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When we do right, nobody remembers. When we do wrong, nobody forgets.—Official motto of the Hells Angels
Whenever motorcyclists are depicted in movies or on TV, with few exceptions they are portrayed as brutish thugs and criminals. This stems from the mystique of the classic "outlaw biker" of American culture. After World War II, motorcycle clubs became increasingly popular, especially with returning soldiers. In 1947, unruly bikers attending a rally in Hollister, CA caused the so-called Hollister riot. Sensationalized stories of the event resulted in the public perception that packs of bikers were looting and pillaging small towns across the country. The stories inspired the classic 1953 film The Wild One, which launched Marlon Brando's career and permanently ingrained the outlaw biker into pop culture.
The classic outlaw biker is a big, burly, grizzled man wearing a leather jacket and riding a Harley Davidson motorcycle. (The real Hells Angels exclusively ride Harley -- owning one is a prerequisite for membership.) Outlaw bikers almost always belong to a biker gang. Members of biker gangs wear the colors of their gang: a vest over their jacket that displays their gang name, insignia, and area of operation. Most gangs also have a system of patches that indicate members' various accomplishments and duties. White supremacist beliefs and symbols, while fairly common, are not ubiquitous. Female outlaw bikers are called "mamas" and tend to occupy a second class position. Bikers live for wild parties and extremely hard drinking. They support their nomadic lifestyle with the drug trade. Classic weapons of an outlaw biker include clubs, chains, and knives. Many real-world bikers carry large maglights because legally they are not considered weapons. The best way to piss off a biker is to wear your own "colors" displaying another gang's turf as your home city. The ultimate crime, however, is knocking over their motorcycles.
Contrary to public perception, most bikers are normal, law-abiding citizens. Many people who ride traditional "cruiser" motorcycles are actually older professionals with a fair amount of money. Buying and upkeeping a quality motorcycle is beyond the price range of most true outlaw bikers, who generally lack a steady income. The American Motorcycle Association famously insisted that only one percent of motorcycle riders are troublemakers. Outlaw bikers quickly adopted the phrase "one percenter" as a badge of honor, choosing to see themselves as members of an exclusive elite.
It didn't take long for the outlaw biker trope to be exported to other countries. Currently the Hells Angels boast membership across 27 countries, though additional regional variants on the outlaw biker do exist. In The Sixties, British "Rocker" gangs made headlines for their violent clashes with the scooter-riding Mods, but quickly faded away. Modern European bikers tend fit closer to the "sportbike punks" style and are usually dangerous only to themselves. Japanese "Bosozoku" gangs mostly just enjoy making a lot of noise.
See also Badass Biker.
Note: The name of the Hells Angels gang has no apostrophe.
Anime and Manga Edit
- Even in Anime, bikers are often seen as much more bark than bite. Yousuke Eguchi, hero of the old-school anime Shonan Bakusozoku has two loves, bikes and knitting.
- Ken Nakajima?s dad from You're Under Arrest is a biker to the bone and tends to hang out with large groups of other bikers (much closer to the American version than the Japanese one). But he rides a Ducati.
- 80% of the enemies Kenshiro faces fall into this trope. With the added bonus of being, on average, at least ten feet tall. The series was partially based on Mad Max.
- Akira features two violent outlaw biker gangs: Kaneda's gang of delinquents and the Clowns. The general suckiness of the world justifies the trope somewhat. Due to being set in Japan, they are based on Bouzoku gangs more than the actual Hells Angels.
- Encountered in Cromartie High School on several occasions: Masked Takenouchi defeats a whole bike gang at Cromartie using the art of pillow-jutsu, and the real Takenouchi, on overcoming his own motion sickness, manages to devastate one of them, to the point where its leader quits and tries to get revenge on Takenouchi on his own.
- While Keiichi Morisato is a motorcycle enthusiast, this is Keiichi Morisato we're talking about. Of course, some argue he's a scary character for other reasons.
