Monday, 22 February 2010


Back in the early 1920s when motorcycles became the new must have it was not uncommon for small clubs to be formed. In 1924 the American Motorcycle Association was formed (AMA for short)and were quick to announce that any club or organisation that did not sign up were branded 'outlaws'.
The whole point of owning a motorcycle was and still is to have that ability to ride free and not tied down by too many over-bearing rules and regulations. In fact, back then, many bikes were owned by young people who wanted to do just that. Show off their skills and go on 'runs' together. Though to do so without the sanction of the AMA had them branded as 'Outlaws'.
From the 1930s through to America's entrance into the Second World War the AMA organised events that included parades, stunts, organised races and hill climbs. These were quite a success and well policed that many towns invited them back - amongst them was a town called Hollister, California.
At the end of the war servicemen came home and while many were able to settle back into civilian life there were those who had become disenchanted - just couldn't settle. War had given them comradeship and, what we know today, a post war syndrome.
Many drifted into the world of motorcycle clubs.
The same thing would happen when the Vietnam Vets came home.
On 4th July 1947 Hollister, California would become the stage for the next chapter to begin. The AMA came to town and several 'outlaw' gangs rode in as well. Most modern accounts call them 'Hells Angels' but they did not exist at the time for they would form in the 1950s.
Hollister became a 'wild west' town with motorcyclists ('biker' as a term did not exist then, either) drag racing along main street or riding into a bar and burning rubber.
The AMA were quick to distance themselves from the events in Hollister by stating that 99% of motorcyclists were law abiding and what happened in that Californian town was by 'outlaw' motorcyclists - in other words by anyone who was not a member of the AMA. 'Outlaws' now being the odd one per cent.
Hollister, though, was the catalyst.
The report of the incident in 'Life' magazine and a short story by Frank Rooney in Harper's magazine called 'Cyclists' Raid' inspired the 1953 Stanley Kramer movie 'The Wild One' and made Marlon Brando a star. And the image of the leather clad motorcyclist sitting astride a Triumph Thunderbird has become iconic - and the Black Rebels Motorcycle Club would pave the way for other 'outlaw' and 'one per center' clubs to form.
1948 saw a Hells Angels Motorcycle Club form at Fontana, California and, later, Sonny Barger's Oakland chapter came into being. Whenever anyone thinks 'Hells Angels' then it is the 'one per center' Oakland Chapter that comes to mind.
The first definitive book about the Angels was written by Hunter S. Thompson. Many have followed in the wake of this but have lacked distinction.
Over the years Hells Angels Motorcycle Clubs have crossed continents. The first club outside of the US was Auckland, New Zealand in 1961. In the UK two chapters opened in London in 1969 - they would merge five years later.

Call them what you will - outlaws, one percenters, Hells Angels or bikers - the history is a lot longer than people imagine. It began long before 'The Wild One'.
It began the moment that one biker bonded with his machine. When he looked down the road and thought of the freedom he had. The drifter had a new horse to ride - and one life that he intended to live to the full.

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