The History of Motorcycle Clubs and Motorcycle Paraphernalia

club [kluhb] noun, a group of persons organized for a social, literary, athletic, political, or other purpose

Just like a book club or a gardening club, a motorcycle club is a gathering of individuals with the same interests. But they have a fascinating history behind them, as well as the paraphernalia and accessories used to promote and advertise one’s inclusion within a motorcycle group.

The Birth of the AMA

The birth of motorcycle clubs actually started back in 1924 when the American Motorcyclist Association, or AMA, was organized as a division of the existing Motorcycle & Allied Trades Association (M&ATA) in Cleveland, Ohio. The organization has one mission in mind: “to protect and promote the interests of motorcyclists while serving the needs of its members.” The AMA charters biker clubs around the United States, and current helps lead approximately 1,200 clubs across America. The AMA assists these various chartered clubs in running events, promoting their club, and gives these clubs the opportunity to vote on matters that affect AMA clubs and members.

While the AMA is considered one of the largest motorsport organizations in the world, it does not oversee every motorcycle group in America. Many clubs are formed outside of the AMA rules and regulations, and these clubs are called “outlaw motorcycle clubs.”

Outlaw Motorcycle Clubs

The American Motorcycle Association enlists a number of rules and regulations for their chartered clubs to follow and maintain. But as with rebellion in anything in life, biker clubs were formed outside of the AMA rules and were quickly dubbed “Outlaw” clubs or “One Percenters.” Some popular outlaw clubs that formed outside of the AMA include the Hell’s Angels and the Bandidos Motorcycle Club. They grew extensively after World War II when American soldiers were coming home from war and looking for adventure or companionship with other World War II veterans. Many bonded over motorcycles, which led to the development of hundreds of outlaw clubs–as well as more sponsored clubs within the AMA admission. Many motorcycle clubs are created for those who have a particular loyalty to a certain brand, such as Harley Davidson, BMW, and Honda, just to name a few.

The Negative Perception of Motorcycle Clubs

Motorcycle clubs have gotten a bad rap in the past. Due to the “outlaw” nature of many of the clubs, as well as the frowned-upon lifestyle and unfavored appearance of those riding the road, biker clubs and those who are part of them have not always had a positive reaction from others. Throw in a few Hollywood movies that gave the groups a negative connotation and made them out to be violent and favor illegal drugs and activities, and one could see why these clubs were portrayed in such bad light. However, over time, motorcycle clubs and members of them continue to go about their hobby without concern as to what others may think of them, and many are realizing the assumptions and rumors of motorcyclists and their hobbies have been very much off the mark. The assumed lifestyle of motorcyclists has changed over the years, and others are more accepting of those who enjoy the hobby and involvement in the motorcyclist community.

Identification of Motorcycle Clubs

In order to show one’s participation and acceptance into a particular motorcycle club, many members will sport leather jackets with club patches and paraphernalia. As with membership and relation to any other particular club or social group, leather vests, patches, vest pins and zipper pulls. Each biker club will have a certain design and color that represents their organization, and members of particular motorcycle clubs will don these colors and patches to represent their membership with a certain organization, whether or not it is sanctioned by the American Motorcyclist Association or is an outlaw club. Leather jackets are typically worn by motorcyclists because of their high quality and ability to withstand excessive wear and tear while on the road, while offering protection from dirt, debris, and the weather during one’s ride. Many will stitch on biker club membership patches onto their jackets, as well as add zipper pulls and vest pins that match their interests, their history, or their club.

Motorcycle Club Patches and Their Meanings

The patches worn on motorcycle jackets and vests have particular meanings depending on the number of pieces to the patch itself. If a patch has only one piece, it means that the club is a family club or a “law-abiding” group. The two-piece patch denotes a transitional biker club from a law-abiding club to an outlaw club. These are typically worn while a club is waiting on approval. An outlaw group is signified by the official three-piece patch, showing admission into the Outlaw Motorcycle Club of outlaws, or “One Percenters.” There are different variations of the patches that have a number of meanings, but the most notable and most recognizable feature of motorcycle club patches are the one-piece, two-piece, and three-piece vest and jacket patches.

Rocker Patches

Rocker patches are those that have a “banner” over the top and bottom of the main patch with the motorcycle club logo and/or name. These rocker patches will typically show the name of the motorcycle club on top, and the location/region on the bottom. These are oftentimes three-piece patches which represent outlaw motorcycle clubs, or “One Percenters.”

The Meaning of Motorcycle Vests

Motorcyclists are commonly seen wearing leather motorcycle jackets in order to keep warm while on the road. However, motorcycle vests are also seen. There are two reasons why motorcycle vests are worn. The first is to allow a motorcyclists to show their club affiliations with patches and other accessories. Just like the jacket, patches can be sewn on and worn to display one’s association with a particular biker club, either an AMA club or an outlaw club. However, jackets may be too warm during hot summer months, and when layered with other clothing underneath for warmth during cooler months, it can restrict one’s ability to move their arms and elbows freely for riding. A motorcycle vest is sometimes worn in order to lessen the amount of layers on one’s arms and help with movement, while still allowing a motorcyclist to display patches while riding.

Motorcycle clothing, patches, and clubs have been around as long as the motorcycle itself, and the history behind them is fascinating and intriguing. Learning more about motorcycle clubs and the background of them will help you easily associate with other motorcycle hobbyists and community members and determine what makes each group and motorcycle club different and distinguished from the others.


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