First in a two-part series
Joe was eight years old when he asked for his first leather jacket to join a “motorcycle gang.”
“I remember I had a bicycle that looked like a motorcycle,” he said.
“I went to my father and asked could I have a leather jacket because me and my friends want to start a motorcycle gang.
“So, we went down and picked one out with a little blue skull on the back. I thought it was the coolest thing.”
Thirty-five years later, he has the real thing and is part of an official motorcycle club.
Joe is not his real name.
He didn’t want to publicize the name of his club either, or even where they’re based for fear other clubs may disapprove of him talking to the media.
But he displays his club colours with pride.
For Joe, being a member of a motorcycle club is not a symbol of power or authority.
“It’s a brotherhood. It’s about the camaraderie” he said.
“The guys in my club would do anything for me because we look out for each other. We trust each other with anything and everything.”
Joe is well-aware of the public perception of motorcycle gangs. The leather jackets, vests, long hair and long beards are intimidating to some.
But Joe says he’s no gangster.
Most bikers are not rowdy troublemakers and are, in fact, honest, law-abiding, hard-working people, he said.
“Just because I wear a patch and ride a motorcycle, doesn’t mean I’m a criminal,” said Joe, who pointed out that his club and many others often donate and raise money for charities.
“We’re not all bad guys.”
But that’s not to say they’re all upstanding citizens, either. To understand which is which requires an understanding of how bikers are categorized.
Joe’s group is classified as a motorcycle club as opposed to a riders’ club. There’s a big difference.
Rider clubs — symbolized by the RC near the logos on their jackets — are groups of people who like to ride motorcycles together and socialize.
Motorcycle clubs — which can include small community groups and the notorious Hells Angels — have an MC symbol near their logos. The logo includes top rocker, stating the name of the club, or bottom rocker, claiming its territory. The clubs have a hierarchical structure.
To be a member of a motorcycle club is a much more involved process and lifestyle.
MC members must earn their patch by demonstrating their personal commitment to the group, and self-discipline. It’s often a long process, and once the patch is earned, a member garners a certain respect among bikers. Patch holders cannot discuss club business elsewhere and must show allegiance to their clubs.
Every club has its own rituals for earning patches. Some involve committing a crime, but not all.
Joe spent almost a year as a striker, or prospect. During that time, you hang out with the group and obey any full-patch member’s requests.
“It’s stuff like, ‘Go buy me a drink, get me a pack of cigarettes, do something foolish, like ask that big, fat woman to dance,’” he said.
“It’s a hazing ritual, and after a certain amount of time — which could be anywhere from a month to a couple of years — then the full-patch members sit around the table and vote whether or not to allow you in the club.”
But becoming a motorcycle club member is not as easy as sewing a patch on your back.
Riding clubs generally have hundreds or thousands of members, he said. Motorcycle clubs tend to be a lot smaller — 15 or 20 per chapter.
In this province, riders clubs include the Northern Stars, New Found Riders, Canadian Motorcycle Cruisers, Rock United, Booze Fighters and Lurking Class, all based in the St. John’s area. Riverside Riders is based in Peterview, with Republic Riders (one of the few clubs that includes women) on the west coast. There’s also The Cav, an Army veterans group with members from all across the province, and Doom Merchants, which is not based in any particular town or city.
Motorcycle clubs here include the Outlaws and Bacchus, both in Grand Falls-Windsor, Rolling Bones in Musgrave Harbour, Creed in Botwood, The Disciples in Gander, Relic Riders in Carbonear, Krakens in Mount Pearl, and The Vikings, Azazel’s Few and Sea Dawgs, all based in St. John’s. There’s also an all-women MC group in St. John’s — the Lady Bugs.
Most members of the public can’t distinguish between the types of biker groups or club colours.
To many people, all bikers are gangsters. However, there are only a small percentage involved in crime, Joe insists. These groups are referred to as the one per cent motorcycle clubs.
The label “one-percenters” comes from comments made more than 60 years ago by representatives of the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA). Following a fight that broke out between two clubs at a rally in Hollister, Calif., in July 1947, the reps defended the reputations of its members, stating that 99 per cent of bikers are law-abiding citizens, while only one per cent were outlaws.
The term stuck, and to this day, one percenters display the one percent diamond patch on their leather vests and jackets with pride.
“It’s the one per cent who don’t follow society’s rules,” Joe said.
In this province, there are reportedly four one per cent clubs — Bacchus, established here in 2011, The Outlaws (which were originally the Black Pistons which patched over to become The Outlaws), which set up shop last year, and the Vikings, plus the near-defunct Azazel’s Few, founded here about a year ago.
While Joe’s club is not a one per cent club, he said there’s a mutual respect amongst all the clubs.
In fact, Joe said, in order to become an official motorcycle club, you must first ask permission from the larger and more powerful one per cent clubs.
“You can’t just throw a patch on your back and call yourself a motorcycle club. The one per cent organizations would be very upset at that,” he said.
“If you do it without their permission, they will pull you over the side of the road and they will tear that leather right off your back.
“There’s a politics to it.”
That’s despite the fact clubs have no direct affiliation or association with them.
“They’re the lead motorcycle clubs,” he said. “They’re the big dogs, so we do have to pay them respect.”
Joe says one per cent clubs normally don’t try to entice other clubs to get involved in criminal activity.
“They don’t ask us to do anything because they don’t want us mixed up in their business whatsoever,” he said. “We have nothing that they want. They have nothing we want.
“But because they’re in charge — and I use that term loosely — we do have to show them respect because they’re a big organization.”
The Hells Angels is the largest one per cent outlaw motorcycle gang in Canada.
The group was established in 1948 in California and has expanded to more than 2,000 members worldwide.
The Angels are believed to have almost 500 full-fledged members and almost 40 chapters.
Hells Angels aren’t believed to have an official chapter in this province — already claimed territory here — but according to Joe, the Angels have been here for more than 40 years.
“They control half of George Street, sure!” Joe said. “Trust me, they’ve been here for a long time.”
Many of the major drug busts in this province, such as Operation Roadrunner, had ties to the Angels, as well as the drive-by shooting on Kenmount Terrace earlier this year.
“The fighting that’s been going on and the few things that have been in the news is an internal thing,” Joe said. “It’s infighting between clubs.”
He said the bigger clubs want control of the drug activity, which has seen an upswing in the past several years due to the surge in oil and gas industries. The money going around these days is what’s attracting them, he said.
“It’s going to happen,” Joe said of an eventual Hells Angels chapter. “And there’s nothing the police can do about it.
“Drugs are already here. They just want control of it and make the money. They’re the modern-day mafia.”
Joe’s club may not be affiliated with such organizations, but he said the police make assumptions based on their patches.
He said he and other members of his club have been watched closely by police.
“I wouldn’t say we’ve been harassed by the RNC, but we’ve certainly been followed a lot,” he said.
“All of us have been pulled over multiple times; photographs taken of licence plates. We’ve had them jump out of cars with high-speed cameras. It’s nuts.
“I’m not going to get involved in crime. I’ve got too much to lose.”
But police believe it’s the citizens who are losing out by having outlaw bikers in their town.
In Monday’s Part 2, read how the RCMP and RNC are handling these groups in our communities.