Bikers use bells to ward off evil spirits

(CNJ Illustration: Sharna Johnson)

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

Even seasoned motorcycle riders share a superstition, a belief that there are road gremlins who cause mechanical failures and accidents.

To ward off “evil road spirits,” bikers dangle bells near the front wheel. The “freedom” or “spirit” bells are steeped in bike lore and tradition. The powers of the bell are magnified if it is given as a gift by someone who cares.

The belief behind the bells is so strong, in fact, that many bikers won’t ride without them.

According to the legend, the bell traps the evil road spirits within its hollow. The constant ringing drives them insane. Pot holes in the road — legend says — are formed when the evil spirits hit the ground.

Albert Blais recalls first hearing the story in the late 1970s and has ridden with a bell since.

Blais and some other local motorcycle riders shared their stories of their bells with the CNJ.

Berb DuBoise said about a dozen years ago his wife gave him his first bell, choosing a bell made of Black Hills gold.

While living in New York, he made a trip from Buffalo to Rochester to visit his mother. During the trip he remembers hearing the bell ringing constantly, something it had never done before. After arriving home he parked the bike and went to bed. The next morning he woke up and his tire was “flat off the rims.”

He believes that the bell kept the flat from occurring while he was driving, saying “If that had happened on the road at 80 miles per hour I would have been road rash.”

Albert Blais, a retired rancher, said that after 55 years of driving he has had “two or three close calls” but no accidents. Since the 1970s he has had a bell on every bike he’s owned and he believes that the bell and careful driving have contributed greatly to his good fortune.

When he traded his old motorcycle in for a new one, he said his wife bought him the bell he has now. “She knows I like it on there. When I traded in the old bike, I left the bell on it because I think that when a bell’s on a bike, it stays with that bike — so I needed a new one” he said.

• Randy Rhue, service advisor at High Plains Harley Davidson, began riding at 15. He said his sister gave him his first bell in 1982 and he has had one ever since. According to Rhue, last year while he and his wife were riding they were in an accident that could have been fatal.

“The bell kept us from being hurt. We should have rolled over and over but we didn’t, we just slid for a little bit. It could have killed both of us.”

When he went to pick up his bike after having it repaired there was a new shiny silver bell on it — a gift from High Plains Harley Davidson.

He still keeps his old bell on his desk as a reminder “this is the bell that saved me from very severe injury” he said. “It served its purpose so I retired it.”

Richard Canada said he bought his first bell eight years ago.

“By God, nobody else bought me one and I sure wasn’t riding without one, so I bought it myself,” he said.

He selected a silver bell to match his bike, choosing it because, he said “It was a happy bell — it said ‘let’s go riding.’”

• Steve Burns, a seasoned rider of 35 years, said he never knew the story of the bell. Five years ago after he bought a new bike, a good friend approached him at a motorcycle rally in Ruidoso.

“He told me ‘your bike is missing something’ and handed me a bell” he said.

Prior to being given the bell, Burns said he had been plagued with numerous mechanical problems.

“It’s never broken down since” he said.