Two-Wheeled Superstition

Hell For Leather, HFL -



You motorcyclists are a funny old lot and from what I can tell you’re a really superstitious group of people. You won’t ride green bikes, as they are unlucky (try telling that to Kawasaki), nor I’m told should you ride one that belonged to someone who has recently died, as you’ll experience some really bad karma.

Some of you will only ever get on a bike from one particular side, as it’s ominous to get on it from the other. There are even riders who can’t set off anywhere unless they have a small bell fixed somewhere on their bike to ward off evil road spirits.

I’m also always astonished at what some people will do before riding. Patting the bike, talking to the bike or leaving passenger foot pegs up or down (depending on whether you think your guardian angel is riding with you, or not). And what they do at the end of a ride again involves patting and talking to the bike.

Then, there’s the guy I’ve heard of who won’t ride his bike, or go anywhere near it, for 48 hours prior to a long road trip. Another steadfastly refuses to wear any color of socks except blue as to deviate from that could possibly cause him to crash and die in an immense fireball within minutes of riding down the road.

I sort of get the green bike thing. There have been few bikes that I have ever really liked in that color, but the whole unlucky thing really? This urban myth I’ve learned has something to do with WWII era Army Harley-Davidsons that were painted drab green. A combination of being slow and unreliable meant if you rode one, you were seen as sitting ducks for the enemy. Hence green being an unlucky color. I’m not sure if any of that’s true but that’s what I have been told.

There’s a woman in the Midwest somewhere who carries a large strand of barbed wire strapped to her bike’s handlebars to remind her to ride safe. She openly admitted on a motorcycle riding forum that, a few years ago, after a heavy drinking session, she got on her bike and rode off into the night. Of course she left without a helmet.

Unfortunately she came off the road a few miles later and was thrown off her bike after her forehead got caught on a strand of barbed wire fencing that she and the bike rode through. After 78 stitches across her brow, she says she gave up the booze, but keeps a piece of the barbed wire on her bike to remind her of her stupidity. I’d have thought just looking in the mirror every morning at that big scar would work just as well.

Or, there’s a friend of mine who won’t wear a new crash helmet until he’s dropped it at least once on the ground. He can’t explain precisely why, except that it makes him feel safer having a helmet with a few scratches on it. He’s also the same guy that has a system that involves putting his boots on. I can’t remember if it’s left or right first, but he follows this regime religiously every time he rides.

Another guy also informed me recently that he couldn’t ride any bike unless there is a skull of some description on it. I was hesitant to tell him that he actually had a skull of his own, but I chose the safer path and nodded wisely at him and said nothing.

Back to those riding bells. They are definitely a cruiser peculiarity and not a sport bike thing and I’m sure some of you reading this will have absolutely no idea what I am talking about.

Under some mysterious, ancient law that has been lost in the passage of time, you are strictly forbidden from buying a riding bell for yourself. It has to be bought and presented to you by someone else. Otherwise it will not work.

My very sweet and very considerate wife bought me a bell to put on my bike. And in the interests of domestic harmony I attached the thing. Now, I’m used to the rattles and squeaks of my old bike, but with an extra bell fitted to it, I sounded like Santa Claus in his sleigh coming down the road. In the end I had no option but to take a pair of metal cutters to it and chop the darned clapper out of the thing. I’m not sure if this now means the road gremlins will definitely be out to get me, but for the sake of my own sanity I’m prepared to take the risk.

I do agree with the principle of stopping to help a fellow biker who’s pulled off at the side of the road. Not because I believe that if I don’t then something hideous will happen to my bike and me in the future, but because I believe it’s the right thing to do. In both cases recently my offers of help were politely turned down. One rider simply needed to make a ‘phone call, while the other, as he delicately put it, needed to take an urgent crap. But at least I tried.

However, you know what I’m really superstitious about? A soccer mom, in a massive SUV. She’s usually either texting, or talking on a cell phone, while her kids bounce around in the back fighting or playing video games. She’s so oblivious to everything on the road that she never, ever sees me on my motorcycle. That’s what I call my bad luck omen.

  • minnjohn.advrider

    I never objected to cell phone use while driving … until I began to ride daily for commuting and pleasure. Now, on the other side of the windshield, I routinely see talkers pulling out into traffic with hardly a glance, and even if they see me, they look right through my narrow enduro with the highbeam turned on. A good friend, and a much more seasoned rider than me, always chided me for calling on the cell phone while driving. If he could get me off the phone it might help some other, unnamed rider. Now I am that other, unnamed rider.