- Beelzebumon from Digimon Tamers (irony included in his name). Leather jacket? Check. Monster motorcycle? Check. Badass? Check. Topping it off, he's got a pair of shotguns.
- Averted... oddly, in Eyeshield 21. When the Devil Bats are on their Death March across America, Sena gets separated and meets up with a thuggish trio of bikers. Turns out the trio are actually middle-aged adults who love Asian dramas and take a liking to Sena because he reminds them of a certain Korean film, and are more than glad to take them to where (they think) he needs to be.
- In Me and Joe Priest, the bikers roving around infertile and slowly dying America are mostly former U.S. soldiers looking for "experiences". One of them is the narrator and co-protagonist (i.e., "Me").
- Lobo embraces this trope wholeheartedly, but in space!
- Wolverine of X-Men rides a couple. In X-Men: Evolution he has two that change with his costume. While he is an X-Man, he is an Anti-Hero so he's no goody-toe-shoes, either.
- Ghost Rider is a hellish incarnation of your basic motorbike thug.
- Man-Thing has to fight a few of these when they threaten Steve Gerber's unlucky Author Avatar.
- Ronin features two racist motorcycle gang rivals. The comic takes place After the End where this trope is often played out heavily.
- The main cast of Joe Bar Team are bikers, but definitely not Hells Angels. The opposite, in fact.
- In Manchester Lost, the 4 Archangels form an impromptu biker gang to prevent the hordes of hell taking the world via Manchester. Hilarity Ensues.
Films -- Live-Action Edit
- The 1953 film The Wild One, based on the events of the 1947 Hollister riot, is the movie credited with shaping the image of biker gangs for decades. Ironically, Marlon Brando?s character rode a Triumph, not a Harley.
- Subverted and played straight in the movie Wild Hogs, where the titular group are all middle-aged urbanites who're riding to get away from their boring lives. They get into trouble with the Del Fuegos, who consider themselves "actual bikers" and are a stand-in for the Hells Angels. The makers of the movie originally planned to use the actual Hells Angels as the bad guys, but decided not to after the club protested.
- In the original Mad Max, the villains were a gang of outlaw bikers. In The Road Warrior, anyone who is tough enough to maintain a vehicle is a Badass by default, as there are no laws.
- In Muppet Wizard of Oz the Flying Monkeys are a biker gang. Subverted because, as in the book, they are working for the Wicked Witch against their will, and were previously a peaceful group of motorcycle enthusiasts.
- The movie version of The Wiz (1978) portrayed the Witch's flying monkeys as bikers, and also subverted the characterization in the end.
- In Back to The Future Part II, Hill Valley's alternate timeline of "Hell Valley" is partly characterized as a Crapsack World by its infestation with outlaw bikers and trigger-happy gangs.
- In Dawn of the Dead it is not the zombies who eventually dislodge the ragtag band of survivors from the shopping mall in which they are holed up, but a marauding biker gang (implied to be one of several roving the countryside), that breaks down the doors, raids the supplies and let the zombies in. Any group roaming around after the Zombie Apocalypse would have to be a band of hardened badasses.
- There's not a Harley in sight, but otherwise the Australian cult classic Stone totally embodies the trope. A fair amount of the extras were genuine Hells Angels and one of the film's brawls was very, very real.
- The Black Widows biker gang in Every Which Way But Loose and Any Which Way You Can.
- In Blazing Saddles, outlaw bikers are seen in the line signing up to be Hedley Lamarr's Mooks.
- In Made, Puffy Daddy's character is a drug kingpin in New York who has a gang of black bikers under his command.
- The 1976 Japanese documentary Godspeed You! Black Emperor follows a young member of the Black Emperors Bōsōzoku gang after he gets in trouble with the police. The film provided the name of the Canadian post-rock band.
