Outlaw motorcycle clubs have existed almost since the origin of motorcycles. Almost as soon as motorcycles began production in the early twentieth century, clubs began emerging around the United States, although the outlaw label would come about later. These clubs brought together motorcycle enthusiasts for rides and other events.
One of the first long lasting motorcycle clubs to emerge was the McCook Outlaws in 1936. The group would later be called the Chicago Outlaws and is now known as the Outlaws Motorcycle Club. The group supposedly formed for long distance touring and racing. Alcohol consumption and partying were secondary, but important, reasons as well.
With the end of World War II in 1945, young soldiers returned home looking for more adventure. Veterans often sought other war survivors out for companionship and understanding and the lure of motorcycle riding became entwined in some of these relationships. The American Motorcycle Association or AMA sponsored many clubs during the post war years.
In the late 1940s, after a disturbance in the town of Hollister, California, some individuals responded to a Life article by stating that the disorder was due to only a small percentage of the motorcyclists there. The statements seemed to many to have come from the AMA and some biker clubs broke away from the organization. Clubs not associated with the AMA would come to be known as the One Percenters or outlaw clubs.
Outlaw motorcycle clubs started emerging all over the United States and included clubs like the Bandidos Motorcycle Club, the Pagans Motorcycle Club, and the Hell’s Angels Motorcycle Club. With the arrival of the Vietnam War, the clubs experienced sharp increases in membership as disenfranchised veterans found acceptance and solace in the clubs.
The influx of Vietnam vets also brought drug culture into the clubs, as many soldiers had been introduced to illegal drugs in Asia. The clubs received negative labels from the outside and were often targeted by law officials. Hollywood presented a number of movies that built on this negative, violent perception. A sub-culture developed surrounding the groups. Many members of the outlaw clubs insist that illegal activity happens with only a small percentage of the members and shouldn’t be used to label everyone.
While places like Canada have seen more violence and illegal drug activities in recent years (in what is known as the Quebec Biker War), perception in the United States has seem to shift somewhat. Popular television series, like Monster Garage, portray members of an outlaw motorcycle club in a more favorable light.
Outlaw motorcycle clubs have an important place in the history of the twentieth century. Although their image has not always been positive, the sub-culture of the clubs has influenced American culture.