Outlaw biker gangs like the Hell’s Angels have been identified with Harley-Davidson motorcycles since the first member of Chicago’s Outlaw Motorcycle Club threw his leg over a motorcycle back in the ’30s. Over the years, Harley has tried at various times to distance itself from the outlaw image, and embrace it as a means of selling bikes and various pieces of pirate cosplay accoutrements. How did this come to pass? Why are Harleys the go-to bikes for biker gangs?
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Let’s start off by talking about what constitutes an outlaw motorcycle gang. The American Motorcyclist Association sanctions competition and organizations such as motorcycle clubs. Some sources say the origin of the term “outlaw biker group” was in reference to clubs that weren’t sanctioned by the AMA. After several members of these non-AMA-sanctioned clubs made the news as a result of their criminal shenanigans, the term gained a closer association to disregard for the law. The AMA didn’t like the bad rap these groups gave the rest of the motorcycling community, and actively took steps to combat these clubs in a number of ways. One such famous campaign resulted in the banning of Outlaws club insignia at races and other AMA-sponsored events.
In 2015, the US Justice Department reported there were roughly 500 large outlaw motorcycle gangs active in the United States. If smaller clubs were counted, that number jumped to around 2,500 gangs nationwide. The FBI estimates that about 45,000 Americans belong to biker gangs. Despite law enforcement combating these organizations, they continue to attract new members and grow. Some clubs, like the Hell’s Angels and The Outlaws have chapters all over the planet.
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