- The Satan's Helpers in Pee Wee's Big Adventure. Pee-wee accidentally knocks over the entire gang's motorcycles like dominoes. They plan to "stomp him, tattoo him, hang him, and then kill him," until he wins them over with his Big Shoe Dance and makes friends.
- Mystery Science Theater 3000 featured several movies exploiting this trope: Hellcats, The Sidehackers, and Wild Rebels (featuring the "Satan's Angels").
- Subverted with the boyfriend in Erin Brockovich, who looks like a Hells Angel but is a nice guy with a steady, middle-class income.
- In the Oscar-winning short film "My Mother Dreams the Satan's Disciples in New York", a woman from the Midwestern U.S. visits her college-age daughter in New York's Lower East Side (where the real Hells Angels have their NY chapter).
- Kinda subverted in the 1968 cult film Hells Angels on Wheels as it provides a pretty realistic portrayal of the Hells Angels: hard-partying, nihilistic and provocative outcasts who mean no harm but whose provocative behavior leads them into trouble, to which they immediately retaliate with fists and chains. Hells Angels president Sonny Barger even worked on the filming as an advisor.
- The Satan's Messangers gang from A Bronx Tale is obviously based on this image and have a reputation for hellraising and breaking up bars. Unfortunately for them, they only appear in the movie long enough to try to wreck a Mafia bar. It doesn't go well for them.
- Averted in one of the most famous motorcycle films, Easy Rider. The two main characters are chopper-riding hippies who travel into the Deep South and run tragically afoul of violent Good Ol Boys.
- Hell Ride, Quentin Tarantino produced, and very Tarantino-esque movie about a Gang War between Victors MC and the 666ers MC.
- In Zombie Cult Massacre, a gang of bikers turns out to be as destructive and dangerous as the zombies.
- Amusingly subverted in Twilight when Edward demonstrates his ability to read minds.
Edward: [looking around the restaurant] Money. Sex. Money. Sex. Money. Sex. [looks at heavily tattooed biker] Cat.
- Subverted in one of Clive Cussler's Dirk Pitt novels, possibly Inca Gold, in which Dirk and Loren run into a biker gang in Mexico, who turn out to be members of an American law firm who are on retreat.
- In Coyote Blue, Calliope's ex-boyfriend is a member of a Hells Angel's-type biker group.
- In Charles de Lint's Jack of Kinrowan, the Wild Hunt incarnate in modern-day Ottawa as black-clad, mirror-visored bikers on Harley Davidsons. Subverted when Jackie frees the Hunt and discovers that they are decent beings, righteously angry at the Big Bad about being used for cruelty.
- Outlaw biker gangs (along with Dirty Communists) are the standard villains in The Survivalist (an After the End series of adventure novels by Jerry Ahern). However, when Paul Rubenstein makes a derogatory comment about bikers, the hero John Rouke points out that they're also on motorcycles.
- Good Omens has its literal "Hell's Angels," the four Bikers of the Apocalypse: War, Famine, Death, and Pollution (Pestilence having retired due to penicillin). The Four Horsemen end up with four actual Hells Angels tagging along for, as it was, the ride. However, it's noted that not all bikers are Hells Angels. "If there's one thing real Hells Angels can't abide, it's weekend bikers".
- The second Able Team novel had an outlaw biker gang seizing control of Catalina Island off the coast of Los Angeles. A later Mack Bolan informational book published a letter from two biker fans complaining about how all bikers were portrayed as outlaws.
- Hunter S. Thompson wrote Hell's Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs, for which the gonzo journalist spent a year in close association with the Hells Angels. Thompson even invited members of the gang into his home. Ultimately he was beaten up by several members of the gang. He still maintained friendly relations with some of his closer contacts. Ironically, Thompson misspells the Hells Angels gang name throughout the book.
- In A Phule and his Money, Chocolate Harry has some trouble with a biker gang call the Renegades for messing with their hovercycles, back when he himself was still a biker. They fit the trope to a 't'.
