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Meaning of Motorcyle Bells Comes From WWII Pilots

The meaning of motorcycle bells is often associated with little gremlins and/or demons that hide along the highways and sabotage motorcycles, causing bikes to crash.

But their history goes back, way back.

As early as the 11th Century AD, Catholics in England and Scotland rang “dead bells” in a funeral procession to ward off evil spirits. The use of bells grew in popularity in the Catholic Church as a way to mourn passing souls and continues to this day. The use of bells hanging from windows, doors, and overhangs, have been used in many cultures to ward off malicious spirits.

It wasn’t until the 1920s, when pilots of the Royal Air Force began talking of little creatures that wreaked havoc with their airplanes. The word “gremlin” was coined, deriving from the Old English, “gremman” or “gremian”, which means to “to vex”. It described little humanoid creatures that sabotaged airplanes perhaps as humorous way to explain the fault-prone construction of RAF technology.

Roald Dahl was a pilot in the RAF during WWII, and advanced the idea into a children’s book entitled, “The Gremlins“, which was eventually published by Walt Disney. The book sold 50,000 copies initially with an additional 30,000 later on. American pilots adopted the gremlin folklore and even claimed to have seen them just before a crash or malfunction. It was enough to convince many pilots to use charms to ward off gremlins, including the centuries-old dangling bell.

When American pilots returned home from WWII, many of them continued their wartime camaraderie on motorcycles. Some of them formed clubs, making lifelong friends of their fellow servicemen.  They brought the same gremlin myth to their motorcycles, and some of them hung small bells from their bikes.

As motorcycle club culture increased in popularity, accessory manufacturers began looking for ways to capitalize, and began selling motorcycle bells. The notion that a motorcycle bell had to be given as a gift in order to gain protective powers seemed to discourage sales, however. Manufacturers countered by introducing a contrasting myth that a self-purchased bell already has sufficient power, but that a gift-given bell has double powers.

Posted by admin at 7:19 pm

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