The Little-Known Rules And Culture Of The Hells Angels Motorcycle Club

Hells Angels is a motorcycle club that began in America in the late 1940s. From there, it spread to 26 countries, hundreds of chapters, and thousands of members. Some people know the Hells Angels as gangsters who get in trouble with the law.

But there is much more to the motorcycle club. For instance, Hells Angels act as a democracy and have strict meeting rules. Members have a dress code, and they treat their vests like gold. Read on for more surprising facts about the Hells Angels.

The Bikers Drive In A Specific Order

Hells Angels bikers drive in formation.
TOBIAS SCHWARZ/AFP via Getty Images
TOBIAS SCHWARZ/AFP via Getty Images

You may have seen large groups of Hells Angels taking up a few lanes. But you may not have known that they are arranged according to rank. For instance, the road captain and charter president always ride in the front.

Senior members and higher-ranking members drive near the front. Younger members ride behind them, and prospects are in the back. Hells Angels members never break formation unless they absolutely have to, such as to avoid an accident.

Before You Join, You’re Called A “Prospect”

Hells Angels ride bikes together.
Chris Jackson/Getty Images
Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Aspiring Hells Angels have a specific name. They are called “prospects,” and this name is stitched on their vests. Prospects are invited to some events such as parties, but they are not an official member. Oftentimes, they will take on “gopher work,” such as cleaning up after an event.

Journalist Julian Sher says that aspiring Hells Angels members just need to “hang around.” That way, you’ll get a feel for the other members of the group.

“Hang-Arounds” Are Different From Prospects

Two Hells Angels members pose for a photo together.
Scott Olson/Getty Images
Scott Olson/Getty Images

The first step to becoming a Hells Angel is being a “hang-around.” Essentially, you have to hang with current members and befriend them to be considered. Hang-arounds are different from prospects in that they don’t have responsibilities.

If you become a hang-around, never ask if you can join. Hells Angels always extend invitations themselves. If you bug them about joining, you can be seen as clingy. Current members must accept hang-arounds before they begin the initiation process.

New Members Require A Unanimous Vote

A group of Hells Angels members gather outside of a building.
Martin Rose/Getty Images
Martin Rose/Getty Images

To get into a Hells Angel group, a new member must be voted in. All current members must vote yes; if even one votes no, the newcomer is out. This is because once you join, you stay for life.

New members may wait years before finally entering the group. According to the members, if you ask how you get in, you “probably won’t understand the answer.” Joining Hells Angels requires a long while of commitment and endurance.

Each Meeting Has Strict Rules

Members of Hells Angels sit at a table for a meeting.
Scott Olson/Getty Images
Scott Olson/Getty Images

Every charter meeting has strict guidelines called Robert’s Rules of Order. Developed in 1876, Robert’s Rules were initially designed for business meetings, but Hells Angels use them to maintain order.

According to the guidelines, members must stay on track and not interrupt. If a member has questions or a point, they may raise their hands. Democracy rules in a Hells Angels meeting. If a member disregards any of these rules, they may be fined around $100.

Vests Are Sacred And Must Be Protected

Two Hells Angels members hug each other.
Boris Roessler/picture alliance via Getty Images
Boris Roessler/picture alliance via Getty Images

Hells Angels members treat their vests with great care. Only “full-patched” members wear vests, which have the famous Hells Angels logo and insignia on the back. Members consider them to be sacred.

Members will go to great lengths to protect their vests. If one gets arrested, they will hand off their vest to another member. If a member ends up in an ambulance, they will do anything in their power to prevent the doctor from cutting the vest.

Women Are Not Allowed, But They Do Participate

A 1971 photo shows a happy couple, a Hells Angel member and his wife, recently married.
SSPL/Getty Images
SSPL/Getty Images

Hells Angels is a brotherhood, not a sisterhood. Women cannot officially join the biker club. However, many women are wives and family of members, and they still play a significant role in the group.

