Harley-Davidson is the most American motorcycle company around. Here’s why the Hells Angels motorcycle club are so loyal to the hogs.
It’s unbelievable the degree to which many people consider Hells Angels and Harley-Davidson synonymous with each other. There’s an assumption that anyone who owns a Harley must be a Hells Angel member. But while most Angels do own a Harley – or at least some sort of American motorcycle – not everyone who owns a Harley is an Angel.
Hells Angels Motorcycle Club is an international one-percenter biking club. It was originally founded by the Bishops, a World War II immigrant family, who started the club in Fontana, California in 1928. The founding members didn’t necessarily have a special connection to Harley-Davidson – no one appeared to have a particular stake or something to gain from the success (or lack thereof) of the company. Still, it begs the question as to why the Hells Angels remain so loyal to Harley-Davidsons today, especially since it often criticized as a brand name.
Below, we’ll take an in-depth look at the main reasons Hells Angels have remained so loyal to Harleys for going on a century. Much of it has nothing to do with the modern reputation the bike brand holds. Rather, as we shall see, the details of the club’s founding and how it coincided (and reinforced) with the rise of the Harley-Davidson brand is crucial to answer this question.
10Harleys Helped Romanticize The Outlaw Biker
Undeniably, a certain image has become associated with Harley-Davidson bikes. As Ride Apart explains, “H-D’s machines embody freedom, independence, rebellion, strength, masculinity, and are just plain badass.” As Harley’s image grew, so did the Angels’ unlikeliness to part with the tough look the company’s bike helps them achieve. In other words, Harleys only added to the romanticized image of the outlaw biker that grew as the Angels became more rooted in society.
9The Company Capitalized On Their Image
Plus, the company itself willingly embraced the characterization thanks to the financial advantages it provided. “This baked-in bike chauvinism – along with other one-percenter elements like tattoos, club vests, beards – built a mystique around bikers like that enjoyed by Italian mobsters and Robin Hood-like criminals,” Ride Apart adds. “Harley, never a company to leave a marketing opportunity alone, quickly capitalized on this mystique.”
A Harley Is More Than Just The Looks
Harley-Davidson bikes are famous for their style and aesthetic, particularly compared to other bikes on the market. Many people prefer a bike that looks as beautiful as it rides. After all, what rider doesn’t take pride in their bike?
Moreover, Harley-Davidson has earned a reputation for being a smooth ride with dependability. Though some people argue it’s just a brand name, others will argue fiercely that you’re paying for top quality. Needless to say, with such a prestigious reputation, many people don’t question why Hells Angels ride Harleys.
7But They Haven’t Always Been The Best Quality Bikes
The key thing to note is that Harley-Davidson earned their reputation – implying that their bikes haven’t always been on top of the food chain, as they (arguably) are now. But even when the bikes weren’t as great quality as they are now, Hells Angels remained loyal to the company. “I’ve been riding them all of my life, even when they were [shat] bikes in the ’60s and ’70s,” Hells Angel member Lorne Campbell shared with the Toronto Star. “Harley riders are loyal—even when (the bikes) leaked oil. They’re the best, now.”
6The Angels Defended Harleys To The U.S. Government
In 2018, when American president Donald Trump’s new trade policies were potentially forcing a significant portion of Harley-Davidson production overseas, the outlaw bikers reached out to the government to express their dissatisfaction with the move. As a wealthy international organization, Hells Angels wield more power than the average person may realize.
5And Say They’ll Keep Riding Them No Matter What
In an official statement made by Rick Ciarnello, a Hells Angels spokesperson in B.C., it was made clear the club had no plans of abandoning their loyalty to Harley-Davidson, even if newly-implemented traded policies made production more difficult. “Harley-Davidson is making a statement to the Trump Administration,” Ciarnello told the media.“I don’t think their decision will impact our club in any way. Harley-Davidson motorcycles will still be available, no matter where the parts are made or assembled.”
4They’ve Already Been Riding Them For Decades
It’s hard for a tiger to change his stripes, right? One reason the Hells Angels are so loyal to Harley-Davidson is because it’s been a part of their brand for decades. Harley-Davidson was first founded in Milwaukee in 1903, whereas the biker gang was founded a few decades later in 1948 in California. Since their founding, Hells Angels have been ridings Harleys.
Even when looming EU import tariffs in 2018 threatened to move more Harley-Davidson productions overseas, for instance, the Angels were vocal about the fact they were not abandoning their allegiance.
3Patriotism Played A Big Part In Their Loyalty
The timing of the founding of Hells Angels was crucial. Following the end of World War II in 1944, many soldiers have a renewed sense of patriotism in the country they fought for. Buying American became a way of live for many U.S. citizens in order to express their support for their country. Therefore, many people buying bikes in the subsequent decades after WWII specifically sought out American-made brands, helping to boost Harley-Davidson to one of the most in-demand motorcycle manufacturers in the U.S. in a short time.
Harleys Were Originally An Inexpensive Bike
Coupled with the growing sense of patriotism, it also helped that Harley-Davidsons were originally one of the more inexpensive bikes on the market. This seems hard to believe, considering the high price tag most of these bikes currently carry. But their initially low price helped make them attractive to bikers of all skill levels, especially those just getting into biking.
“Harleys were actually the cheap bikes of the time. This was amplified by the fact that the US Army sold off inventory of surplus bikes following the second world war,” Ride Apart explains. “When these surplus scoots – many of which were Harleys – were sold off to the public.”
1But Angels Aren’t Only Loyal To Harleys
It’s not just Harley-Davidson that Hells Angels want their members to ride. What they specifically request is they ride an American motorcycle. Of course, a Harley is arguably one of the most famous motorcycles to come from the U.S. But some Angels will ride bikes from smaller brands, such as Victory or Indian. Still, it’s undeniable that most Hells Angels ride a Harley. And given the club’s history with the brand, we can’t blame them.