Patrick Wigley, owner of Wig’s Wheels bike shop in downtown Anniston, owns a lot of cowbells. (For the record, he does not own a cow.)
His favorite cowbell was a freebie handed out at CrossVegas, America’s biggest cyclocross bike race — just one of the many sports whose fans have embraced the cowbell.
“It’s the best noisemaker for a bike race. The racers are used to it. It’s accepted worldwide,” Wigley said. “It’s not quite as good as cheering and yelling, but it is uplifting for the racers.”
Plus it’s not anywhere near as obnoxious as that vuvuzela horn that soccer fans are so fond of.
In conjunction with this year’s Sunny King Criterium and Noble Street Festival on April 7, the Anniston Council on the Arts & Humanities is sponsoring a cowbell decorating competition. (For details, see box.)
Cowbells have long been associated with the sport of skiing. The tradition began years ago in Switzerland. “The ski racers were generally farmers,” explained Elisabeth Halvorson, founder and president of the cowbell sales company Cowbells.com. During the summer, the farmers’ cows would wander around the mountains with bells on. But in the winter, the cows would go into the barn, freeing up the cowbells for use at ski races.
Today, skiing and cowbells are indelibly linked. You likely heard cowbells clanging during the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.
“The Summer Games don’t get it,” Halvorson said. “Every now and then for cycling at the Summer Games, you’ll maybe hear one cowbell.”
The world first heard the cowbells ring during the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer.
Halvorson was instrumental in importing cowbells to the U.S for the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, where she sold 30 tons of cowbells flown in from Norway.
Now you can hear cowbells at everything from hockey to basketball games.
Cowbells have even become a trendy wedding favor (which, come to think of it, makes sense if you’re getting married in a barn).
“I used to be the only one selling bells on Amazon and Ebay,” Halvorson said. “I’ve got a lot more competitors now.”
At Mississippi State University, football fans have been ringing cowbells since before the cows came home. They once set a world record for most people ringing cowbells simultaneously (5,748).
And, of course, cowbells have long been used in music. Say it with me: “More cowbell!”
The top-of-the-line sports cowbell is made by Moen, a company that started in Norway in 1922. Moen bells are made from steel and coated with brass made from recycled bullets.
“Those have great sound quality,” Wigley said, as opposed to the freebie bells which just give a “little ding ding ding.” (It don’t mean a thang if it don’t have that clang.)
Wigley’s technique for ringing a cowbell: “Fast and furious!” Shake it as fast as you can, because the racers will be there and gone in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.
Warning: This style of shaking can result in cuts and blisters to the hand. To prevent this, some people attach woven straps to the handles, or add wooden handles. Or you can just hit your cowbell with a stick.
At the starting line of the Sunny King Criterium, spectators will cheer on the racers and bang on the boards that line the race course.
Wigley is likely to be found on the opposite side of the course, where he hosts an annual “Party on the Backside.” There, partygoers will cheer on the racers using cowbells — while heckling the leaders. “The guys in the front don’t need it,” Wigley said. “We cheer more for the folks at the end. They need it more.”
Lisa Davis is Features Editor of The Anniston Star. Contact her at 256-235-3555 or firstname.lastname@example.org.