- The A-plot villains from Brigand's MC and from the start of Shadow Wave were this trope; violent bikers who controlled a seaside town through fear, got into large battles with other clubs at rallies and were involved in gun running. Also the gun runner/technology thief from earlier book Maximum Security built her criminal empire up from one of these.
- Can YOU Survive the Zombie Apocalypse? allows you to meet and join up with the Hells Angels themselves.
Live-Action TV Edit
- The PCHers from Veronica Mars.
- Subverted in an episode of Northern Exposure, where the elderly Ruth-Anne falls in with what appears to be a gang of Hells Angels, who are later revealed to be a bunch of middle-aged professionals.
- In The Fugitive episode "The Devil's Disciples", the title characters were a Fictional Counterpart of the Hells Angels.
- Subverted by "Sid's Cycle/Psycho Show", which follows the titular Sid around North America. While he is quite large and has a custom bike, he's a nice guy who often enters bike competitions for charity.
- As the season 6 opener to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Sunnydale was ravaged by a demon biker gang.
- The episode "Hog Wild" from The Greatest American Hero features Bill and Ralph running afoul of a biker gang. Something of a subversion in that the gang-leader proves himself to be quite shrewd and cunning.
- The Sons of Anarchy features the eponymous California-based motorcycle gang, which finances itself in the blackmarket arms trade. The members of the Charming chapter are completely capable of violence and murder, but are also more moral than other outlaw bikers, having formed a truce with the local police and community. Other chapters of the gang, as well as other gangs in the area, are little more than thugs. The show occasionally shows the contrast between outlaw bikers and regular bikers.
- Two desperate biker gangs, both of the Hells Angels variety, invade a town in Knight Rider. Among their badness is that they trash a local bully's van and terrorize the community. Of course, when they try pushing around Michael Knight, they should have gotten the hint when they try trashing the indestructible KITT that they are taking more than they can handle. Averted in another episode involving motocross (there's one villainous biker in the whole bunch, and he's not a Hells Angel), and any episode featuring RC3's elderly motorcycle.
- In an episode of the Disney Channel original series Good Luck Charlie, P.J. and Bob meet a gruff biker couple who threaten to gut them like fish when they try to steal their motorcycles. Subverted when the man starts bawling like a baby when Bob explains that they need the bikes to get to the hospital for the delivery of his newest child.
- One episode of The Sopranos had Tony and Christopher coming across two bikers stealing fine wine. When they decide to steal the wine from them, the bikers arrogantly proclaim, "We're with The Vipers!" Tony and Christopher are naturally unimpressed.
- Subverted in an episode of Big Wolf on Campus. Tommy and Merton spend an episode trying to protect a nerd from a scary-looking biker guy. Turns out, the nerd is a demon who wants to open the Gates Of Hell and the scary biker guy? He's a professional demon hunter.
- On Intelligence, a Vancouver biker gang called the Disciples are the main competitition of the criminal protagonist. They are portrayed as being in all ways worse than he is: meaner, greedier, more violent, and involved in worse forms of criminal conduct (for example, dealing cocaine).
- Subverted on the short-lived show Drive. The badass-looking people riding the black Harley turn out to be an old couple once they take off their face-concealing helmets.
- Subverted with BBC 2's The Hairy Bikers. Dave and Si look the part - but they're presenting a cooking show.
- In The Straits, the Montebello's main suppliers for drugs are a biker gang.
- The subject of the song "Leave the Biker" by Fountains of Wayne is described as a crass, unlettered thug . . . by the singer who envies him his attractive girlfriend.
- The Austrian bikers in the music video of Falco's "Rock Me Amadeus" were the local chapter Hells Angels.
Newspaper Comics Edit
- The bikers who works as 'kidnappers for hire' in the Modesty Blaise arc "Samantha and the Cherub".
Tabletop Games Edit
- The Car Wars setting is After the End (sort of), when the roads are so dangerous that giant packs of bikers will group together for mutual protection.
