Sonny Barger's book and outlaw biker culture

For some reason I really can’t fathom I’m fascinated by the evolution of outlaw motorcycle clubs (OMC’s) like the Hells Angels, and eagerly snapped up Sonny Barger’s memoir when I saw it at Walden Books the other night. For those who don’t know, Barger was a cofounder of the Oakland chapter of the HAMC, around 1960.

The impression I get, from Barger, of the HA’s (and members of the other big OMCs), is of people who are ferociously independent and determined to protect their privacy. And they are expert motorcyclists. A whole chapter of 80 riders will ride down the highway at 80mph, in close formation, without breaking a sweat. These are not bad traits.

But…they can be damned violent. They fight with other OMC’s, and frequently among themselves. Any slight from a “citizen”, as non-members are called, or another biker is apt to result in a violent response, as they can be very apt to punch, cut, or shoot first, and only later ask questions, if at all. From the beginning, Barger says, they could and did “kick a$$”, and frequently “fu** with other clubs”, i.e., engage them in gang warfare.

Other motor sport enthusiasts don’t seem to engage in the type of brawling that OMC’s are famous for. Fighting to defend one’s way of life is admirable, but these guys seem happy to go out of their way to fight.

So who’d care to comment. Has anyone here actually been close to the lifestyle and can comment on what I’ve said?

[Note]if this thread really belongs in IMHO or GD please move it. I put it here because it was the book that made me think of it.[/Note].

I haven’t read Barger’s book, but I’ll bet he places a lot more emphasis on the spirutal aspects of the biker lifestyle than on the financial ones. The fact is that the Hell’s Angels are an organized crime outfit; they’re a major source of heroin on the west coast. Most of their “brawls” aren’t fought over “slights”; they’re attacks against competing drug dealers. So the Angels talking about how much they love their bikes and their independence is like the Mafia talking about how much they love their fine suits and family values. True in both cases, but also a minor aspect that ignores the reality.

Actually Sonny Barger is very forthright about the violence of the lifestyle. Though clearly not the least bit ashamed of such acts, he would say that the violence and other crimes of members are the acts of individuals. Though obviously it’s hard to see how a nonviolent person could be an HA member.

It’s pretty clear from all I’ve read, in this book and elsewhere, that their cycles are their pride and joy, much more than a mafioso’s suit is to him. Normally, such enthusiasm for a subject or activity, would make the enthusiast more apt to talk your ears off about their particular passion, than to beat you to a pulp.

I lived in the Haight-Ashbury in the late 80s and one day these punk ass little skinheads started coming around the neighborhood. Basically these were shaven-headed, flannel-wearing hooligans with delusions of aryan supremacy. They would hang out and look tough; maybe deal meth, you’d catch them trading furtive nazi salutes etc. and every week there seemed to be more.

Then one day an old schoolbus pulled up to a small group of them and a larger group of Hell’s Angels stepped out and politely escorted them inside. They were driven around the park then let off with a request that they remind their buddies that the Haight was Angel turf. They were all gone that day, all of them, immediately and forever (actually they moved down to Polk Street).

I have good will towards the Angels and I believe that the vast majority of Hell’s Angels are law-abiding citizens just like any other group. Recently they have been called upon to fight off challenges by groups like the Mongols and the Outlaws etc. who seem to be much more violent in nature. There have been some gun battles lately in Connecticut and Laughlin and that sort of behavior is a bit sketchy for all concerned.

Yeah, people’s experiences with them must vary a lot according to time and place. Somewhere here another Bay Area veteran had a much more negative opinion, saying that an encounter with the HA’s would give you nightmares for years to come.

I understand there’s been a lot violence in Quebec between the Angels and the Banditos, likely drug-turf-related as Nemo suggests.

As for the propensity for violence, which Sonny well documents as having been present almost at the inception (and presumably before any organized drug-dealing was happening), I suppose it’s to be expected if, for example, two rival clubs met up in some place, got drunk, and started fighting over their women and such.
It seems like the adrenalin is flowing all the time as well as the beer and dope.

Most other OMC’s aren’t criminal organizations. If they’re fighting because of perceived “slights” we can hardly call that fighting to defend their way of life, can we? More then likely they’re fighting rival gangs for control of some sort of illicite trade.

I have a difficult time understanding how people can have admiration for groups like the Mafia or the Hell’s Angels. If you listen to some people talk about the Mafia in the 50’s you hear things like “they kept the neighborhood safe”, “they had honor”, or “only the right people got hurt.” The truth of the matter was that they didn’t keep the neighborhood safe, innocent people were routinely hurt, and they didn’t have any honor.

