A flurry of cowbells! Illustration © Sean Horita
PROVIDENCE, RHODE ISLAND – In cyclocross there is one piece of equipment nearly as essential as the bike: the cowbell. This raucous fan base typically has gloved hands for this cold-weather sport. So the cowbell became essential. Dating back to the famous Super Cup series, cyclocross promoters often decorated bells for their event.
“More Cowbell” is a common reference. Greg Keller’s popular website is titled “Mud and Cowbells.” Molly Hurford, known as, “The Girl with the Cowbell Tattoo,” just wrote a book on American cyclocross (Mud, Snow and Cyclocross), and mentions the spectacle of cowbell-ringing at races. And when Cyclocross Magazine rates equipment they denote quality by the number of cowbells next to the review.
“There are no shortage of cheap, foreign bells. But in unpacking a box of bells nearly 20 years ago I saw a stamp on the box that read ‘Bevin Bros. East Hampton, CT’ and I became intrigued,” said Richard Fries, the promoter of the Providence Cyclocross Festival.
Founded in 1832, Bevin Brothers is the last remaining bell manufacturer in this town nicknamed “Belltown” because it once hosted as many as 30 different bell manufacturers. Cowbells, sleigh bells, ships’ bells, jingle bells, brass hand bells … They all came from Bevin Brothers. This company made the bell that rings on Santa Claus at Macy’s; the bell that gave Clarence his wings in the closing scene of It’s a Wonderful Life; the bell that rang for many years on the New York Stock Exchange; the bells that sounded the rounds of most of Muhammad Ali’s great fights. They were all Bevin bells. Even the Salvation Army bell ringers in North America are all equipped each Christmas season by this little Connecticut company.
Sadly the residents of Belltown heard a different bell on May 27, 2012. Those bells were for fire. Officials believe lightning ignited a fire that completely destroyed the Bevin Brothers Manufacturing facility. “We lost an indescribable amount of history in that blaze”, said sixth generation owner, Matt Bevin. “Old photos, old patterns, one-of-a-kind bells … All gone. What the fire could not destroy, however, was the spirit that built this company in the first place. The backbone of American business was not forged by quitters. The bells will ring out again from Belltown. The next 180 years starts today.”
In trying to literally rise from the ashes, Bevin Brothers has struggled to continue operations as the last true American bell manufacturer. That’s when the Providence Cyclocross Festival called. The organizers wanted to order Bevin Brothers bells to distribute to the winners of each race. And they wanted to pay full retail to help the company grow.
“It is an honor for us to provide the only American made cowbells to the podium finishers at this event,” noted Bevin. “Each of these winners will embody the same effort and determination that has powered our family business since 1832. We are truly grateful for the support of the Providence Cyclo-cross Festival’s organizers, participants and fans.”
But there is yet another story. A batch of jingle bells survived the fire, albeit with some discoloration. These historic bells will also be distributed to every podium finisher. Additional “survivor bells” will be available at Roger Williams Park for patrons seeking to help with the restoration of this great American company.
“We are giving these bells out to thank sponsors, the media, and our key partners,” added Fries. “The bells are in a box that tells the story of this amazing New England company. We’re eager to help.”
The fourth annual Providence Cyclocross Festival will be held Oct. 6 and 7, 2012. Held in Roger Williams Park on a course used for the 2005 and 2006 U.S. National Cyclocross Championships, the Providence Cyclocross Festival returns as a UCI sanctioned Category 1 event . Organized by Providence Cross Fest LLC, the event is also part of the Shimano New England Professional Cyclocross series. For more information, visit www.providencecrossfest.com