- In the Shadowrun game's version of the future, Combat Biker is a professional team sport with a continent-wide following. It resembles capture-the-flag, but played on motorcycles, in an arena chock full of obstacles and half-pipes ... and with weapons. Many top-scoring players are recruited from violent biker gangs, and bring their brutal street-tactics to the field.
- In the Lucas Arts adventure game Full Throttle, the bikers mostly follow the Hells Angels variety, showing a great deal of disregard for traffic laws and personal property, and the main character is a wanted man. The Cavefish, however, are a bizarre subterranean biker cult riding crotch-rockets.
- Hitman (by Eidos Interactive)... lots of rather amusing biker stuff in Hitman: Contracts. The gang itself is Dutch, as many American biker gangs have spread their membership into Europe.
- Francis from Left 4 Dead is a riff on this trope, being a grizzled biker who's itching for a fight and treats the Zombie Apocalypse as the world's largest bar fight. He also has a professed hatred for cops (and doctors, and lawyers, and small towns, and Ayn Rand, etc.) Like any good Hells Angel, however, he sticks with his pack, and sounds particularly upset when his fellow survivors die.
- Grand Theft Auto IV: The Lost and Damned follows a One Percenter outlaw gang that Niko interacts with during the main storyline. Mostly played straight, but the game does show some of the wannabes. Also true to the trope, Johnny meets and befriends a black biker who prefers crotch rockets, and the two trade insults about their choice of ride.
- In Grand Theft Auto Vice City, Tommy can receive sidequests from a very Hells Angels-esque biker gang.
- Kanji from Persona 4 single handedly beats up an entire biker gang because they kept his mother up at night. You specifically find this out when a big-city news network tries to do a spot on the gang. ...Only to get yelled at and threatened by Kanji. The network naturally assumes that he's one of the gang.
- In Pokémon Fire Red and Leaf Green, a gang of bikers takes over one of the islands and the player has to get rid of them. However, a few of the biker-trainers you encounter are actually pretty friendly. One of them in Heart-Gold and Soul-Silver even prefers to battle using the cute Teddiursa rather than the standard Koffing or Muk.
- The final pet of the Thugs powerset in City of Villains has a summon animation of riding a motorbike. Gets really weird when he rides it in places he shouldn't like office buildings, night clubs, sewers, and ancient cities.
- The Fire Barons of Brutal Legend are molotov-chucking Bikers that are actually on the side of the heroes. Inverted with the Kill Master and his men, who are bikers that heal friendly units and do not have any damage-dealing capability at all.
- Police Quest has a group of rude bikers hanging at the bar that you, a cop, has to force them to move their motorcycles out of the neighboring business' parking space. Not using the nightstick on the leader gets you beaten to death.
- The biker gangs of Rogue Survivor, to a man. Their motorcycles are nowhere to be seen, but they have the requisite leather jackets, melee weapons, and psychopathic disregard for all other forms of life (or unlife).
- The Vulture in Starcraft features two variants on this; in Starcraft the Vulture pilots were young, obnoxious punks with delinquent trappings, while in Starcraft II they were replaced with older, more laid-back bikers; still trouble. They also give a nod with the "Hel's Angels", a group of Viking pilots who are pirates and mercenaries.
- Subverted in Wapsi Square, the young Monica encounters some bikers who turn out to be decent folks.
Western Animation Edit
- Biker Babe Rojo and her gang in Ben 10.
- Parodied in an episode of Duck Dodgers where Dodgers justifies buying a hover-bike with Protectorate money by saying he's going to infiltrate a biker gang. The gang he chooses turns out to be a group of middle-class professionals, which he transformed into a criminal gang, and was then unable to stop.
- The Simpsons episode Take My Wife, Sleaze is built around this trope as Homer tries to start an outlaw gang after winning a motorbike in a contest. Then another gang with the same name (The Hell's Satans) takes up residence in the Simpsons' house.
