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When someone says the words “motorcycle club”, others may hear the words “motorcycle gang.” While some motorcycle clubs are actually gangs, most aren’t. Here’s a history of motorcycle clubs and how the term became associated with crime.

World War 2 

Motorcycle clubs for motorcycle enthusiasts have been around since at least 1903, according to History, but that was before bikes became popular. It wasn’t until after World War 2 that people from around the world started falling in love with the motorcycle. 

That’s because of two reasons. Firstly, before World War 1, bikes simply weren’t that powerful. They topped out at about 40 miles per hour, fast for the time but not fast enough to cause any thrills. 

By World War 2 though, bikes became much more powerful. Some could top out at 125 miles per hour according to History. This attracted thrill-seekers, especially those who were just coming home from the war. 

Some of them couldn’t adjust to the quiet civilian life after fighting on the front lines. They needed something to get their adrenaline pumping, and that was the motorcycle. 

With more people riding on motorcycles, many of those people started forming or joining clubs. According to History, this is when the image of motorcycle clubs started to turn rebellious. 

Rebels on the road

This boom of young, adventure-seeking motorcyclists also brought with it the aggression and anger of young Americans at the time. Motorcycle clubs adopted fashion trends that went against what society said was acceptable and proper at the time.

In addition to that, the brash attitudes of the bikers along with the dangerous nature of the bikes created a scary image in the minds of many Americans. 

It also didn’t help that in 1947, a rally at Hollister, California led to chaos and rioting. According to History though, that may have been an exaggeration from the reporters who were there. Regardless, the public image of motorcycle gangs became more and more violent as the years went on. 

For example, the notorious Hell’s Angels motorcycle club was formed in 1948 and it would make a name for itself in the ’60s, ’70s, and beyond. The Hell’s Angels were at first a club formed by World War 2 veterans much like many others were. 

However, eventually the Hell’s Angels evolved into a criminal organization that made and sold drugs as well as committed violent crimes, including murder. That said, the Hell’s Angels aren’t representative of motorcycle clubs, especially in the modern-day.

The modern motorcycle club

Most clubs today are recognized by and follow the rules of the American Motorcyclist Association, or the AMA. They are full of regular Americans and they’re perfectly legal. 

There are also so-called outlaw motorcycle clubs. Contrary to their names, they’re not actually illegal, most of the time at least. An outlaw club is simply a club that neither follows the rules of nor is recognized by the AMA.

Instead, an outlaw motorcycle club usually has its own laws and its members will abide by. This is actually where the term One Percenters comes from. After that Hollister brawl in 1947, the AMA said that 99% of motorcyclists were law-abiding citizens and 1% were outlaws. 

To distance themselves from the AMA, those outlaw motorcycle clubs took that statement and made it a part of their identity. But again, most outlaw motorcycle clubs aren’t actually outlaws to begin with.

Criminal biker gangs definitely still exists, but the majority of all modern motorcycle clubs are just like any other clubs. They’re groups of like-minded individuals who meet up every now and again and do something that they all love, and that’s riding.