“I Need a Bell,” by Lisa Haneberg

Dec 7th, 2022 | By | Category: Nonfiction, Prose

I find myself in an awkward life-and-death situation. I need a bell, but if I buy my own, it will not work well. And if I ask for the bell, the one I receive will possess fewer protective properties. If I neither buy nor ask for the bell, it’s unlikely that I will get one. The consequences could be dire. Let me explain.

Perhaps you’ve noticed a small bell hanging between the front fenders of the dressed-up Harley parked in front of your favorite barbeque joint. Or maybe you’ve heard the slight ding of such a bell ring through the rumbling muffler as a burly leather-clad rider stopped next to you at a traffic light. No? Look closer the next time you venture to a hot wing bar, and you’ll find fifty-thousand-dollar Moto Guzzis sporting little hand-tied bells.

Legend, superstition, and clever accessory manufacturers claim that bells protect bikers from road gremlins. These biker badgers show their animosity by thrusting debris, spilling oil, and flushing deer from the woods onto the road. They bribe rainbows to distract us and reroute cicada swarms in our direction.

Biker bells neutralize and eviscerate road gremlins. How? As they ascend from the road, the grimy presences get sucked into the bowl of the bell, bounce around, and then vibrate to death. PFFST. It’s swift justice that ensures a splendid day of riding doesn’t turn us into a vulture smorgasbord. The biker’s bell is chaos theory packed into an ounce of cheap molded metal. Sensitivity to initial conditions on full display as the clang of its tiny clapper reverberates to refuse the gremlin’s intent and re-routes the energy into metaphorical butterfly flaps that pulse forward new possibilities.

Our motto: ride with a bell to keep the rubber side down.

These hungry beasts are real. Most many some believe I heard a guy who goes by The Rambler say road gremlins are ghostly beings that were half jackalope and half iguana; a mess of DNA that enables them to eat everything, outrun anything, and concoct out-of-the-box ways to bring down motorcyclists. That last trait comes from the jackalope chromosomes. Cunning, crafty creatures. I once got hit by a warm burrito when there were no cars in front or back of me. Now, where do you think that burrito came from?

There’s more to this frightening potentiality. While it’s clear all riders need a bell for protection, how we acquire the marvelous things matters a lot. The hierarchy of effectiveness goes like this:

Maximum bell protection: Someone gives you a bell without you asking for it. Most often, this exchange happens from one biker to another because we understand what’s at stake. Similar to how we know we should wear clean underwear on a first date. It’s called determinant manifestation and is a universal force we shouldn’t mess with. The power of intent and commitment makes this altruistic acquisition method most desirable. Like the nod an Apple associate gives the smelly sleep-deprived first person in line for the new iPhone, it’s cosmic reinforcement that super-charges the rider’s connection with their new bell. This peer-based bell buying tradition seems more prevalent among cruiser owners, by the way. I see and hear fewer bells on crotch rockets. I think they die more too, though, so there’s that.

Good bell protection: Asking someone to buy a bell for you. This is not optimal because it creates some bad juju. Akin to begging for love, which is sad. But what if you have no friends? Don’t give up and try the indirect approach. Swoon over your favorite style in the bell section of your local motorcycle shop. Perhaps the Lady Biker bell will catch your eye. Purr, “hello gorgeous, I’d do anything to hold you.” Maybe you prefer the dragon bell. The point is, you’ll need to swoon with a gleam in your eye to get the job done. Tease your companion, or anyone nearby, with a slight pass of your hand over their genitalia and warm whisper in their ear, “bells make me horny.” This works because straddling big, powerful motors makes bikers randy. But leave nothing to chance. Swoon like your life depends upon it because it does.

Minimal bell protection: Buying your own bell. This approach offers some protection, but the fiendish monsters will smell your desperation and relish twisting a bloody knife into the soft spot of your low self-confidence while rubbing their gravely gremlin hands in anticipation. Only a repulsive wuss can’t get someone to buy them an itty-bitty bell, so put your fears about requesting one in perspective. You’re not demanding a Maserati or kidney. Biker bells cost just a few bucks and come with a professionally printed explanation of the legend. It’ll be worth making a new friend from whom you can coax out a purchase. Unfriend them later with tales of serial food poisonings, which is biker code for going-on-a-long-and-winding-ride-without-you. Because no one wants to be around that shit.

Back to my current problem. I have a new motorcycle and no bell. Hazel, short for Purple Haze, is a lovely Honda Sabre 1100cc with a custom Corbin seat and souped-up suspension. A hot steel mare I can’t wait to ride. When I sold my BMW R1200C a few years ago, I gave up my biker’s bell, passing it along to the new owner. It had served me well and I’m a giver.

