If you ride a motorcycle, you may have heard of guardian bells, or perhaps you have one hanging from the bottom of your bike. For many riders, a small motorcycle bell is one of the first accessories they will add to their bike. For others, they may be a bit of a mystery. Regardless of what brought you to this page, we’ll take a deep dive into the history, purpose, and folklore surrounding this tradition.
What is a guardian bell?
A guardian bell, or gremlin bell, is a small metal bell commonly hung from the bottom of a motorcycle as a kind of good luck charm to keep the evil road spirits away from the bike. It’s a tradition that has been around for a long time, helping to provide riders with peace of mind as they venture down the road on their journey.
The tradition stems from several different legends, which all have similar characteristics. In each one, the bell’s powers protect the motorcycle rider, and gifting one to a fellow biker is a way to pass on good will to keep the biker safe. It’s a staple of the biker tradition. Before we get into the details of the bells and how to get one, let’s venture down the road of the legends.
Where did the tradition come from?
There are several stories regarding the origin of these little bells, but they all have a common theme. Nobody knows for sure where the tradition originated, but the mystery is part of the biker legend. Let’s take a closer look at the legend of the guardian bell:
Legend 1: The WWII Pilots
This legend dates back to World War II, originating with fighter pilots tasked with flying long solo missions with little to no sleep. This was an extremely dangerous assignment, with constant gunfire and battles throughout Europe and Asia. Pilots were on call throughout the entire war, and many would need to complete their assignments with little to no sleep.
Even if they did sleep, the nightmares from the war would keep them from getting the rest they needed. The legend of the bell starts with the pilots and their efforts to stay awake. Pilots and others in the military were issued medication to keep them away and alert. However, many pilots complained about how the medicine made them feel and would forgo taking it. Instead, pilots would hang bells in their cockpits to keep them awake and alert.
While on long flights and suffering from sleep deprivation, many pilots would experience hallucinations and see things outside of their cockpit. Some pilots described these things as small creatures or dark hooded figures trying to make them crash their planes. Legend has it that the bells would help to keep the evil little creatures, the road gremlins, away, so the pilot could return home safely.
After WWII, many of the pilots, after returning to civilian life, would substitute the rush of the plane with the rush of a motorcycle. They would hang the bells from their plane on their motorcycles, and the constant ringing of the bell drives the little gremlins crazy, keeping them away from the bike, just as they did from the plane. To this day, it’s considered a great honor in the motorcycling world to have received a bell from a pilot.
Legend 2: The Biker in Mexico
This story is one of the most famous ones associated with the bell. While it has several different versions, they all are fairly similar. The legend starts with a solo motorcycle rider traveling through Mexico on a road trip. One night, as he was heading home from his trip, just several miles north of the border, he headed towards a group of gremlins who left a bunch of obstacles on the road with the hope of causing an accident. The mischievous little harmful spirits lived along the road and would do whatever they could to cause havoc and make people as miserable as themselves.
Since the road was dark and he had no time to react, the rider crashed his motorcycle. The rider was left lying on the ground, near one of his bags, as the gremlins began to pick through it and throw items he had stored in there at him. As they began to empty his bag, the last item he had left was a tiny bell. Out of desperation, he began to ring it to try and scare off the gremlins. Nearby, two other bikers camping for the night heard the ringing in the distance and, out of curiosity, followed to sound to find the injured biker.
The bikers fought off the gremlins, assisted the injured rider, and nursed him back to health. Out of a token of appreciation and to recognize his good deed, the injured rider gave his bell to one of the men who helped him. He told in that if he ever needed help, ring the bell, and a fellow rider would be there to assist him.
This legend has been passed down over generations and had left to the gifting of spirit bells to other bikers. If you see anyone with a bell on their bike, chances are it was given to them to keep them safe and ward off the evil gremlins. The constant ringing drives them nuts and keeps them away from the bike.
Legend 3: The Hooded Figure
Like the original story of the biker in Mexico, this one also starts with a solo rider traveling at night on the open road. This bell legend begins with the rider experiencing mechanical problems with his motorcycle. Suddenly, while he rode down a dark, deserted road, his headlight died. The engine died, and he slowly rolled to a stop along the road.
