, and instituted them into motorcycle life.
Fun fact: Famed author Roald Dahl was a RAF pilot during WWII. He wrote a children’s book titled The Gremlins, which was inspired by these experiences and published in 1943.
The Old Biker’s Road Trip from Mexico
Perhaps the most circulated origin theory of guardian bells involves the old biker on his trip back from Mexico. Legend has it that the man was enjoying a nice ride back into the states on a cold winter night. Then chaos struck.
As the old biker rounded a curve in the road, he wiped out. His bike crashed and he laid on the ground completely immobilized. Suddenly, these gremlins started to surround him with seemingly no way out.
The old biker was far from where the bike landed, but he ended up near one of his saddlebags. The insides of the bag contained toys that the biker was delivering to an orphanage. The biker began throwing whatever toys he could grab ahold of at the gremlins.
As the contents of the saddlebag began to run thin, the biker found a shiny bell. Attempting to scare the gremlins away, he rang it vigorously. Two other bikers who were camping out nearby heard the bell ring. They began to follow the sound of the bell and rushed over once they saw what was happening.
The campers fought off the nasty gremlins and helped the old biker regain stability. As a token of appreciation, the old biker gifted the campers a bell each. He cut two straps from his saddlebag and tied the bells beneath each of their motorcycles.
The old biker told the campers that if they were ever in trouble on their bike, they should ring the bell. Fellow riders nearby that hear the bell will help out in these situations.
Guardian Bell Rules
While guardian bells are positive indicators of safety and fellowship among the motorcycle community, they do come with a few rules that must be followed.
Rule 1: Do NOT buy your own bell – Most discourse out there tells us that these bells are far more effective when bought and given as a gift. The bell’s supernatural aura is unlocked and activated by the kindness shown from the rider’s friend or loved one. Some argue that the bell gains even more power when gifted by a fellow rider.
Rule 2: Do NOT hang your own bell – Similar to rule 1, the bell will carry more power to protect if hung on the motorcycle from the person who gifted it to you. There is a good chance that these top two rules originated from the Old Biker’s road trip tale.
Rule 3: Do NOT leave the bell behind – If you decide to sell your motorcycle, you should take the guardian bell with you. Even if you decide to give the bell to the new owner of your previously owned bike, you should still remove it and directly hand it over to them. If they accept, you’ll need to reinstall it for them as well. Simply leaving it on without attaching it for them lacks the full element of intentional goodwill, thus leaving the bell powerless.
Rule 4: Install it to the lowest part of the frame – The longstanding belief with road gremlins is that they always lay low to the ground. If the bell is attached at the lowest point, this ensures it’s the first thing they’ll grab when attempting to attack. The gremlins are instantly captured this way, helping the bell achieve maximum potential.
Rule 5: Stolen bells lose all power – The intentions of goodwill are the driving force behind the power of guardian bells. Stolen by itself or with the motorcycle it’s attached to will render the bell completely useless.
Rule 6: Clean and polish the bell regularly – The easiest way is to clean and polish the bell every time you wash your ride. It’s also a good opportunity to reflect on the fallen riders that came before you.
Installing the Bell
Attaching the bell to the motorcycle is a fairly straightforward process. We touched briefly on the best location for it, which is the lowest part of the frame. A popular and easily accessible spot is the foot rest peg.
The bell has a hang loop, but you’ll need a strong material to attach it with. Commonly used attachment materials include leather straps and plastic cable ties. Hold the bell upright and thread your material of choice through the loop.
Wrap your material around the peg or any other location on the frame that you choose. Pull tightly into the slot if you are using a plastic cable (also known as a zip tie). If you used a leather strap or other tying material, tie it off with a double knot.
Cut off any excess material with a pair of scissors. Boom! Your guardian bell is securely in place.
Now that we know the history and rules behind guardian bells, what do you think of them? Do you have one? Have you ever given one to a rider?
Remember, the bell must be purchased and installed for the rider by someone else. So, if you’re a rider looking for one, consider dropping some hints to your friends or family. If you have a friend or family member that has a motorcycle or is shopping for one, this is a great gift for riders of all ages.
Let us know all of your guardian bell opinions in the comments below!