My second challenge is I’m not hanging around bikers any longer. I used to take the ferry to work where I got to know dozens of bikers on a friendly-but-definitely-not-friends basis. These days I spend most of my time with writers who don’t know they ought to buy me a bell. My literary pals are lovely people, but clueless about murderous road gremlins and beneficial bell vibrations. My subtle hints, which included dressing as a giant biker’s bell for Halloween, have gone unanswered.

What should I do? Get a bell tattoo? Rent a billboard? Maybe I’ll write a poem with a secret encoded request for a bell in the final climatic stanza. I’ll perform my heartfelt work at a literary open mic or slam it full out with feeling.

Bloody and twisted by the side of the road.
Left for dead, my bones leach absinthe.
No bell to save my vulnerable soul.
Life dwindling unless, bell, bell, BELL.

Poetry is not my strong suit, however, and writing a mystery novel about bikers, bells, and gremlins would take too long. I might die before my friends could read it. Perhaps I should write something shorter.

You might think, get a grip, Lisa. That my story and concerns seem ridiculous. I’m assigning meaning, weight, and importance to the bell I don’t have, and by doing so, I’m increasing its power over me. Is the fact that I’m swirling and musing about this bell going to affect whether I live or freaking die? Have I surrendered to the road gremlins by broadcasting that I have no armor?

There’s a fourth way to acquire a bell but it’s risky. I could steal one and then hope the consequences are less painful than getting tossed in the air and slammed into a tree. Pinching a bell from another biker would land me in the worst room in hell but this gutsy move could impress the gremlins. They might anoint me their mischief queen. Or I could steal a new bell from the store, but that would be sadder than asking for one. Like getting drunk and then masturbating to porn. Too…damn…easy…and inert in the end.

My level of courage lies solidly in the midpoint between malevolent queen and ignorant jack-off. It’s a tricky situation. The junior psychologist in me knows self-fulfilling prophecies are real. We think it’s going to be a terrible hot mess of a day and it is. If I worry road gremlins will attack and make me crash into the two-hundred-year-old oak tree right over there, then…goodnight, Irene. There are infinite ways a biker’s day can swerve sideways.

Wiped out around a gravel-covered corner…

T-boned by a texting SUV driver…

Splattered with Canadian geese guts…

I wince real hard—like when someone mentions being kicked in the balls to men—thinking about Hazel and me skidding down a rocky, unforgiving road. Perhaps I shouldn’t ride until I somehow some way get a bell.

It feels like Edgar The Tell-Tale Heart. I can hear the ringing of the bell I don’t have. At first it sounded like a dainty ding but is now thumping like a New Orleans bass drum. As I pull on my full-face helmet, the percussive clangs bounce around my head, crushing all non-bell-related notions. Unsettling! Off-balance is the last thing I want to feel while on a motorcycle.

It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain; but once conceived, it haunted me day and night. Edgar Allan Poe

Have I become my own gremlin?

The quasi-psychologist in me knows what projection looks like and how it manifests. Am I transmitting my fears and timidity about sitting on top of seven hundred pounds of steel, hot rubber, and gasoline onto miscreant mythical beings made of source creatures who couldn’t possibly have sex? Perhaps motorcyclists everywhere are using the legend of the biker’s bell to displace their guilt for living dangerously while their spouses are begging them to switch to silver mid-sized sedans.

Maybe the road gremlins exist as a stand in for the devil, or whatever evil supreme being we dread. That buying a bell is like going to church/synagogue/mosque. The sinner in me salutes the sinner in you or some such albeit powerful nonsense. Although that would be transference, not projection. Who’s the amateur now?

Chaos theory, self-fulfilling prophecies, projection, transference, or who knows what’s behind this multi-billion-dollar market for little bells in fake velvet pouches. I’m petrified that I could research every aspect of this racket and be left with one unanswered question.

What if the legend of the biker’s bell is true?

I need a damn bell, and I’m NOT asking for one.

NOTE: If you would like to gift Lisa Haneberg a Biker’s Bell, please remit by air and address it to:

Lisa Haneberg
135 You didn’t Read My Story
By Sending It You Seal My Fate, Kentucky, 40508


Lisa Haneberg earned an MFA from Goddard College and is the Co-Founder of the Lexington Writer’s Room, a nonprofit coworking space for writers. She writes both fiction and nonfiction and enjoys telling stories about science, writing, food, nature, travel, and the humorous aspects of every-day experiences. In addition to essays and short stories, Lisa has published a mystery series and over a dozen nonfiction books.

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