    • Matt Mason

      Yea, I’ve become pretty liberal with the horn when approaching intersections when it’s hard to tell if they’re stopping. I don’t need some moron on a cell phone making a left at an intersection and murdering me. So I end up beeping more, but I think stupid people deserve to know they’re being stupid.

      • Davidabl2

        And what aftermarket horn do you recommend using so’s the drivers can actually hear you?

        • jonoabq

          FIAMM highway blaster, low tone (and a 5v relay). Cheap, reliable, and freaking LOUD.

          • KeithB

            Highway blaster low and high tone.
            Even more freaking loud!

        • Piglet2010

          I have not used this one, but since Aerostich sells it…

          • Davidabl2

            Ah, Yes “The Nuclear Option” 137db …I think a jet taking off is about 150db.
            You’d better be wearing your earplugs when you pull the trigger on that thing ;-)

          • RinSF

            18-Amp draw? Wow!

  • John Goddard

    I will always put my right glove on first then the left. I’ll take any luck i can get against said army of Minivans and texters.

  • Versys Jake

    Haha you definitely have to watch out for the soccer Moms in massive SUV’s! Having been on both sides of the equation with screaming kids of my own, your best bet is to just give those poor parents a wide birth, they are distracted and no doubt heavily sleep deprived.

    • Davidabl2

      I hate to say it, but this just might be a case where “loud pipes save lives.”
      As well as avoidance tactics, ATGATT etc.

      • Ken Lindsay

        Loud pipes almost wreck folks in that scenario! A guy on a Buell Lightening with the loudest pipes I’ve ever heard on one was splitting lanes and almost drove my wife off the road because it scared the crap out of her!

        • Davidabl2

          There’s loud pipes that are just loud enough so’s they know you’re there when you’re nearby and there’s asinine-loud pipes, which are loud enough to frighten some people, cause road rage in others-and to annoy everybody for blocks around. One’s good, one’s not. Or to put it more charitably, too much of a good thing becomes a bad thing.

          I would almost bet that the guy on the Buell wasn’t doing ATTGAT & and that his pipes were his main “safety equipment.” That’s usually the case and it puts the lie to
          those guys claims that they run loud pipes because “loud pipes save lives.”
          Obviously ATTGAT and loud HORNS would save many more lives..

          • Piglet2010

            A lot of these cruiser idiots have exhausts so loud they would not be allowed at a track day, and of course they are the same ones who constantly rev their engines at a red light, etc.

            • Davidabl2

              American Cruiser Idiots in my part of the world..”metric” riders(whether they’re idiots or not) don’t seem to do it as much

        • Piglet2010

          On the track, a guy on a rich running Suzuki TL1000R made me almost jump off my Ninjette, due to the very loud bang when shifting. Hope the baffles in his racing can are welded well!

  • Davidabl2

    Tim, You might need to write another article for Sportbikers’ superstitions and maybe yet another for ADV riders..But the article you’ve got here seems to be all about Harley Rider’s (and “Metric” Wannabees.)

    Anything that would repel texting SUV drivers would attract riders of all kinds.
    Unless it was a very, very loud airhorn. Which most won’t use ’cause it ain’t cool…

    • Tim Watson

      David – you mean there is even more voodoo out there amongst sportbikers as well? Give me some examples!

      • Jesse

        I don’t know if he still does, but I know that Rossi only intentionally dismounted his race bike by swinging his leg forward over the tank, rather than backwards over the tail.

  • Eric

    I became superstitious about my socks. In my skateboarding days, I’d keep my socks pulled up high in the event that my wayward board would clip my shin (which it often did), I believed that it would just bruise instead of cut. Then it became a matter of making sure my socks were pulled up before doing something a bit risky, 10 stair handrails. Anytime I’ve gotten hurt I would oft noticed that my socks had been scrunched downwards. I’ve caught myself doing the same thing on new risky endeavors, first time I went to land a sailplane, take off in an ultralight, getting married, etc. gotta check the socks. Being a man of science, I can tell you that pulling your socks up works: I’m still alive.

    • Davidabl2

      You didn’t do any controlled experiments, Eric..
      So it’s hardly scientific:-)

      • Rob


  • MrDefo

    I ride a Speed Triple, but I put a gremlin bell on my bike anyway. I came out of cruiser culture before I got this bike, so I guess it’s a holdover from that. I didn’t realize it was just a cruiser thing.

  • ManApeGoneWrong

    I’m fairly certain that if you tried harder, you could have squeezed a little more condescension into this article…

    • Tim Watson

      Well thank you that was constructive. No condescension was intended on my part at all. Just bemusement at the approach that some people and some of my friends have to riding.

