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Hell's Angels

Often associated with Harley-Davidson, especially in their early days. this was a fact that Harley-Davidson not always viewed with relish The first Hell's Angels club was formed in 1948 by a breakaway group from the Pissed Off Bastards in San Bernardino, part of the general growth of 'outlaw' groups in the late 1940s and early '50s, particularly in the wake of events at Hollister. California. Possibly one of the original (certainly the most notorious) motorcycle associations of all time, the Angels now consist of 1,600 members in 100 chapters all over the world. The Hell's Angels thrived as part of the post-war counter-culture, but as a company, Harley-Davidson did its best to dissociate itself from all the back-patch clubs, seeing it as detrimental to the image of motorcycling which, quite apart from anything else, was bad for business. Instead, Harley publicity material showed clean-cut, clear-eyed, smartly turned out folk riding its bikes: their uniforms would even have passed muster on a parade ground. Not until the late 1970s did Harley riders begin to wear denim and beards in official advertisements. Now, of course, a vaguely Hell's Angel look is de rigueur at every HOG meeting and HOG is organized in chapters, just like the Angels.


Sonny Barger was probably the most famous of them all, founding the Oakland, California chapter in 1957. Known as the Chief to his fellow members, he was to spend 21 spells in prison (a total of 13 years) for drunk driving, assaults with deadly weapons, kidnapping, drug dealing and racketeering. He was also, like many Angels, devoted to Harleys, and at 61 years of age still rides one today, a Road King on which he covered nearly 12,000 miles (19312km) in the first three months. He explained his mileage rate was down because of the demands of a book tour to promote his autobiography! (See also Hollister.)