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Your Friendly Neighbourhood Biker: Motorcycle Clubs after 1990

though today's image of the biker is more even-handed and often positive – focusing more on the 99 per cent, rather than the outlaw 1%ers – outlaw motorcycle gang (OMG) rivalries continue, and have spread throughout the world as popular media glamorises the lifestyle and US-based clubs expand their membership.

During the 1980s, many of the US 1%er clubs were given over to the hands of younger members, who then became leaders who were less interested in overt, publicised violence and began funnelling their efforts into lucrative criminal enterprises. But as the clubs expanded their operations, the rivalries carried over, and biker violence began making headlines in countries that had previously only read about the battles in the US. In 1984, an Australian chapter of the Bandidos (a Hell’s Angels enemy formed 1966) were embroiled in a gunfight with the local Comancheros – over control of drug trade – outside a bar in Sydney, leaving seven dead, including a 14-year-old bystander, and 21 people injured. In the mid-1990s, the Great Nordic Biker War raged throughout Scandinavia, fought between the Hell’s Angels and various local clubs (including a European chapter of the Bandidos), mainly over drug turf. At the end, twelve people were dead and more than seventy wounded. Between the mid-nineties and early 2000s, the Quebec Biker War (once again between the Hell’s Angels and Roch Machine, later aligned with the Bandidos) left 150 people dead, and Canada again saw biker violence when 8 Bandidos were gunned down by their own on a farm outside of London, Ontario, Canada.

While obvious OMG violence has become back-page news in the US in recent years, 2015 gave us one of the worst shootouts between rival gangs to date in Waco, Texas. The Bandidos and the Cossacks (formed 1969) got a little too much syrup on their pancakes in a North Texas restaurant and left nine people dead, eighteen wounded and 170 in jail. (Actually, the rivalry goes back to 2013 when a Bandido was accused of stabbing two Cossacks.) There’s a clear pattern in all of these wars and gunfights, and in light of the 1%er code of action, it’s no coincidence that they all involve the drug trade, the same OMGs and maple syrup.

Despite the outbreaks of violence, the general public just doesn’t have the same view of biker culture that they did in the past, partly due to how its been embraced – and exploited – by popular culture. The television show Sons of Anarchy has demystified the culture as well as humanised its members, the comic Ghost Rider made being a tortured supernatural stunt biker cool and the Hell’s Angels once-notorious initiation process has been turned into popular boardgame Skull and Roses. Along with the Hairy Bikers’ cooking show, biker culture – or at least 99 percent of it – seems rather tame now.

Bikers themselves have been doing much to change their image; numerous clubs have made charity work a priority for its members. Going back to its roots, the UK-based Armed Forces Bikers (formed 2011) aims to help combat soldiers deal with issues when resettling in civilian life, and Bikers Against Child Abuse is an international organisation that not only raises money for the cause but will personally create safe spaces for individual abuse victims, turning bikers’ negative reputation into a huge positive.

Biker violence and crime continue to percolate, but the 99 per cent have changed the image of bikers throughout the world, probably for good.