“Gremlin” or “Ride Bells” are supposed to protect riders from evil spirits or road gremlins. You know, it’s not the minivan driver’s fault when they run you down because they are talking on their cell phone, it is the GREMLINS!
I am not too superstitious, (except when it comes to wearing a pink helmet), so I don’t really care for them. I have enough crazy crap hanging off my scooter.
I was wondering how this bell craze started, so I googled it and started researching. The best explanation was posted on a biker forum. Very nicely done too.
A long, long time ago, before the motorcycle, or the horseless carriage, or the steam-engine railway, “roads” were tracks through the woods cleared of trees wide enough to get a wagon or carriage through, and “highways” were roads that stayed mostly to the ridges to keep away from soggy ground in the valleys. “Wagoner” or “driver” was a skilled profession attracting the likes of Daniel Boone, someone who could master a whole team of horses at once, and professional drivers generally had bells on their horse’s harnesses to alert people that they were coming, so that they could make way and stay out of danger. We think of them mostly as “sleigh bells” today because they were especially important during the winter when snow muffled the sound of hoofbeats coming, but cross-country carriages and any team that kept up a good pace would wear them year-round.
In those days, any wagon coming across another that had gotten stuck would help out, if only because they needed to move it to get by themselves. If it was really stuck, they’d hook up both teams to one wagon to pull it out. This was an embarrassment to a professional driver, and the custom was that the driver that needed to be rescued would surrender his harness bells to the rescuer. This led to the old-fashioned saying you might have even heard from your grandparents’ generation “I’ll be there with bells on”, meaning they’d not only be there, but they were confident of it not being a problem.
I don’t know for sure that there’s any connection with the modern superstition, but I like to think that there might be the vestige of an old tradition there.
There are other possible connections. I’ve heard the “demons” called “gremlins” as often as not, and that word goes back to WWII aviator use. Gremlins were mischievous (and dangerous) imps that caused unpredictable mechanical problems on aircraft.
Bomber crews during the war were sometimes sent for R&R to the island of Capri in Italy, in 1944 and 1945, and while there often picked up small “good luck” bells, a local tradition, as souvenirs that they wore on the throat-latch hooks of their leather flight jackets.
That ex-aviator crowd in those same jackets, used to a little more excitement than civilian life typically offered, made up a large part of early motorcycle clubs after the war ended, so it’s not hard to envision the first “anti-gremlin” bells being the ones that they picked up in Capri, originally worn on the jackets and later transferred to the bikes themselves. Maybe, just maybe, one of those guys had the old wagoner’s tradition in mind when he did it.