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The Hell’s Angels. Motorcycles, Outlaws, Rebels, and Brothers.

March 3, 2010

The Oakland chapter of the Hell’s Angels tear down the highway behind their fearless leader.

 “If I ever get too old to ride my Motorcycle, and have pretty girls, I’d rather just rob a Bank and go back to prison.”
-Ralph “Sonny” Barger

The long and colorful history (60+ years) of the Hell’s Angels Motorcycle Club has been widely documented by the media. Magazines, movies, books and songs have all made attempts at capturing the essence of bike club culture – the look, the feel, and the sound of this other world. Not always successfully either. Because this sordid tale swoops over, around, and through the lives of hundreds of outlaws, felons, rebels, vets, outcasts, and inbetweeners.

We are tranfixed by those who dare to live on the fringe of society, and often make vain attempts to personify and relate to these intriguing individuals.

They have chosen to live their lives the only way they know how…hard and fast; with a screaming engine between their knees and rubber spread down the highway.

For, to them, freedom is nothing but an open road.

Close-up of two Hell’s Angels Berdoo jackets on the backs of two riders. Bill Ray. 1965. LIFE Magazine.

Road grime and hardened gazes. This biker personifies the tough as nails “one percenter” stereotype associated with motorcycle clubs. Bill Ray. LIFE Magazine.

Check out those dual exhaust pipes. Probably more effective in looks and sound rather than speed and performance. A real cop magnet, for sure. Bill Ray. LIFE Magazine.

Elevated handlebars and a wide grip. This style came into fashion with Hell’s Angels in the late 1950s, and eventually spread into mainstream motorcycle culture. Not purely for looks, but for comfort on long rides. Bill Ray. LIFE Magazine.

Wives, girlfriends, steadies, and one-nighters. In the club’s early days it was ok for your “old lady” to flaunt the death’s head. Today, relinquishing the patch without a fight are grounds for expulsion. Bill Ray. 1965. LIFE Magazine.

An Angel’s old lady gives us the finger as they cruise down the boulevard. Bill Ray. LIFE Magazine.

Booze and Broads. Hell’s Angels relax at a cafe during the 1960s. Bill Ray. LIFE Magazine.

Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang on the road. Bill Ray. 1965. LIFE Magazine.

Hell’s Angels bike rider. Bakersfield, CA, 1965. Bill Ray. LIFE Magazine.

Sonny Barger on a ’46 Harley stroker. At the crossroads of the 1950s greaser look and the long-haired hippie sylings of the 1960s. November 1959.

Sonny and Co. congregate outside the El Adobe bar in Oakland just before the Oakland-Frisco wars. 1961.

Barger riding his hog in this undated photo.

The legendary Ralph “Sonny” Barger in the driver’s seat of his Harley. I love the look of the dual balloon tires.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. May 16, 2011 9:34 pm

    I just finished Hell’s Angels by HST and would have liked to see a number of these in the book. Thanks for having them up.

    • May 17, 2011 1:28 pm

      Very welcome. It’s an interesting subject indeed, and the photos are total Americana.



  2. Jake permalink
    September 6, 2011 5:21 am

    I remember seeing photos of Hells Angels in magazines in the 1960s when I was going to high school. I remember some wearing German Helmets. These guys are #1 Americans all the way.

    • September 6, 2011 4:22 pm

      I’ve been watching the tv show – Sons of Anarchy this summer. Trying to catch up before the premier of Season 4 tonight!

  3. September 10, 2011 8:53 am

    thumbs up

  4. June 10, 2013 8:48 pm

    i love the berdoo angels 1965 my big brothers your little sister donna

  5. LoLo permalink
    December 19, 2013 4:18 am

    Who it is in the 9th pic down with the girl on the back? Bill Ray the photographer can’t remember is name. Some say it’s Little Jimmy but it doesn’t look like Little Jimmy in other pics. The guy in this pic is in several photos from this series from Bill Ray.

    • December 20, 2013 3:22 am

      Not sure. These photos were taken from a Sonny Barger autobiography, but fortunately the name now alludes me!


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