USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘motorcycle’
Customs
Protection

1UP, Pegs up

Main piece:

When you ride, you have your pegs, right? And when you have your girl or your buddy on the back, you’re riding 2UP, they’ve got pegs too, right? To put their feet on. And on every bike, these pegs fold up and down.

Now, this one’s kinda weird – but ya gotta think about it. When you’re by yourself, but you’ve got your pegs down? You’re askin’ the devil to sit behind you. You’re askin’ him to lean the wrong way, bounce around.

So, the idea is that you always need to put your passenger pegs up when you’re by yourself. The only exception is in a funeral procession. A guy you lost out on the road? Leave the pegs down so he can ride with you. That’s the exception. He’s like a guardian angel.

Context:

Stew has been riding motorcycles since the age of fifteen. He is a thirty-five year member of Glen Ellyn’s volunteer fire department, and is a Vietnam War veteran.

Background:

This myth is common to most motorcycle riders, and is one of many superstitions in biker culture related to passengers.

Analysis:

Summoning the devil is a common superstition in American folklore. The 1UP, pegs down example is particularly interesting, as it is a sin of omission or forgetfulness rather than direct action like spilling salt.

Myths
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

White Lighters

Main piece:

A superstition that bikers have? Well, first one comes to mind is white lighters. Bikers hate that shit. First of all, they just look… weird, right? There’s somethin’ about ‘em that looks just a little off.

But one lighter in a group? Whole group is cursed. Whoever brought it is asking for trouble for the whole gang he’s ridin’ with. In fact, one time out on the way to Sturgess… I think it was in ’92 or ’93… I saw two guys on the side of the road. We stopped to give em a hand, and some jackass on a Honda bobber is sitting there with no oil left in his bike. No drain plug in the pan, burned the whole engine right up. And there in his shirt pocket, lookin’ right at me was a white lighter.

And honestly he probably got lucky! His buddy sure did – what if he’d hit him as he locked out? Yeah. All kinds of bad luck with white lighters. For everyone.

Context:

Stew has been riding motorcycles since the age of fifteen. He is a thirty-five year member of Glen Ellyn’s volunteer fire department, and is a Vietnam War veteran.

Background:

This myth is also perpetuated by marijuana enthusiasts. Often, it is tied to the myth of the 27 Club, a group of actors and musicians who died at the age of twenty-seven. Four of the most well-known of these actors – Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, and Kurt Cobain – are alleged to have been carrying a white lighter at the time of their deaths.

Analysis:

This superstition is similar to a Jonah myth – in which the presence of someone or something turns ill the will of God and causes strife for members of a group. In this case, the group is a group of motorcyclists.

 

For more on white lighters, see Jack Pendarvis’ Cigarette Lighter.
Pendarvis, Jack. Cigarette Lighter. London: Bloomsbury, 2016. Google Books. 28 Jan. 2016. Web. 20 Apr. 2017.

general
Legends

Broken down bikers, bad Samaritans

Main piece:

So, I’ve had my ass saved probably like three different times on the side of the road. Broken off luggage, flat tire, you name it. Another biker is gonna stop to help you 100% of the time.

So, there’s this thing, right? Where it’s part of the culture to stop. But also if you don’t, you’re low key kinda fucked. It’s gonna be you on the side of the road.

Especially when you’re on a bike. Doesn’t matter that drivers are gonna have more tools, more room for a ride – you’re almost safer there. If you’re a guy who rides and you’re driving? That’s fine, fair enough. You can probably get away with not stopping.

But if you’re another rider, on your bike, and you don’t stop? Wicked bad luck, wicked dumb move. That’s gonna be you out there the next time.

Swear to God, don’t think I’ve ever been passed by a biker when I’m on the shoulder. I’ve never passed one myself. People take it seriously out there. When you’re up on two wheels, ya gotta have eachothers’ backs.

Context:

Chris has been riding motorcycles since the age of nineteen. He and his beloved FJR1300 are leaving for a cross-country ride to Boston by way of Canada from Los Angeles in two weeks.

Background:

This practice/standard of expectation is common to all North American bikers known by the author.

Analysis:

This is a Good Samaritan concept, probably taken from the Judeo-Christian tradition. Helping a traveler on the side of the road, or “today, you – tomorrow, me” mentality is a fairly common trope in folklore. What makes the biker example so interesting is that it is militantly well-followed. In a sense, it is even enforced by biker culture.

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
Folk Beliefs

Biker Lore: Do not Paint Your Motorcycle Green

Informant: “Its bad luck to paint your bike green”

 

The informant is a female student at USC. She 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 dad’s 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.”

She remembers this belief because she said “I remember when he built his 1936 Knucklehead, which is just like a really rare motorcycle. It was the first uh motorcycle that the Harley Davidson’s built out. It was like the premise of the engine that they use now in V-twins and whatnot. But um he painted it green and he was like I know you are not supposed to do this but I’m going to do it anyways. He like acknowledged that you are not supposed to do that, and if you pay attention most motorcycles aren’t green unless there’s like a yuppie riding it.” The informant is not sure why painting a motorcycle green is bad luck, but “among bikers that is just something you don’t do.”

To answer this question, I conducted research on several sites and people responded that “legend has it that the Harleys used in World War II were painted an olive color. The story goes that the bikes with this color were targets for snipers on the front as they were generally carrying important dissipates for the U.S. and others high command. Since then, it eventually translated into modern folklore and is now bad luck to ride a green painted bike.” There also seems to be a strong superstition in the race car industry that cars painted green are bad luck. Apparently, no one who ever drove a green painted car won until Jim Clark with his British Green race cars.

While looking online, I found that a popular race motorbike called the Kawisaki is painted a bright green. There is a legend circulating that the curse (of painting a motorcycle green) is the very reason that the Kawisaki race bikes were painted green. The engineers wanted to prove that their designs were superior to any possible curse, and they chose lime green, since it was the most green in their opinion.

Clearly, this belief is not central to where the informant lives and many people have heard of this belief to the point that new legends are circulating that a major motorcycle racing company chose to paint their motorcycles green to disprove the curse.

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