One of my coworkers is a quintessential biker. He’s a gentle giant with political views far right of center and a Copenhagen circle worn into his Wranglers. He rides a purple Harley with a shag carpet seat cover, and thanks to the neon lights mounted to the undercarriage, he’s been accused of being a Village People impersonator with assless chaps by a few of my other coworkers (usually behind his back). He’s a great guy that doesn’t even like disco music, but that’s not the point.
I was smoking a cigar by his motorcycle when the sun reflected off of something silver on the bottom near the front wheel. I’m a sucker for shinny things like all other mammals so I bent down to get a closer look. It was a little bell about the size of a pecan. I remember snuffing out my cigar and running inside to ask what the hell it was for (running, because I have an OCD way of dealing with curiosity) and I was told that it was a bell to keep the road spirits, the gremlins, away. Yes, he said, almost every biker has one.
Holy shit; what a strange superstition. I guess there are all sorts of peculiarities that go along with the bells as well. You can’t simply go out and buy one; it has to be gifted to you by a loved one (preferably a woman) but she can go buy one whenever she wants. They’re about ten bucks online. It has to be fastened on the bottom near the front. I guess gremlins are really short and don’t attack from the rear.
I remember the first time I saw a motorcycle accident. I was ten or so riding with my dad through an Alaskan summer day in his shitty Honda Civic when we came upon the scene. It looked as if the biker had run into the back of a BMW and a few police officers were following him around trying to get him to lie down on a stretcher. He had no idea where he was and blood was streaming down from a crack in his skull like yoke from an egg. His subconscious had taken rein and he was moving around like a confused robot. We drove on.
There was a recent accident in southern Colorado that everybody’s been talking about. I spoke with five members of a Mexican rig crew that saw it first hand and I guess it was a gruesome travesty. A man and woman from California were riding their Harley on a road notorious for its twists and turns when they ran head on into a pickup truck. I was told that there were “body parts all over the road”. Those weren’t my words, but when someone says “body parts”, it invokes a deep seated visceral response that I try to shut myself away from. It dilutes the human aspect of the wreck in some way. C3PO faced the same fate numerous times only to be carried around in a black mesh sack on the back of a wookie so he could be put together again humpty-dumpty style. And that’s where my mind goes after hearing of such a thing; to childhood toys and PG rated movies.
I know it makes no difference in the real world, but I wonder if either of the bikes in the two accidents I just described were equipped with gremlin bells. I’ve been looking at every Harley I come across in parking lots or at gas stations and every single one of them has had little silver or golden bells dangling upfront near the asphalt. I imagine the riders smiling as a sister or a daughter or a wife hands them a small gift wrapped box with well wishes for their safety.
I’ve also noticed something else. None of the bikers I’ve seen with the little bells on the bottom of their bikes wear helmets. I guess a tiny silver bell is manly but a “brain bucket” isn’t. I even asked once, and the rider said “all a helmet does is give you an open casket funeral”. I’m nearly positive such a sentiment is bullshit, and simple physics will prove that a helmet is infinitely more effective than a shinny bell, but whatever. Superstition is an ignorant bitch and my arguments will never convince one of these badass Harley straddling road warriors that they should wear a helmet. I wonder how many of those daughters or sisters or wives would rather give their loved one a slightly larger gift wrapped box that could actually save a life instead of appease a superstition.
There’s a completely different type of rider on the streets as well; the fast and furious crotch rocket type on their Ducati’s or their Kawasaki’s. I’ve yet to find one with a bell on the bottom. A helmet with a dark black visor actually completes the aerodynamic look these guys are going for. I’m sure it’s pure coincidence but I’m pretty good at finding irony where there isn’t any, but do you know which brand manufactures most of the helmets I see this second type of rider wearing? Bell Sports. I guess if you’ve got “BELL” stenciled on the back of your helmet in big bold black letters, you don’t need a little shinny one to ward off the gremlins.
I took this picture of a Harley between two gas pumps, and if you look closely at the bottom near the foot peg, you’ll see the gremlin bell.