Is the British Motorcycle Club different from the American Motorcycle Club?

I often wonder about the similarities and differences between us here in Britain and our American cousins. Having spent a few years living there in northern California some years ago, I would see occasional club patches on the road but nothing prolific…in fact there weren’t that many bikes to be fair. However it is rather a big place so even when I rode around I would often find myself in the middle of nowhere without sight of another bike or car for that matter.

I assume that most well balanced bikers will be able to recognise that whatever TV and film portrayals of bikers, or of specifically MC members, there have been, that these are fictionalised caricatures of an overall impression of club life. Whilst there will be some truths, there will also be much artistic licence given to the scenarios and the main characters too.

Let’s say Sons of Anarchy was in anyway a biopic of Northern California clubs, then the area would have been placed under martial law soon after the first massacre. The amount of bullets that were spent and bodies that fell lifeless to the ground would have attracted the kind of attention that any organisation would dread, let alone be proud of.

When the show first aired, I wasn’t interested in the MC angle at all because I knew it would be fictional. It was simply pure entertainment that had some good storylines for the first three series or so, but my main reason for watching the program was that it was being portrayed in an area that I knew very well and had ridden in for some years too. Every time I watched an episode, I had a game with myself to see how many places I recognised and which places I had actually been too.

Whilst many within the American MC world would shy away from any similarities, the British ones would be even more coy. Although there are motorcycle clubs in the UK that are chapters of original American clubs, for the most part they are operated in a different atmosphere and that is mainly to do with the political and geographic landscape in the UK as opposed to that of the United States.

There are different laws to abide by and to be caught out by too, there are wide open areas in the US whereas the UK is largely small and crowded. The attitudes in the UK are different too. This is reflected amongst clubs but also within society. We may speak the same words but it is a different language at times and much can be lost in translation.

Of course there will be parallels with customs and traditions amongst clubs and undoubtedly there will be dialogue and hands that reach across the pond as brotherly bonds have been forged but the motorcycle scene and for that matter the club scene is slightly different perhaps in the UK, possibly more reserved or under the radar.

However, people’s perceptions of motorcycle clubs is rather similar because they are feeding from the same fictionalised American TV source. They see American clubs as gun toting genocidal maniacs and they may assume the British clubs or those around the world are exactly the same…perhaps not so prone to public display or marksmanship but rather  fine wielders of pickaxe handles and chains.

Maybe the ‘Outlaw’ term associated with these 1% clubs is also part of the problem. The 1% and Outlaw came from the American Motorcycle Association response to the fallout from the goings on in Hollister in 1947 at the Gypsy Tour race meeting. They stated: “The trouble was caused by the one percent deviant that tarnishes the public image of both motorcycles and motorcyclists” and going on to say that 99 percent of bikers are law-abiding citizens, and the “one percent” are nothing more than “outlaws.”

The ‘troublesome’ clubs were immortalised in films such as ‘The Wild One’ and ever since there has been this stereotypical portrayal which may or may not have parallels with reality. The public’s interpretations has been skewed and possibly even some of those new to the motorcycle club scene have a hazy view of what to expect.

Motorcycle clubs or the notion of motorcycle club life has become very popular in recent years as it has become popularised on TV and on social media too. However, the reality of club life is far move removed than many might imagine and the British variant has it’s own idiosyncrasies and modus operandi too however there are undoubted mirroring images of the American counterparts.

Whilst the Americans are big, brash and bold…the British are more reserved, confined and on a smaller scale…or that is what is held as a popular view. However behind the club curtains there still lurks that layer of intrigue and secrecy. The inside track only known to those within the motorcycle club scene and some known truths  will only be known within the inner circles of clubs…or even within the smaller alliances amongst club members themselves.

From the outside looking in there is much to compare between the two countries and whilst the Harley Davidson and to a lesser extent other American brands such as Indian and Victory may be the staple motorcycle of choice for Americans, the British have a much more varied choice of bikes; from British, Japanese, European…and of course Harley Davidsons too.

As with many aspects of life, culture is largely determined by the personalities within it and the socialisation of those members too. British and American bikers have different upbringings and differing views and experiences too, so it would stand to reason there would be unrivalled differences…however the only way to know for sure would be to journey down the path to join one of the clubs that is present on both sides of the Atlantic and determine that for oneself.


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