The 1%ers ~ OUTLAW RIDERS ~ ‘60s STYLE
The outlaw motorcyclist has been a player on the American landscape at least since the end of WW II, getting their first taste of national recognition in Hollister, California in 1947 with the July 4th celebrations and motorcycle hill climb, that attracted cyclists and clubs from all over the state. It turned into 40 hours of lawlessness and a drunken ‘take-over’ of the town by rowdy motorcyclists and was the basis for the prize winning short story "Cyclists' Raid" by Frank Rooney which appeared in the January 1951 issue of Harper's Magazine and in turn was the origin of the Marlon Brando/Lee Marvin film The Wild One (1953).
The earliest magazine with an iconographic biker cover was the April 7, 1951 issue of the Saturday Evening Post that sported a painting by Stevan Dohanos depicting three small-town boys admiring a customized Panhead Harley with studded leather saddle bags and the name "Tex" on them, the title of the painting--"Isn't she a beauty!"
Throughout the 1950s and early 1960s incidents in various California towns involving clashes between townspeople, law enforcement and the seemingly growing numbers of “outlaw” motorcycle clubs, were reported in local and national newspapers and magazines.
March 15, 1965 would be the beginning of the end of anonymity specifically for the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club and outlaw clubs in general as California Attorney General Thomas C. Lynch issued a fifteen page report that day that was based on ten years of study of, “Hell’s Angels and other disreputable motorcycle clubs.” This report was the basis of most of the information that the press had to go on concerning the clubs, as can be seen in many of the magazine articles listed herein which quote and cite Lynch’s report.
Then there was the May 17, 1965 issue of The Nation in which Hunter S. Thompson’s original, seminal article called "The Motorcycle Gangs, Losers and Outsiders" appeared only two months after the Lynch report had been released. The double whammy of Lynch’s report and Thompson’s article in the national media started the ball rolling and what follows below was part of the result.
One of the incidents which brought the cyclists again to the forefront were the Weirs Beach riots in Laconia, New Hampshire, that took place on June 19th and 20th, 1965 during the 44th Annual New England Tour and Rally and made the national headlines, including Life magazine. Thirty-four cyclists were arrested in the incident and 70 people were injured. Until then the outlaw clubs had basically been considered a West Coast phenomenon, but by 1966 outlaw motorcycle clubs had reached the peak of their media coverage, and became rebel antiheroes to some.
Then there were the books, Hunter S. Thompson’s best selling book Hell’s Angels (1967) which had its genesis with the article written by Thompson for The Nation and ended with his befriending and hanging out with the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club for over a year, but not as a member. That was until Labor Day 1966 when he got stomped and was sent packing. Another book following on the heels of Thompson's book was Freewheelin’ Frank by Frank Reynolds, as told to Michael McClure. Reynolds had been a member of the HAMC but eventually had his patches taken and his tattoos re-inked and went to prison for a spell on arson charges. To a lesser degree such books as The Sex and Savagery of the Hell’s Angels (1966) by Jan Hudson (pseudonym of George H. Smith) and A Place In Hell (1968) by H. R. Kaye which was a biography of ‘Wild Bill’ Henderson, a former Hell’s Angel, helped form the general pop culture's picture of the most notorious 1%er club.
Then came the crop of biker movies cranked out for the drive-in movie circuit, which were widely influential, and started in 1966 with Roger Corman’s The Wild Angels starring Peter Fonda, Nancy Sinatra, Bruce Dern, Diane Ladd and members of the Venice, California chapter of the Hells Angels MC. Titus Moody’s semi-documentary Outlaw Motorcycles, also from ‘66, claims to have been the first biker movie, but is somewhat forgotten, as it suffered from little or no distribution. Outlaw Motorcycles was a combination of footage of real outlaw clubs of the time in L.A. with acted scenes of Moody and pals thrown in as a non-sequitur.
Hence the onslaught of numerous magazine and newspaper articles that featured the outlaw clubs from ‘65 on and put the images of outlaw motorcyclists in the forefront of popular culture and imagination.
The “1%er” patches worn by the outlaw clubs were, as legend has it, inspired by the American Motorcycle Association (AMA) claiming that 99% of motorcycle riders were law abiding citizens. So the outlaws dubbed themselves the other 1%, that weren’t law abiding. In the book Wild Ride (2000) by Tom Reynolds, he quotes from the book A Wayward Angel (1978), by George “Baby Huey” Wethern, a former member of the Hells Angels MC, who states that, “We kicked around a hostile statement from the American Motorcycle Association, the Elks Club of biking. To draw a distinction between its members and us renegades, the AMA had characterized 99 percent of the country’s motorcyclists as clean living folks enjoying pure sport. But it condemned the other 1 percent as antisocial barbarians who’d be scum riding horses or surfboards, too.”
Reynolds apparently tried to find the quote from the AMA, but instead says, “This clever bit of defiance remains an outlaw standard to this day, although nobody at the AMA can remember any of their representatives ever making any such hostile statement (it certainly was never issued in writing). It became the perfect maxim at which outlaws like the Hell’s Angels could thumb their fight-scarred noses, even if they were possibly jeering at pure fiction.”
Another account dates the birth of the 1%er patches as 1961 when the AMA started their “Put Your Best Wheel Forward” campaign into effect which asked cycle riders to keep a clean public appearance. The cycle riders that scoffed at the AMA started wearing American Outlaws Association (AOA) patches which eventually became the 1%er patch in response to the AMA comment about 99% of the riders attending motorcycle races as being good law abiding citizens.
1969 saw the release of Hell’s Angels ‘69, as well as the popular film Easy Rider which had shifted the focus from the outlaw clubs to the lone wolf, stoner bikers portrayed in the film, and caused many to take up cross country motorcycle trips to “Discover America” on their Harleys.
Sensational adult slick magazine publishers such as Seven Seventy and Press Arts often used pics of actual motorcycle clubs hanging out on Sunset Strip, or other L.A. hot spots from the ‘60s. Seven Seventy put out several mags with outlaw motorcyclists as the main theme, (Banned #7–Outlaw Motorcycle Special Edition, Way Out, Cycle Outlaws, and The Outlaws), possibly thanks to Titus Moody who was a bike rider himself as well as a photographer who sold his wares to the adult slick publishers.
As mentioned elsewhere in this book, some of the male models used by Pendulum / Gallery Press and other publishers at the time, look like they are probably bikers in some cases, and hippies in others, and undoubtedly were. They could very well have been recruited by the female models who hung out in the bars and clubs along Sunset Strip, as did the bikers. Whether or not some of the “models” were members of motorcycle clubs, or just lone bikers earning a little extra cash and getting their dip sticks wet in the process, is anybody’s guess. Bikers, particularly the outlaws, were also used as the theme of some porn mags from the late sixties onward.
What is pictured here is by no means a complete listing of mags covering the bikers, but it is the main crop of mags that covered the topic and helped the cyclists become legendary.
The material covered in these mags ranges from big media’s paranoid hype, to personalized accounts from outlaw bikers themselves, to Colors Motorcycle Magazine, a mag published by outlaw bikers. This is just the tip of the iceberg, which included numerous news magazines, men’s adventure mags, true crime detective mags, tabloids, and the girlie mags, all of which jumped on the bandwagon with tales of the outlaw motorcycle clubs.
So crank up some Davie Allan and the Arrows and have a look!
Back cover of Colors Spring 1971 issue.
Scan courtesy of Vince Bloom.