What Are The Bumpers In Bowling?

What Are The Bumpers In Bowling

Those who have played bowling before (especially with young children) often know what the bumpers are in a bowling alley, but for those who do not, what exactly do bumpers do, and how do they work? Bumpers are an important tool that most modern bowling alleys make use of on every lane, and they serve an important purpose for bowlers who are newer at the sport and young children. Here, we will take a look at what bumpers are, how they are used, and when to use them.

What Are Bumpers?

Bowling Bumpers

Bumpers were first invented in 1982 by Phil Kinzer, the owner of Jupiter Lanes Bowling Center, a bowling alley in Dallas, Texas. Kinzer invented bumpers after watching his young son become very upset and frustrated by throwing numerous gutter balls. The boy was too young to manage the bowling balls with the accuracy of adults. Kinzer wanted bowling to be a fun sport for all ages, so he started out by blocking the gutters of his bowling lanes with cardboard tubes, which kept the balls from rolling into them. After some time, bumpers caught on, and the cardboard tubes were replaced by inflatable tubes. However, when these tubes became too difficult for most bowling alleys to maintain, Kinzer patented and developed a new type of bumper.

The modern form of bumpers used in bowling alleys around the world was developed by Phil Kinzer and consists of two long, retractable metal railings embedded within the gutters of a bowling lane. These railings can be raised up from the gutter by a long metal rod that hooks onto them, pulling them up and locking them in place. Other bowling alleys have automated bumpers, which can be activated via the scoreboard console of each lane. When the bumpers are in place, it becomes impossible for a bowling ball to fall into the gutters.

What Are The Bumpers in Bowling Used For?

The function of bumpers in a bowling alley is very simple. Bumpers are used to block the gutters of a bowling lane so that a bowling ball cannot be rolled into the gutters, which will result in a gutter ball that doesn’t knock over any pins. The bumpers are raised and made of metal, so they can keep almost any bowling ball correctly on the lane and will not typically be knocked down by a ball. Most bowlers, even young children, try not to hit the bumpers when bowling, but sometimes bowlers do incorporate them into the game. The main function of these bumpers is to even out the game, allowing young children who may not be skilled enough to avoid the gutters to play bowling and have fun. 

When To Use The Bumpers in Bowling

Most bowling alleys use their bumpers at the request of patrons playing with young children, but at the end of the day, bumpers can be requested by any group of bowlers, no matter their age. Some bowlers do not like to use bumpers, thinking that they make the game of bowling easier, but others see them as a valuable teaching tool, a way to help young bowlers learn how to improve their accuracy. Bumpers can allow a child to focus more on rolling the ball straight because they will not have to worry about the ball going into the gutter. Removing this pressure allows novice bowlers to have fun and focus on improving their game, which may eventually give them enough confidence to play without bumpers altogether.

Typically, bumpers are disallowed in formal bowling tournaments among adults and adult bowling leagues. This rule exists for two reasons. Firstly, bumpers make bowling inherently easier for adults. Secondly, bumpers are disallowed in these formats because adults tend to roll the bowling balls much faster and harder than children do, and several hard strikes to the bumpers by an adult’s bowling ball could damage the bumpers, whereas softer rolls by young children will not harm them.


Bumpers are a valuable tool used by most bowling alleys these days, and when considering the reason they were invented, it is easy to understand why. Bumpers certainly make bowling a more enjoyable experience for groups of family and friends who are bowling with young children, as they allow the game to progress more fairly and be more entertaining for all.