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Narrated by the visionary founding member, Hell's Angel provides a fascinating all-access pass to the secret world of the notorious Hell's Angels Motorcycle Club. Sonny Barger recounts the birth of the original Oakland Hell's Angels and the four turbulent decades that followed. Hell's Angel also chronicles the way the HAMC revolutionized the look of the Harley-Davidson motorcycle and built what has become a worldwide bike-riding fraternity, a beacon for freedom-seekers the world over.
Dozens of photos, including many from private collections and from noted photographers, provide visual documentation to this extraordinary tale. Never simply a story about motorcycles, colorful characters, and high-speed thrills, Hell's Angel is the ultimate outlaw's tale of loyalty and betrayal, subcultures and brotherhood, and the real price of freedom.
Muster to Custer
A motorcycle run is a get-together, a moving party. It's a real show of power and solidarity when you're a Hell's Angel. It's being free and getting away from all the bullshit. Angels don't go on runs looking for trouble; we go to ride our bikes and to have a good time together. We are a club.
Most Hell's Angels are great riders. A group of Hell's Angels cruising down the road, riding next to each other and traveling at a speed of over eighty miles an hour, is a real sight. It's something else, a whole other thing, when you're in the pack riding. It's fast and dangerous and by God, you better be paying attention. Whatever happens to the guy in front of you is going to happen to you. It's different from other vehicles. You gotta be alert. Like Fuzzy, an Oakland Angel, once said, "God damn, we do eighty-five or ninety in the rain sometimes. I don't even go that fast in my car!"
When Hell's Angels chapters started getting chartered outside the state of California in the late sixties, that's when we first started our cross-country rides like the USA and World Runs. We'd meet up with the new clubs along the way, and they'd join the run. Man, we used to ride from Oakland to New York on those early rigidframe bikes, and they bounced around so much that if you drove sixty miles in an hour you were making great time. The vibration left you tingling and numb for about an hour after you got off your bike. lf you covered three or four hundred miles in a day you were hauling ass. The other big problem then was that we'd have to find gas stations every forty miles or so, since those old-style bikes with small tanks couldn't make it past sixty miles. Today, on a Harley FXRT, with their rubber-mounted motors and big gas tanks, you not only get a smoother ride, you can log five or six hundred miles a day on a few tanks of gas without breaking a sweat.
The big differences between the Hell's Angels and the rest of the motorcycle world are our bikes and the way we ride. This is serious business to us. Our bikes are us. We know that. The cops know that, and everybody else should know that too. The law and the road are one. Even today, if the cops know a large group of Hell's Angels is headed somewhere, they'll show up in force, alerting neighboring police forces along the way. This mutual assistance pact they set up has been used against us for as long as I can remember. It's no different today than it was thirty years ago. We keep going and they keep coming around with all their surveillance methods and radio equipment watching us and keeping tabs. We don't look for trouble or have intentions of starting any, but by God, it always seems to be around.
The reactions of law enforcement can depend on where you are. We were on the road tearing through the Texas panhandle and on into Oklahoma. As we approached Oklahoma City, ten or twelve Oklahoma state troopers pulled onto the freeway and escorted us right through the city limits. They didn't even want us stopping for gas.
In Texas a cop asked me, "Excuse me, partner, but...why do you and your friends carry those big knives?"
I told him, "Because we're all felons and we can't carry a big gun like you."
Another time in Missouri, fifteen of us were sitting by the side of the road taking a break when a state trooper pulled up, got out of his car, walked up to us, and said, "Mind if I ask a stupid question?"
"Not if you don't mind a stupid answer."
"What are fifteen Hell's Angels from California doing sitting on the side of the road in Missouri?"
"We lost four or five of our people and now we can't figure out where they're at."
The trooper thought for a few seconds. "I just might be able to help you. I could get on my radio and start checking around and help you find them." He radioed around to a bunch of stations and other troopers, and once he located them, he gave us directions on how to meet up with our lost brothers.
On the other side of the coin, there was a cop in Texas who spotted us on a highway outside of Amarillo, got scared, or else thought he was doing his job, and called for reinforcements. They roadblocked the highway in front of us with machine guns. Another time on our way to South Carolina we were stopped and each of us was ID'd. It took over two hours, and all for nothing. Cops can be assholes when they want to be.
The Hell's Angels Motorcycle Club has four or five mandatory runs per year and probably fifteen or twenty parties and smaller runs. If you multiply that by the forty years the Oakland club has been around, that's a lot of motorcycling. But of all the runs, there is one in particular that sticks in my mind, and that was the time we descended on the big annual Black Hills motorcycle run in Sturgis, South Dakota, in 1982. I'll try to describe it as best I can remember it, because in my mind it separated the sheep from the goats. We code-named that run "Muster to Custer."
There was another motorcycle club -- whose name I won't mention because it is a big club and we've been at odds with them for years-who in early 1982 had said...