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The Motorcycle Bell Legend
The Origin of the Legend of The Bell
The Story of the Motorcycle Bell
Motorcycle Bell Rules
Motorcycle Bell Maker & CRATEX tools
Motorcycle Bell Legend
The story of the Motorcycle Bell is a sentimental story about the special and powerful bond between bikers, about brotherhood, friendship and kindness. And of course, it's a story about a powerful little talisman that wards off those nasty little road gremlins that mess with people's motorcycles. Yeah, you know what we're talking about. Those little things are pesky and they're trouble!
In case you are shaking your head not knowing what this is about, sit down, grab a drink, because we'll tell you all about it. And in case you know what these motorcycle bells are, but don't know much about them, do the same. We surfed the internet, talked to some bikers and gathered a lot of interesting facts. One thing is for sure – if you don't have it, you'll feel like you need to get one.
What is a Motorcycle Bell?
Have you noticed that some motorcycles have a tiny decorated metal bell dangling from beneath? Perhaps you saw it on a parked bike, or a bike you've been working on, or perhaps someone gave it you as a gift. They don't just look cool, they have a very important purpose and a tradition that goes back almost as long as there were bikers roaming the roads of lands remote and near.
Some people call them Motorcycle Bells or even Spirit Bells. They got their name a) because they are bells, and b) because they have magical powers that bring good luck to a biker and his bike, keeping them safe from evil spirits that can harm them while on the road. These evil spirits or creatures called "gremlins" lurk the roads, preying on bikers passing by, trying to find ways to cling to their motorcycles and cause mischief. Falling over, wrecking, engine stalling, tree branches falling, dead battery, mechanical problems on a lonely road where no one is around to help... Yup, all the work of gremlins.
Perhaps you've even heard a biker and a mechanic mumbling: "gremlins" when there's an unusual motorcycle problem that no one can diagnose. They weren't joking.
What is a Motorcycle Bell for?
So, how does a motorcycle bell work? It looks like the gremlins can't stand the ringing sound of the metal bell due to their supersensitive hearing. They either hear the bell far from the distance and hide, waiting for the next "unlucky" biker without the bell. Or, if they've already clung to the bike (because they love to ride along and are happy to cause damage), they are captured in the hollow of the bell. The bell starts ringing during the drive, so they go crazy, releasing their grip and falling off to their death.
And the proof of their existence and death? But the pot holes, of course! The ones who are not familiar with the legend of the motorcycle bell tend to curse the pot holes, but the ones with true knowledge know what they mean. A brave, anonymous biker strolled the road with his mighty bell fighting off gremlins and making the road safe for other fellow bikers who pass by the same place.
These biker bells are a strong tradition among the members of the Harley community.Rumor has it that the gremlins especially like the Harleys, so Harley guardian bell is something they take very seriously. However, other cruisers and touring bike riders also feel strongly about it. These are a lot of stories and claims of road troubles without the talisman. Some firmly believe in them, others not so much. However, although even when the belief is not very strong, no one wants to temp the faith, so a bell is always a must. Besides, if the pot holes are not enough proof, then nothing will be. Something does cause them, and nobody can deny that!
The Origin of the Legend of The Bell
The mystical stories of the bell and its connection to the spirit world dates back to ancient times. These bells had carved images of various gods and goddesses and their purpose was to ward off evil spirits.
The Christianity kept the custom of church bells ringing during burial services as their purpose is to fright away evil spirits that lurk besides the deceased, waiting to capture the soul as it leaves the body. During great epidemics in the medieval times the bells were rung to clear the air of a vicious disease.
The spiritual or magical power of the bell came from a belief that, thanks to their hanging position, they were guardians of the passageway between Heaven and Earth, preventing the demons to pass through it.
Buddhism is also familiar with the concept of the "sacred" bell that drives away negative forces and drives in the positive ones. Bell was also tied around the foot of a sick child in some parts of Africa to protect the child, and ancient Jews wore bells tied to their clothes to keep the evil away.
The most common usage of the bell can be seen in shops or houses, hung above the entrances. It's also believed that it will prevent evil spirits from entering, but the function is a more practical one today – to warn the owner that someone (perhaps unwanted) has entered the premises.
The Story of the Motorcycle Bell
There are a few stories about the Motorcycle Bell. We've decided to cover two most interesting ones. One bell story starts with the Royal Air Force pilots who were abused by small plane gremlins, and the second one is a sentimental story about the Old crusty biker.
The Pilots and the Gremlins
Royal Air Force pilots began talking about small humanoid creatures clinging to their aircrafts, causing damage. The word "gremlin" comes from an Old English word "gremian" or "gremman", which means "to make someone feel annoyed and/or worried". It is believed that the pilots actually came up with the story to point to the RAF technology's error-prone construction in a humorous way.