    • Davidabl2

      It would be very difficult to write an article that took all of this stuff seriously…

  • Jeromy

    I do not know if all icon jackets have one, but my icon had a St. Christopher charm sewn into the left breast pocket. Took me weeks to notice it was there!

    As for gremlin bells I always make sure to have one on any bike, including St1100, CB599, and a ZX6R, but I got the habit from my father (who supplied the first bell) and he is a cruiser guy.

    • John Goddard

      Mine has one.

    • Davidabl2

      St. Christopher is the Saint of the Traveller.. Icon must figure that that makes him the Saint of Stunters as well. heh,heh.

  • talkinwheels

    Oath to the 4X4 soccer mums

  • Mykola

    There’s a pick-two-out-of-three about cagers that are likely to wipe you out, where “old” is the only one PC enough to communicate openly.

    • Davidabl2

      Maybe you should do it anyway-in the interest of public safety
      It’s the opposite of “yelling fire in a crowded theater.” :-)

  • Afonso Mata

    It’s honestly the first time I’ve heard about most of these superstitions, in particular, the bell thing.

    However, months ago I found a plush animal on an old clothes drawer, and it had a little rattle attached to it. I’m not at all superstitious (maybe ’cause I’m an engineer, hence a science guy) and I often politely make fun of superstitions, but somehow my scumbag brain just said: “I’ll attach it to my bike’s keys ring. It’ll bring luck.”

    I don’t know why, but that just popped into my mind when I saw the little rattle. I’ve ridden with it ever since, and since I haven’t crashed since, I guess it’ll stay there. Most of the time I forget it’s there, but when I’m riding on cobblestone streets, I feel like a house cat.

  • Jeffrey Behiels

    Last line. Amen.

  • Motorcycle Extremist

    People are terribly insane…

  • Campisi

    The thing about green being unlucky extends beyond the world of motorcycles. I’ve heard guys building various four-wheeled race vehicles over the years all saying that green is “a bad racing colour.” The only one that ever tried to explain it to me claimed it had something to do with NASCAR, at which point I glazed over and decided to blame Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman.

    • FastPanda

      It’s been around for ages. Green on your race vehicle is an invitation to demons and poltergeists to make your day miserable.Old Indy racers were never painted green.

      Of course, that didn’t stop Jim Clark and Colin Chapman from working their strange green-tinged Anglo-Saxon magic back in the day. (See also: Group 44.)

      • Davidabl2

        Note to Self: paint that bike turquoise instead of green if you ever want to sell it..
        Damn, just the other day I saw a streetcar in S.F. with a gorgeous green&tan paint job..

      • Davidabl2


  • Piglet2010

    I’m not superstitious, but I do perform certain routines – I always faster the chin strap immediately when putting on a lid, and when I first get on a bike, I always check that outer pockets are zipped up before putting it in gear.

    • Adrastos34

      I am not superstitious either and do the same thing as I almost lost my wallet once (dropped out of my side pocket at the end of my driveway). I park my bike in my garage which has an alarm system but still lock the front and put it in 1st so that its a habit and I end up doing it when I park it somewhere else.

      • Piglet2010

        From experience I know if I do not fasten the chin strap immediately, I may ride off without doing it.

  • V Twin

    I always turn my ignition to ‘on’ with my left hand, even though I am right handed and push the key in with either.
    Quite sad, I know! But I’m too far down the road to change.

    John McGuinness puts a penny down his leathers before every TT race!

  • Aaron

    call me crazy but my CBR 1K has a bell, it was a gift from a friend. i dont question the power of it, i just know it works.

  • Kevin Boggs

    Well, I don’t know if I really put much stock in them but I kind of like the guardian bell idea. Bought one for my nephew to put on his Kawasaki 600 sport bike so there’s at least one sport bike out there with one. Of course on my Sportster I can’t hear the bell unless I hit a particularly nasty speed bump. And yes, the clapper is necessary because it’s the sound that drives the gremlins crazy and they fall to the road. It’s all very scientific! :P

  • DratonKagolira

    I had a habit of folding the left side rear foot pegs while the other is open. The reason is funny, I found this setup on couple of rides which had more fun and the satisfaction-ed rides. So thought to continue the same setup for sometime which really didn’t gave the kick after that. So I silently opened the rear left foot peg and put a stop to that superstition. But other thing is I will check at-least 5 times after putting the side stand whether its proper or not. Is it the starting of OCD I doubt???