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GOING THE DISTANCE
"BELLS & WHISTLES"
PHOTO BY GENGHIS
SUPERSTITIOUS?: How about hangin' a hot dog on your bike for luck?
TOMMY CLARK ON FACEBOOK:
"Scott, didn't you do an article on these goofy gremlin bells I see on bikes. My family have been bikers since there were bikes and I asked my father about these bells (this is 30 years ago because he's gone 26 years already) and he told me that back in the day when you went on a Gypsy Tour or attended just about any bike event, they gave you a ribbon with a cheap bell hanging off it to prove you paid your admission fee to the event just like they give you a wrist-band now days. I was at party and there were a couple goofs all dressed up in leathers (90 degrees here in PA) talking about how these things ward off evil spirits. I held my tongue but I kind of think my old man knew a little more than these Brando Buddies. Do you recall an article about ride bells, maybe it was one of David's?"
I never wrote about "ride bells" and as far as I recall, neither did Snow. The following, has been widely distributed in the public domain. Ride bells are another example of superstition in the biker subculture, a topic that I'll address after the following quotes.
"Many of us have heard the story about Evil Road Spirits. They are little gremlins that live on your bike. They love to ride, and they're also responsible for most of your bike's problems. Sometimes your turn signals refuse to work; your battery goes dead, the clutch needs adjustment, or any of several hundred things that can go wrong. These problems are caused by Evil Road Spirits.
Evil Road Spirits can't live in the presence of the bell, because they get trapped in the hollow of the bell. Among other things, their hearing is supersensitive, so the constant ringing of the bell and the confined space drives them insane. They lose their grip and eventually fall to the roadway. Have you ever wondered how potholes are formed? The bell has served its purpose.
If you pick up a bell of your own, the magic will work, but if your bell is given to you, the power is doubled, and you know that somewhere you have a special friend helping to look after you.
So, if you have a friend who doesn't have a bell, why not give them one? It's a nice feeling for the recipient to know you care. The bell, plus a good preventive maintenance program by the bikes owner, will help eliminate Evil Road Spirits.
It has been a tradition among some of us for a long time to attach a brass bell to our left swingarm, to remember our brothers and sisters who have gone down riding.
It's a small thing, but the reason a brass bell is chosen is that, as we ride, it gets dirty and tarnished. Every time we get down to wash and polish it, we are reminded of friends lost, and our thoughts turn to the meaning of being in the wind.
As we ride and hear the bell ring, we know that our brothers and sisters are riding with us, and how easy it would be to join them with a single mistake.
And maybe, just maybe, the next time a situation comes up; they will be there to help us...as long as we remember them by polishing the bell."
In late 1994 when I was recovering from my injuries from my wreck on my Super Glide, Snow was visiting me at my office. As I walked him out, Snow said, "They say that after ya wreck on a bike, you have to get another bike." This was a superstition in the biker subculture I wasn't familiar with, but I was sure of one thing: I was not gettin' rid of my faithful Harley 74, Mabel. No way, no sirree. This 'ole girl's been loyal to me, and as reliable as the day is long, and man---were some days long as I was learning to walk again after I broke the tibia, fibula and ankle of my left leg in that fateful crash. No matter.
I was going to reciprocate and return the loyalty that Mabel showed me with her extreme reliablity, by being faithful to her. The best way to do that, was to honor my commitment to her, to not shun her.
Mabel was a keeper, and I was lucky to have her. Besides, Andrew Rosa of Rosa's Cycles was resurrecting the Mabes in all of her Harley Glory.
He repaired her Super Glide banana tank which took a ding in the crash, and had her tin repainted (black, what else?) by Kolors By Ken. Ken added a "Mabel" on the end of her rear fender in orange paint. The old swingarm was a twisted mass, and he installed another round swingarm he acquired from Bill's Custom Cycles in Pennsylvania, and had some parts powdercoated. Andrew really made Mabel better than new. Because I was still recuperating when my ever-lovin' stroker shovel was ready to roll out of Rosa's Cycles in Huntington, New York---Snow kindly rode Mabel back to my Lower Beast Side garage. My reunion with Mabel was unbelievably emotional for me. I had undergone months of not being able to ride, and my withdrawal symptoms were blatant and deep. My gratitude to Snow for all he did was monumental. Not only did he bring Mabel back to me from Rosa's Cycles, he also took my wrecked bike out to Andrew's shop in a van. I'll never forget Snow's generosity with his time and effort.