However, pretty soon more and more US pilots claimed that they have seen the little creatures just before a crash or malfunction, which was enough to convince many never to go up in the air without the guarding bell. The small creature that wrecks American planes through diabolical sabotage was featured in the Warner Bros cartoon called the "Falling Hare" (or initially "Bugs Bunny and the Gremlin"). Bugs started laughing after reading about these creatures and what they do, and a small creature with a hammer appeared. Remember that?
The epilog of the story is as follows: the pilots returned home after the WWII, started riding motorcycles, formed clubs and made the bond with their wartime buddies even stronger. They took the gremlin myth and the bells home with them and hung them on their beloved motorcycles for protection.
The Old Biker's Tale
As mentioned, there is more than one story. The most sentimental one is certainly The Old Biker's Tale and most of you true bikers probably know it well. For all those who don't, it goes something like this. An old crusty biker was returning home from Mexico on a cold December night, many many years ago. The ride was smooth up until he reached the high desert where these small notorious little road gremlins were lurking, waiting to cause trouble.
The biker rounded a curve and the gremlins ambushed him. He ended up on the ground, unable to move which made him a sweet and easy target for the gremlins who started to approach him. Luckily, his saddlebag has lying next to him, and again, luckily, it was filled with toys he had been carrying to some orphanage. He started throwing toys at them, trying to keep them away, but nothing worked until he grabbed a bell. He started ringing it, hopping that the sound will scare them.
Meanwhile, another two bikers were camping out in the desert when they heard a bell ring. They thought a bell ringing in the middle of nowhere was strange, so they started to follow the sound and found the old biker on the ground trying to fight off the evil road demons. They rushed to his help and chased the gremlins away into the night.
The old biker was so grateful that he offered them money for saving his life. Being true bikers, of course, money was out of the question, because that's what bikers do – help each other out. And being a true biker himself, the old fellow couldn't let them leave without being somehow rewarded for the good deed that they did.
He cut two straps out of his saddlebag, tied a bell to each, and tied them beneath each motorcycle, as closer to the ground as possible. He told his two bike brothers that the bells will keep them safe from road gremlins, and if ever in trouble, just ring the bell and the fellow bikers will run to their help.
So, when you see a motorcycle with a bell on it, know that it is protected by the powerful magic of the bell. More importantly, know that the bell is a sign of true friendship and is a caring gift from one fellow biker to another. It is also a thoughtful and important gift for new bikers welcomed into the community, as it gives them a positive outlook on the ideals of brotherhood and special bond within the community. It is encouraging to know that someone cares for you and always got your back.
Motorcycle Bell Rules
Like with all powerful talismans, there are certain rules to the motorcycle bell that one most follow. A few rules are generally accepted and well known, while other came to be as a result of different interpretations, hard-core superstition and imagination.
Handling the bell and the understanding of it was interpreted more and more loosely over time, a certain portion of the biker community tends to buy one because it looks pretty darn cool without paying much attention to its original rituals and rules.
The most important rules of the bell would be as follows:
- Rule #1: Never buy your own bell – In order for the bell to work, it must be received as a gift. Its magical powers are activated by the gesture of good will and care, and the bell becomes especially powerful if received from a fellow rider.
- Rule #2: Never hang your own bell – Probably originated from the Old Bike's Tale, the bell should be hung on your bike by the person who gave it to you. Not only does the person give the sacred gift to you with intentional good will, but he or she makes sure that the protection is activated with good will intentions as well.
- Rule #3: Never leave your bell behind – If you sell your motorcycle, never leave it on the bike for the new owner. The bell should be cherished for what it represents, so you should take it off, keep it or transfer it to a new bike. If you want to give the bell to the new owner as a gift, you'll have to take it off and personally hand it over. If you don't give the bell with good will that is intentional, it won't have protective properties.
- Rule #4: Attach it to the lowest part of the frame – Since the little gremlins lurk by the side of the road, they usually grab the motorcycles from below. If you place the bell as low as possible and closer to the front, you'll ensure that that's the first thing they'll grab and that they are instantly captured by it without a chance of doing a mischief.
- Rule #5: A stolen bell loses its powers – Motorcycle bell is all about good intentions, so stolen together with the bike, it will lose its powers and gremlins will run free. The thief won't stand a chance.
- Rule #6: The bell should be occasionally cleaned and polished – Every time the bike is cleaned, the bell should be polished. One must think of all the fallen friends while doing it, which is a way of paying them respect. One must also remember the meaning of being in the wind and importance of being free. Oh, and it makes the bell nice and shiny.
Rule #3 has been discussed a lot, and people new to this traditional usual ask the logical question: "Where do you put a motorcycle bell?" Traditionally, the bell was hung as low as possible without hitting obstacles, but it seems that many bikers don't pay much attention to this rule anymore. They hang it anywhere from the front lower fork to the license plate. It depends on personal preference, and, well, how superstitious and traditional you exactly are.
