(If you’ve missed any of our Birth of Bikers series, click here to catch up.)
One percenter motorcycle clubs flourished in the 1980s, even with the R.I.C.O. Act nipping at every outlaw biker’s boots like some ravenous wolf. Small clubs of all kinds had sprouted up all over the country, some were one-percenter clubs, most were just guys who love motorcycles and were looking for brothers to ride with.
The media-induced perception that all bikers were akin to Attila the Hun was time and time again promoted by everything from local newspapers to national network news. For a long time, it seemed that every time some kid stubbed his toe, bikers were blamed for it. Not that we were an innocent lot. Still, motorcycle clubs were blamed for all kinds of violence and organized crime down through the years. The truth to the biker persona is that bikers are capable of both more and less of the kind of behavior you might expect of us. Bikers are among the most big-hearted and charitable groups in the world, giving to blood drives, boys and girls clubs, children’s hospitals and much more. Bikers can also be violent… never corner a wild wolf, my friends, those teeth and claws are there for a reason. Mostly, violent behavior has been a way for bikers to protect themselves as a group in a time when straight society was more than ready to thump our asses. In the schoolyard, the kid who grows up to be a biker is seldom a bully, but rather the kid that stands up for the little kids and whips the bully’s butt. We just plain hate injustice. We also don’t care much for authority figures.
So many myths and legends have grown up around bikers that it is nearly impossible to separate fact from fiction. From the rituals surrounding being a prospect and becoming a patch holder, to the mysteries of church night (when the club’s officers meet to do business), and protocol for mandatory bike runs, each club has its own rules and regulations. Some details of being in a one-percenter club are universally true. For instance, all the members (patch holders) in a club have a say as to whether or not a hang around can become a prospect. The prospect in question is usually sponsored into the club by an older member in good standing. That member pretty much stands up for the prospect with the club, in the event the prospect does something stupid (like thinking he is going into the bar with the club instead of staying outside and watching the bikes).
Naturally, the prospect is expected to run his ass off and be an all-around “gopher” for the club, going for this and going for that. If the patch holders might be likened to knights on iron steeds, then prospects are their faithful squires and servants. Sometimes prospects get into clubs quicker by doing a bit of business for the club. This has more to do with proving their undying loyalty to their brothers than to the actual act they have been asked to do. There have been times when prospects have done something to show class to the club and it has backfired and made the club look bad. That is a definite no-no.
To become a fully patched member of a club, all the patch holders meet and vote on whether or not the brother is to be accepted. The day a prospect becomes a patch holder is right up there with the best days of his life, after all, most marriages don’t last as long as membership in the brotherhood. One percenter clubs have strict rules on dues, mandatory meetings, runs, and so on. In most clubs you have to have a motorcycle that is up and ready at all times. If your bike is down for more than three months, you might be fined or even tossed out of some clubs. As I say, every club is different and different rules apply.
Some clubs demand that the fully patched member get a club tattoo within a year of becoming a member. So that the club tattoo is hidden from public scrutiny, many get this tattoo on their shoulder or back. Basically, the patch holder is allowed to have the club logo and motto inked on their body. Such club mottoes include sayings like, “God forgives; the Outlaws don’t” for the Outlaws MC, or “We are the people that our parents warned us about” for the Bandidos MC.
As more and more clubs appeared in America, turf wars began to spread as well. If there was more than one motorcycle club in a city, all the members knew where they were safe to go and where their territory ended. Bigger clubs began taking over smaller clubs (if the smaller club was about something) or snuffing them out. This sort of fighting between clubs has gone on as long as there have been clubs.
Certain major one-percenter clubs have long been enemies. Sometimes a slight by one club can cause another club to hold a grudge for years… even decades. When you see two different one-percenter clubs that have been at war finally form a truce, it is an uneasy affair. You never know when a beer bottle might break followed by swinging fists, knives flashing and guns being drawn.
Into a time of the R.I.C.O. Act in America and the battling of club against club, bikers in much of Europe and beyond were establishing their own motorcycle clubs. There are one percenter motorcycle clubs in Canada, England, Ireland, Scotland, France, Belgium, Sweden, Germany, Italy, even Australia, and they are all lovers of custom motorcycles. Some are badass muthas in their own right. In a recent British newspaper, a report on organized crime in Europe included the following:
Illegal motorcycle gangs are a global phenomenon with strictly organized chapters located worldwide.
In Europe, three groups are dominant: the Hells Angels, the Bandidos and the Outlaws. These gangs are involved in crimes ranging from traditional drug smuggling or vehicle crime to human trafficking and contract killings. They are spreading throughout the new member-states but are particularly active in the Nordic countries, in Germany and in Belgium. They are also becoming more active in Britain.
This supposed worldwide menace had an interesting origin in Europe where local motorcyclists learned what they knew about one percenter motorcycle clubs from watching American biker movies. Yep, it’s true. The great antiestablishment breed of Foreign one-percenters began with innocent bike lovers watching good old American cinema. Inspired by Jack Nicholson, Bruce Dern and Adam Rourke, European bikers turned up the collars on their leather jackets and got a little more attitude. After a few pints of Guiness down at the Pub, bikies (as bikers are known in Europe) would burn rubber on chopped Triumphs and Nortons and scare the local sheep all to hell.
Europeans have long drooled over the very American phenomenon of rock ‘n’ roll. A subculture known as Rockers combined music with racing street bikes and more than a dash of teenaged rebellion. While American teens had The Wild One and later The Wild Angels, the Brits had a film called Leatherboys (1964). Remember that The Wild One was banned in England until 1968. Leatherboys director Sidney Furie crafted a black and white gem in this film about working-class riders who turned their angst into a passion for their precious café bikes.
The 1980s brought a rash of American biker films to Europe on the wonder of videotape. For the first time, bikers in Europe could watch films that brought them the exaggerated Hollywood version of the one percenter right in their homes. Imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, many bikies ran out and started chopping their bikes, some even started one-percenter clubs. Since the American biker movies were exaggerations on real clubs, the European clubs started out as being wildly exaggerated forms of their American counterparts. For instance, choppers in Sweden are known as being the longest bikes in the world. If a 16-inch over stock Springer front end worked in America, the Swedes would chop their bikes out 30-inches overstock. Disenfranchised youth on both sides of the pond were riding bikes, reading Easyriders, watching biker movies and enjoying the freedom of being in the wind. No doubt about it though, they picked up their cues on biker attitude, slang and style from America.
To be continued…