Riding motorcycles with your mates is the very essence of any bike club, it’s all good clean fun, so long as you don’t mix up the biking and comradeship with a spot of organised crime, then the club becomes a gang, the members’ outlaws and things get really heavy.
All the MC’s (Motorcycle Clubs) on the list were founded in the USA and although it’s acknowledged there are clubs all over the world, the true heart of the one-percenter* is very much ensconced in the American psyche.
There are thought to be over three hundred outlaw clubs operating in the US, here’s what could be considered the top of the pile - almost all riding the the one bike of choice, Harley Davidson.
Sons of Silence
Founded in 1966 in Colorado, they may be relatively small but what they lack in size they make up for in reputation. In addition to drug/gun operations in the Midwest and South they’ve a noticeable presence in Germany. Secretive and efficient, these guys mean business.
1965, California, also known as the Green Nation on account of their colours. A big club with around 47 Chapters in the US and, much more recently, Australia and Sweden; they’re a natural enemy of the Hells Angles who, in the mid 60’s, were becoming established in a similar locale with comparable business interests.
1969, California. Not quite as big as the Vagos but steadily growing. Like many of the clubs here they’re making a name for themselves in Australia which has piqued the attention of the locals, The Comanchero and The Rebels MC, themselves rapidly expanding clubs with chapters popping up across the globe. Despite alleged links to drugs, extortion and robbery the MC claim to have excluded drug addicts and criminals from the organisation as per a new code of conduct.
1959, Maryland, this once Triumph-riding band of brothers were a legit bike club but by the early 1970’s they’d pitched themselves against the HA and began running guns. On the surface they’re relatively small in number but they’ve some very powerful friends, the Italian mafia and Aryan brotherhood among a few which is why they’re classed as one of the ‘Big 4’ by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.
1966, Texas, one of the largest here, 2,500 plus members and operational in over 22 countries and counting. Over the past few years they’ve built up a fearsome reputation with much of the worst, turf, violence occurring in Canada, Scandinavia, Germany, Holland and Australia (with Rebels MC). A recent conflagration in Waco, Texas in May of this year with an assortment of rival clubs resulting in a gun battle and the deaths of nine people suggests that they’re alive and kicking at home too. Their motif ‘we are the people our parents warned us about’ isn’t ironic.
Founded way back in 1935 in Illinois this is the oldest outfit on here, their contempt of the HA is part of the modern Outlaw motto - ADIOS: Angels Die In Outlaw States - and after moving into France in 1993 became the only other club on here with a proper presence in the UK, which has resulted in at least one gang-related death. Notwithstanding various convictions for murder, theft, racketeering, drugs etc., the club maintain that they’re not a criminal organisation and learning from past indiscretions as they increase in size.
Founded 1948, California the HA gained notoriety via their close association with what could be broadly described as the hippie movement of 1960’s where they rubbed shoulders with the counterculture pioneers of the day - Allen Ginsberg, Hunter S. Thompson not to mention The Rolling Stones and The Beatles. This has set the HA apart from the other one-percenter bike clubs, despite the alleged links to organised crime and all that it entails, they’re an established part of American culture.
On the face of it they’re a slick organisation and ferociously protective of their reputation, at best (note ‘best’) they’ll take legal action to businesses that take liberties with their brand - Disney and Alexander McQueen to name but two- but don’t be in any doubt, they’re very much the real deal in one percenter terms. With over 100 chapters spread over 29 countries the Hell Angels remain the largest, best-known, bike club in the world.
* The term ‘one percenter’ derives from a comment by the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) that ‘99% of motorcyclists were law-abiding citizens’