Marge: Do you have to be so messy?
Biker: (nonplussed) Well, yeah. It's part of being a lowlife.
- An episode of SpongeBob SquarePants centers around a gang called the "Wild Ones" who would seem to follow this trope. The "Mild Ones" on the other hand, are a group of senior citizens who seem to be in love with the stereotype.
- In the Samurai Jack episode "In Jack's Sandals", a rancorous biker gang nearly run over Jack and accidentally destroy his sandals.
- Subverted in Biker Mice from Mars, while the titular mice do ride motorcycles and perform crazy stunts on them, they are the heroes of the show and are shown obeying the 'Rules of the Road'... most of the time.
- Subverted in the Road Trip Episode of Rocko's Modern Life (Road Rash) which includes a biker gang that has a serious image problem (and only one Hells Angel).
- Subverted to hell and back in The Backyardigans, during the episode "Special Delivery". Tasha, Uniqua and Pablo were a gang of bikers... called the Do-Gooders, being described as being "rough, tough and good to the core". Not surprising, considering it's a show broadcast on Nick Jr.
- Subverted on the PBS Kids version of The Berenstain Bears. When the Bears get some new neighbors, Papa Bear is sure they're bad eggs and one reason is that the mother of the family rides a motorcycle. But they're actually all very nice.
- In an episode of South Park, bikers are depicted as attention-whores who make as much noise as possible to get people to notice them, going as far as to imitate engine noise with their mouths when they're not riding motorcycles. The episode encourages people to stop using the word "fag" as a derogatory term for gay people, and start using it as a derogatory term for bikers. To their faces.
- Jimmy Two-Shoes features an entire biker gang of Villainous Harlequins named The Rodeo Clowns.
- An episode of Cow and Chicken features an all female biker gang called the Buffalo Gals which enjoy chewing carpets, this episode was taken out of circulation being accused of lesbian stereotyping.
- Averted in Scooby Doo! Legend of the Phantosaur. While the bikers are rough and rowdy when they first appear at an All-You-Can-Eat restaurant, the waitress says they won't cause any trouble unless provoked. Cue Shaggy to accidentally splatter them with food. By the end, they save Mystery Inc. and other characters from a cave-in caused by the fake Phantosaur and danger-prone Daphne.
Real Life Edit
- Averted in real life by the overwhelming majority of motorcyclists who obey the law, as well as by a number of motorcycle organizations that do charity work.
- A notable example would be the "Patriot Guard," a group of riders who go to military funerals picketed by the odious Fred Phelps and proceed to merrily picket him, drowning out his group's rants with the sound of their engines.
- Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman are easily Hollywood's most famous bikers and both used their lengthy trips to support UNICEF's work in Asia and Africa.
- Truth in Television to the degree that outlaw motorcycle gangs do in fact exist and have spread across the world. Outlaw gangs are often highly active in the drug trade, well-armed, and very violent. Some of the more infamous incidents involving biker gangs include:
- The Altamont Free Concert, where Hells Angels provided security and have been blamed for agitating the crowd, which ultimately resulted in a young man drawing a gun and getting stabbed to death by an Angel.
- The Milperra massacre in Sydney in 1984.
- Incidents in the Scandinavian gang-war between Hells Angels and their rival Bandidos have included RPG's being fired at rival houses.
- In 2006 six Canadian Bandidos and two associates were killed near Shedden, Ontario. Six other Bandidos were found guilty of the murders while a seventh testified against them. The six convicted bikers included a neo-Nazi, an ex-police officer and a black belt martial artist. The killings were an internal feud between the Toronto and Winnipeg chapters that escalated out of control, with the disarmed victims being executed one at a time.
- Rival Hells Angels and Mongols crossing paths in a Laughlin casino sparked a gunfight that left three dead.
- ↑ There are a number of other things real Hell's Angels can't abide. These include the police, soap, Ford Cortinas and, in Big Ted's case, anchovies and olives