A lot of other very specific rules do exist, and probably a lot of different bikers know about different rules. It's like with all folk tales and beliefs – they change over time, incorporating believes of different individuals who incorporate them into tradition. For example, they say not only should a fellow biker hang the bell on your bike, but you mustn't touch the bell at all until it's on the bike; or you cannot receive the bell as a gift before you make a ride of at least 100 miles; or some say there are specific rules to retiring the bell and paying it a respect.
Apparently, you should get a mason jar and put the motorcycle bell in it. Then, you should cover it with a quarter of a gallon of motorcycle oil, close it up and put it on a shelf. They say the oil will continue to keep the gremlins away, while the bell will get its peaceful resting place.
Anyway, as the motorcycle club culture and community gained popularity, many accessory manufacturers began to make and sell motorcycle bells. Contrary to the strong original belief that the motorcycle bells should never be purchased, only given as a gift from one fellow biker to another, manufacturers found a way around the story. It's completely ok to buy a bell for yourself, as it actually has enough protective powers to keep you safe. If given as a gift, however, the protective super-powers are doubled.
So, if buying a motorcycle bell and giving it away as a present has double powers, the hand-made bell must have triple-protection powers for sure! So, have you ever thought about making one yourself and giving it to dear friends to keep them safe? If you have the skills and the right tools, put making a bell on the top of your list!
The Motorcycle Maker & CRATEX Tools
So, now the idea of either ordering a custom-made bell or carving a motorcycle bell with your own two hands might start to look like the ultimate gift to a biker. In case you are willing to put your craftsmanship skills to a test, be warned: working on a such small, curved object is not a joke. It requires a lot of patience, a steady hand, a lot of skill and the right tools for the job!
And since CRATEX has the right tools, we invited our dear customer and top-level metal artist, Barry Bonnell to share the story of making a motorcycle bell for our sales manager's husband and son.
How to Make a Motorcycle Nell
As most probably know, the bell is about 1 ½" tall and 1" in diameter at the bottom. As if the size doesn't make it difficult enough, the shape makes the whole thing only more complicated. Or, as Barry put it: "There isn't a flat spot on the whole thing! It's all compound curves."
Barry had to constantly adjust due to the curves and small surface area. He stated it is cut in the Japanese Shishiaibori technique, or sunken relief. He used 5 layers of lacquer to darken the design and make it really stand out and show off the detail.
"The gravers I used were high speed steel “V” gravers ground to an angle of 116 degrees for the primary lines and 90 degrees for deepening and secondary lines. Each of the V gravers were ground to a 50-degree face and 15-degree heel using Steve Lindsay sharpening templates.
Also, I used a flat with a 50-degree face and 15-degree heel to round the edges of the Koi to make it more lifelike. I also used a Micromotor with a 0.4mm carbide dental ball burr to remove background. Inking is done with Rust-Oleum flat black paint.
The gravers were powered by a pneumatic graver system which turns a regular graver into a tiny jackhammer."
Originally, there was a skull on the Koi bell, so Barry needed to grind down and smooth the surface and prepare it for engraving. For this operation, he chose CRATEX abrasive points and was very satisfied with the results, especially because it only took him about 10 minutes to grind the bell smooth compared to an hour that took him in the past.
"They cut smooth and fast, with very little loading. The pewter caused more loading than steel does, but a quick touch to a steel practice plate restored the abrasive perfectly.
I used to do surface preparation with mold-maker stones, and it would have taken at least an hour to prepare the surface of the bell the old way. I’m very happy with my Cratex rubberized abrasives."
"After grinding and smoothing the bell’s surface, all the cutting is done under a Meiji stereo zoom microscope at about 15x magnification. It took about 10 minutes to grind the bell smooth, and about four hours to cut and sculpt the Koi."
The original story has published in CRATEX Customer Chronicals , so we invite you learn the story behind these particular bells as well.
Also, if you are curious about his work and want to get in touch with Barry, here's his Facebook profile.
Powerful Tool for a Powerful Bell!
Want to get your own set of CRATEX rubber-bonded points and start grinding and polishing your own motorcycle bell? Our online store will get a set on your way and to your door in no time!
You can purchase a Box of 100 CRATEX silicon carbide abrasive points or you can give our product a try by getting one of our neat Mini-Point Kits for an unbelievable price!
Also recommended: CRATEX Abrasive Cones
CRATEX silicon carbide abrasive cones are the best answer to many difficult polishing and smoothing problems and are ideal for operations on corners, round objects and hard-to-reach areas. Available shapes: Bullet Point, Cylinder, Pointed and Tapered. Available grits: Coarse C, Medium (M), Fine (F) and Extra-fine (XF).