Just to keep this within the realm of the Cafe Society I am constantly surprised by how many women I hear find Tony Soprano to be attractive. Here’s a man who extorts others, murders others, and cheats on his wife. What an attractive man.


I guess it probably depends on the area and the particular group within that area, but here in Maryland, the Pagans are pretty well known for nothing but mayhem and troublemaking.

I was taking a walk in downtown Annapolis with a friend of mine a few years ago, and we happened to pass near a group of Pagans hanging out near the harbor. My friend made a completely innocent remark concerning their motorcycles, something to the effect of how heavier a Harley is compared to a Asian import. The Pagans took this mere observation as a insult against them, and one of them threatened my friend.

I like motorcycles myself. But anyone who romanticizes the outlaw element of motorcycle culture (a group which, to be fair, are probably very nice people when they’re not smoking killer weed and selling crystal meth to high school kids) just contributes to the ongoing stereotyping of all motorcyclists as criminals and misfits.

Just eliminating the competition.

Oh Joy, the civillians are at it again… LOL :smiley:

Haven’t read Barger’s book yet, but I’ve seen it in the stores and flipped through it. After reading Hell’s Angels by Yves Lavigne, I’d be interested to read Barger’s take on the criminal activities and gang wars documented there, or does he address them? There a few good chapters detailing the battles with rival gangs such as the Outlaws, among others, in Canada, as others have mentioned. It’s worlds away from the image they usually try to convey of being rough, but lovable outlaws just trying to have a good time riding their Harleys.

Possibly, they took it as an insult because, if they’re anything like the Angels (judging from Barger’s book), they devote themselves to modifying their Harleys to make them lighter. I don’t know much about bikes, but it could be that a “chopperized” Harley is lighter than a stock import.

Not that that justifies their threatening your friend, of course.

You absolutely need to find a copy of the movie “Angels Forever, Forever Angels,” which chronicles the history of motorcycle gangs (the HAs in particular). It was produced by Round Reels - a Grateful Dead off-shoot (there’s a brief bit of the Jerry Garcia Band playing at Sonny Barger’s birthday party).

The association with the Dead and the Hell’s Angels goes back to the beginning of the band (can you imagine Hell’s Angles on LSD at a party? Whew, scary stuff). Garcia was quoted once as saying “The Angels are actually sort of easy to be around because they are so up front. They have absolutely no bullshit with them…what you see is deadon, absolutely what you get.” Unfortunately, it was also the Dead’s fault for hiring the HAs to provide security at Altamont (payment for services rendered was cases of beer). Not a smart move.

Maybe I’m reading this the wrong way, and if so, I apologize, but something about this statement bugs me for some reason:

By “Other motor sport enthusiasts” do you mean the guys who go to the open nights at the local drag racing track, or the folks who like cars, maybe antiques, maybe modern, but are just car enthusiats?

There is an equivalent of that in motorcycling and they do NOT belong to outlaw clubs. For example, there are the Souther Cruises Riding Club which is an international organization of folks who just like to get together to ride. Or there are people like myself and two friends. Or my cousin, that I rode up into the Adirondacks with last week, just because. We don’t belong to any club, we just enjoy motorcycling. And we’ve managed to do it for a few years now without ever selling an illegal drug!

Sorry if this seems a bit… I don’t know…defensive. It just bugs me that some people (not necessarily you!) can’t seperate “outlaw” gangs who ride motorcycles from enthusiasts who ride motorcycles…It’s thinking like that which, for example, get corporate sponsered motorcycle events canceled because local suburbanites don’t know the difference between a Harley Davidson anniversary party and a Hell’s Angels gathering!

I have had some peripheral dealing with the Wessex Chapter of the English HAs. and they are absolute bastards.

They are heavily involved in drugs and other organised crime (including the theft of motorcycles - so much for their love of bikes).

I see absolutely nothing positive about them.

The Scandinavian chapters are absolute nightmares too.

I have absolutely no problem with inter-gang violence (I was a pretty enthusiatic participant in my younger days) but these guys are beyond the pale,

Are you sure it’s heroin? I was always under the impression that Hell’s Angels & other OMC dominated the meth trade.

Sorry about that. My wording was careless and I can see how you might have taken offense. I was trying to express something more on the lines of, “Other motorsport enthusiasts don’t include in their ranks very small minorities of violent troublemakers”. Or at least I don’t believe they do. I know that the HA’s, or even OMC’s in general, are not the least bit representative of the biking world. But the main point of my OP was to ask why the few “bad” ones exist at all.

I was familiar with some of the outlaws down South years ago. They were pretty common back then. Most of the truly psychopathic members were just nutcases however I never met an outlaw that I’d want to risk offending unless I was prepared to stomp him silly. And you don’t mess with their bikes. Period. Otherwise, just a differrent crowd of folks.