USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘bell’
Folk Beliefs
Material
Protection

Biker Bell

Informant: “Among bikers that is just something you don’t do and also it is popular to get a little iron bell. They’re like these tiny little bells that you just attach to the front of your bike and normally other people buy them for you and you just put them on there before you ride otherwise its not as safe I guess. Its just weird little things in the biker culture I guess.”

 

The informant is from Beaumont, California and lives in a family where motorcycles are very common, “everybody in my family, especially my dad and my grandfather, are bikers.” Moreover, the informant said, “I like grew up in a garage pretty much. That’s what my dad does and my dads dad. My dad, he’s a welder, and he builds and rides his own bikes and he has a lot. I don’t know how many he has. He does old ones though, like the ones from the 30s and 40s and then my grandpa was the leader of the Vagos when biker gangs were huge.”

The informant said that she first learned about this lore when she was a young girl because putting a bell on a motorbike is family tradition, “whenever my dad would get a new bike he would get a bell for it.” However, the informant said that you need to get a bell as a gift; you cannot go buy one on your own. The bell should be low to the ground and is usually attached with leather, though people use different things like zip ties etc. When put on a motorcycle, the folk belief states that the bell will ensure a safe ride. As someone who comes from a family of bikers, she is aware that many things can happen to bikers if they are going to go on a ride for an extended period of time. Thus, there is an incentive to have the loved one return safely, so you give them a bell. Furthermore, the informant and her family do believe in the paranormal so she figures putting a bell on the bike can’t hurt.

After doing some research online, I found these bells can be called, Ride Bells, Karma Bells, Gremlin Bells, and Guardian (Angel) bells, among others. The most popular names were the Karma and Gremlin Bell.

The practice of putting a bell on a motorcycle comes from an old legend regarding road gremlins or evil road spirits. The bell will scare away these creatures, and it prevents them from causing harm to you and your bike. The gremlin’s are said to cause many different problems such as mechanical problems like causing turn signals to malfunction, the battery to die etc, as well as small items in the road and problems caused by other motorcyclists.

Apparently, some people who do not believe in the tradition still give bells as a gesture of good will, and others find the bell represents that “someone cares about you.” Thus, it seems that the tradition has moved from just chasing away road spirits to a gesture of concern and kindness for a loved one.

Lastly, there are actually a few companies based around the sale of Gremlin bells, so the practice seems to be quite common.

Below are some images of Biker Bells

           

Customs
Initiations

Ring the Chapel Bell

“Uhh…I guess we all know the..to…you ring the chapel bell after…Like after, um, a team wins or just like after something good happens to you like if you get an “A” on a test or something. Ummm.  Like after football games, if we win, there’s like an hour wait to go ring the bell. Ummm.” (I asked if she had rung the bell.) “Yes.  Well it’s a tradition for my like sorority family to go do it on big little reveal night, and we also do it on bid night.  And ummm. I have never done it after a football game just cause it’s too long.”

The informant attends the University of Georgia, and she loves football like most of her school, which is probably why the line is so long at the bell after a team win.  The bell allows everyone to take part in the joy of winning the football game.  The informant told me that the university talked about the ritual on the tours for prospective students, but it is also just something that everyone knows.  Ringing the chapel bell and knowing what that means is an initiation into the university community, and as she said, it has been adopted by her sorority as an initiation ritual for new members.  In addition to celebrating what good thing has happened to you, no matter how small, ringing the bell becomes common knowledge that helps the new members of a sorority or freshman at the university make the shift from being outsiders to insiders.

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