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The Art of the Motorcycle


Harley Davidson

Hell's Angels


  Hell's Angels

The Hell's Angels are the biggest gang, but they were not the first. "The Booze Fighters" were the first of a new breed of motorcyclists, the outlaw gang. During a fourth of July revelry in 1947, they lived down to their name and terrorized an agricultural town, Hollister, California, getting themselves into the news and their story eventually into the movies (THE WILD ONE). Three years after, in another small California town named Fontana, some young motorcyclists saw the reports in newspapers and LIFE magazine and decided to emulate the media's accounts of the outlaw bikers. The group took its name from a 1930s movie of the same name that had nothing to do with motorcycles directed by Howard Hughes and starring Jean Harlow, it followed the exploits of a group of World War I fliers.

The Hell's Angels have become the archetypal outlaw club, but more than that as well. According to a court affidavit filed in December, 1997, the Angels are the largest outlaw motorcycle gang in the world with 1200 members in the United States and 600 in the rest of the world. While they do organize group rides and some charity drives, drug trafficking is reportedly the club's main activity and source of income.

They compete with the Pagans, Banditos and Outlaws in turf across the world, including a major wars through the East Coast and Scandinavia that have killed scores of people. Banditos raided an arms warehouse of the Sweden army and then launched attacks that included hand-grenade attacks and even an anti-tank rocket fired into a Hell's Angels clubhouse during a party. The Oakland, California branch a direct descendent of the original group from Fontana is the Angels' international headquarters.


It would be unfair to say that all of the Hell's Angels' products are illegal. Hey, if Harley can stamp its brand on everything from coffee to credit cards, why not Angels? And sure enough, branches of the gang offer a wide assortment of doodads and geegaws. However, here is where it gets complicated: If you buy products from the Hell's Angels, they don't say "Hell's Angels." Instead they say, "Big Red Machine."

"We don't call them bikers, we call them criminal gangs. As far as Scandinavia goes, we believe the bikes are only a camouflage."

--Claes Cassel, Stockholm County Police

Why is that? Maybe it's because they don't want non-members using the name. Or maybe it's because somebody else owns the legal rights to merchandising the name. A veteran's group, the 303rd Bombardment Group Association, were the original Hell's Angels; the motorcycle gang "borrowed" their name after seeing a movie about them

Regardless, like the Hard Rock Cafe, you can buy "Big Red Machine" products brandishing the winged skull and names and numbers of local chapters from all over the world like London, Quebec, NYC, Sydney and Denmark. What kind of products? Well, you'd be disappointed a lot of them look like things you might get at a souvenir store in a tourist area. Lots of t-shirts, of course, but also beer mugs, belt buckles, patches, helmet stickers, mini-flashlights, baseball hats, ashtrays, and plastic cigarette lighters. There's also a line of riding jackets under the "HA Leather" label and picture-a-month calendars of scenic backgrounds besmirched by not-so-scenic members of the club. If you want to go browsing through the regional stores, start at the Hells Angels World webpage and follow the links:

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