The rider got off his bike and began to look for the cause of the problem. While trying to do what he could in the dark as he looked as his electrical systems, he had this strange feeling that someone was watching him. As this feeling started to get stronger, he quickly stood up and turned around. He found himself face to face with a dark hooded figure. With his fists up and ready to fight, the biker heard the figure speak, saying, “No need to be worried; I’m here to help.” He then handed the biker a small brass bell, instructing him to hang it from the lowest part of his motorcycle. He said, “as you ride along, the gremlins along the road will get caught in the bell, and as it rings, they will fall out and onto the road, keeping you safe.”
The figure asked the rider to pass along this information and then disappeared into the dark. The rider hung the bell on the lowest part of his motorcycle and tried to start up his bike. To his surprise, the engine started, and he made it home safe. He shared this information with others, hence the beginning of the tradition.
Some people point to the bell’s origin as having a connection to religion. This is a reason some bikers may choose to hang a bell from their bike. Bells have a long history of being rung to ward off evil spirits. The Catholic church encouraged Catholics to use bells to protect people from evil. Bells, referred to as “dead bells,” were blessed with holy water and hung by people to ward off evil spirits. Priests would also ring these bells at funerals to remind everyone who heard them pray for the dead to help their souls reach heaven and avoid the evil spirits they would path along the way.
While it’s not certain, it’s possible that hanging bells from bikes could have found some of its origins in religion. Many traditions we have today started with the church, and there’s good reason to think it has some influence on the motorcycle community.
Memory for fallen riders
Some riders choose to hang a bell from their motorcycle to remember close friends or family members who they lost to a motorcycle accident. The commemorative bells remind the rider and keep their memory alive each time they ride their bike.
The final story is less mysterious and more practical. Before the advent of alarms, it’s believed that some bikers hung bells from their motorcycles to be alerted to a thief trying to steal their bike. Then the bike moved, and the owner would hear the bell and run out to prevent the theft of his bike.
Where do you hang it from your bike?
While there is no right or wrong place to hang the bell, if doing so to ward off the evil gremlins, tradition states that you should hang it from the lowest part of your bike closest to the road. An appropriate place is to tie it to the frame behind the front wheel to catch the gremlins before they have a chance to wreak havoc.
How do you hang a bell?
While you can use a piece of string, wire, or anything similar, a simple zip tie is one of the most convenient ways to hand the bell. The plastic tie won’t succumb to erosion or road grime as wire and string can. However, it’s still a good idea to check it occasionally to ensure it’s still secure and in good shape. Most bells will come with a key ring as a guardian bell hanger to make attaching it easier.
What are some other names for a motorcycle guardian bell?
Within the biker community, you’ll hear the bells referred to in different ways. Below are some of the common names you may hear them called:
- Angel Bell
- Biker Bell
- Bravo Bells
- Guardian Bell
- Luck Bell
- Gremlin Bell
- Road Bell
- Ride Bell
- Motorcycle Bell
- Spirit Bell
What are the rules for the bells?
Just like many traditions in the biking community, there are some unspoken rules that many bikers follow. This goes for the guardian bell.
Gifting a Bell: You shouldn’t purchase your own bell, especially if you want it to work effectively at warding off evil gremlins. The bell should be gifted to you from another rider or a loved one. The tradition states that the bell is only activated by a gesture of good will and carries twice as much power when gifted to you. A new bell does not have its magical powers until it gifted.
Hanging a Bell: The bell should be hung from the lowest part of the frame. Since gremlins lurk along the road, the bell will be the first thing they encounter before they cause havoc that can harm you.
Good Will: If you sell your bike with a bell, you should remove the bell. The bell, given out of kindness and love to protect the rider, should remain with the rider. The rider can hang it on a new bike or gift it to another out of kindness. Even if you choose to gift it to the person purchasing the bike, you should still remove it and give it to them by hand, and preferably with a message of good will.
Bad Luck: Bells will lose their effectiveness in warding off evil gremlins or spirits when they are not gifted out of intentional good will. If a bike is stolen, the stolen bell will no longer work. The gremlins will be trapped in the hollow of the bell, and bad luck will follow the unsuspecting rider. I wouldn’t want to be the thief riding that bike.
Where can you purchase a Guardian Bell?
Bells can be found at almost any motorcycle rally. They’re also easily found online, with some companies providing custom bells that carry a special meaning from the purchaser to the recipient. Below are some great online stores where you can find that special bell to give to a friend or loved one. They make perfect gifts for a person who just got a new motorcycle.