There are probably plenty of bikers who feel subconsciously, that holding tight to a bike that's been in an accident is bad luck, sooner rather than later. There's something in the back of all of our minds that harkens back to primeval days, when our neanderthal ancestors arranged their lives around barely acknlowledged instincts that they shared with animals.
Who am I to say that bikers who hang ride bells on their swingarms, are wrong? There's no conclusive way to disprove the alleged benefits of ride bells.
I have too many superstitions---mainly in relation to sports and football---to call the kettle black. This pot ain't a hypocrite.
Hey man, whatever gives bikers comfort and makes 'em feel secure can't be a bad thing. In 1986, my New York Jets went 10-1 before falling apart. They were the odds-on favorite to make, and win the Superbowl that year. Ken O'Brien the quarterback appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated when the Jets were riding high, thereby defying the "SI Curse." Do you know why the Jets did so well? There could only be one reason, as far as Patty and I were concerned:
Because Patty and I were eating ham sandwiches and green pea soup, every sunday before the games.
How does that grab ya for superstition, firmly believed? Any deviation from this ritual, might've resulted in a Jets losses, so we persisted in this culinary routine!
True, we chalked it up as silly, but why take a chance?
When Bill Parcells was coach of the Jets, the Jets won a big game after Parcells had a dentist visit. For the rest of the season Parcells made a weekly appointment with his dentist, even though he didn't require the care.
The result? The Jets won the AF East division that year. Cause and effect or mere coincidence? Who knows?
Players had their own superstitious rituals. Ken O'Brien always ate quiche before games.
Hey man, whatever works, right? Unfortunately, reality rudely intruded with its hideous head in
'86. We had critical injuries on the offensive line, and our quarterback got injured. We lost the next five games after going 10-1, and did not make the Superbowl. I'll tell ya what, though. By the time we stopped our ham sandwiches and green pea soup ritual after this ritual "stopped working," we were so sick and tired of this fare, that we were ecstatic to discontinue it. We couldn't even look at green pea soup for years after that.
Let's not kid ourselves. Riding a motorcycle is slightly more hazardous than collecting stamps. Only cutting yourself on a stamp edge and contracting necrotizing faciitis from it, can elevate stamp collecting to the danger level of riding. That being said, bikers feel that they need all the edge that they can get, luckwise. That's why even agnostic bikers get their motorcycles blessed by the clergy.
I haven't gotten Mabel blessed yet, but that's only because we haven't run into the Pope yet. My Harley 74 deserves only the head guy.
This blessing of the bikes superstition is more widespread than ya might think. Why not? We have blessing of the pets, blessing of bicycles, and practically any object, animated or not---that is believed to give good fortune. If a biker wants to evade the "superstitious" label, he can lay claim to merely being religious.
The cloak of religiosity usually shields people from ridicule.
A blessing of the bikes involves a priest sprinkling Holy Water on bikes, but who knows if he expeditiously uses bottled drinking water, instead? Let's face it, bottled water from Walmart's easier to come by than Holy Water.
"Hey man, I have good luck! My bike was blessed with Poland Spring!"
I'd be the last one to criticize ride bells and such. I am a big believer in following one's instincts when riding. Many were the times when I avoided riding on given days, because it just didn't feel right.
When I actively taught street defense in the combat arts, I taught my students to follow their instincts in questionable situations, as an absolute.
If their spider-sense whispered "danger" I advised my students to follow their instincts to avoid trouble on the streets. The best defense against attack is avoidance. It is in fact, advanced technique.
Instinct as an accurate indicator of things to come, is a phenomenon that's impossible to quantify scientifically, but I can assure you that it does exist.
Patty and I used to have a cat named Casper, who's now dearly departed, who used to go to our door within five minutes of Patty arriving home from work, to greet Patty when she walked through the door.
That was each and every day. How did he know? Instinct, man. That's how. Our instincts are not as finely honed as those of animals, because we've become more "civilized" and cerebral, far removed from our primal ancestors. What we have are vestiges of these heightened instincts.
The prickling of skin. Hairs raising up on the nape of the neck. A "gut feel" featuring a churning feeling. It all signals "instinct" at work, which may be synonymous with "superstition."
Casper's timing of going to our front door to meet Patty might be labeled superstition, but cats can't be superstitious. They lack the cerebral wherewithal for that. But I'll tell ya what. We bikers do have the mental capacity for that, and many of us are superstitious, even if we won't admit it. "Nah, I just dig hearing that bell ring every time I hit a bump! I'm not superstitious! Watch out behind me when I toss that salt back there, okay?"
It's possible that what we humans deride as superstition, is really instinct in disguise.
Later, and Good Luck with your bike, man.