Oftentimes, people will see women riding on the back of Hells Angels’ motorcycles. They are called “old ladies,” not because of their age, but because they have hung around the Angels for so long. Many women will partake in events and club activities.

Members Never Reveal Facts About Each Other

Polish members of Hells Angels walk together.
Karol Serewis/Gallo Images Poland/Getty Images
Karol Serewis/Gallo Images Poland/Getty Images

Hells Angels can never reveal information about fellow members. The Hells Angels website states, “We do not answer questions about members.” If a member gets arrested, they cannot talk about them in interviews. If a member goes missing, they still cannot give away information.

This rule is meant to protect fellow members. It is another reason why Hells Angels cannot be police officers; even in their career, they cannot give out information about fellow members.

They Aren’t Allowed To Be Police Officers

Hells Angels walks by police officers.
Spencer Weiner/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Spencer Weiner/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Hells Angels members are not allowed to have a career with law enforcement, past or current. This means that they cannot be a police officer or work for a prison. Since Hells Angels often have run-ins with the law, these jobs are considered to be a conflict of interest.

That said, Hells Angels can still have jobs. In a single charter, you’ll find a variety of members with different jobs, families, and status in the community. Every member is different.

Every Charter Has A Different Dress Code

A Hells Angels member wears a camo vest.
JANEK SKARZYNSKI/AFP via Getty Images
Steve Thorne/Redferns via Getty Images

Hells Angels generally have a dress code that they need to follow, although the rules vary by charter. Some charters only let members to wear black. Others allow members to wear blue jeans and camo patterns.

During an interview with Inside the Angel, one member said that he could only wear black jeans, shirts, and vests. Other charters don’t even permit shorts. Why are the rules so strict? Because your clothes indicate which carter you have joined.

The Only Known Requirements To Become A Hell’s Angel

Bikers take off on their Harley David motorcycles on a grass hill.
Scott Olson/Getty Images
Scott Olson/Getty Images

The Hells Angels website details some requirements that people need to join the group. Obviously, members need a valid motorcycle license (which is different from a car license). They also must own a Harley Davidson or another American-brand motorcycle.

Hells Angels will also look into a new member’s criminal record. There are certain crimes that they do not allow for the sake of fellow members’ safety and reputation. Also, recruits cannot work for law enforcement or prisons. The public does not know the other requirements.

One Charter Controls An Entire Area

Hells Angels from Oakland hold up a flag in 1969.
American International Pictures/Getty Images
American International Pictures/Getty Images

When a Hells Angels charter forms, they “claim” their area. No other Hells Angels group can ride in that location. Other charters can drive through the area, but they can’t hang around unless they are invited.

Hells Angels also have rivalries with other motorcycle clubs, such as the Outlaws Motorcycle Club. These groups tend to avoid each other. If a Hells Angels group shows up in another club’s area, or vice-versa, then there could be trouble.

Why All Members Ride A Harley Davidson

Harley Davidsons are parked in a row.
Rolf Vennenbernd/picture alliance via Getty Images
Rolf Vennenbernd/picture alliance via Getty Images

To be a Hells Angel, you can’t own any motorcycle. You must ride a Harley Davidson. These motorcycles have been a part of Hells Angels tradition for decades. The reason is because they are made in America.

To Hells Angels, buying a non-American motorcycle is not patriotic. Harley Davidsons are built in the U.S., and they are far more affordable than other American brands. Hells Angels often participate in Harley Davidson membership clubs and own many of their other products.

…But Some Charters Allow Non-Harleys

A row of motorcycle drivers ride on Harley Davidsons.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Although most Hells Angels demand that members ride Harley Davidson, some charters will allow non-Harleys. The catch is that you need to buy an American-made motorcycle. Even international charters have to get American bike brands. This has been a Hells Angels tradition for decades.

One acceptable brand includes Buell Motorcycles, established in Wisconsin in 1983. Another is American IronHorse, a Texan company founded in 1995. Members have plenty of bike options if they don’t want a Harley.

What The Insignia Means

The Hells Angel symbol is on the tank of a motobike.
Arne Dedert/picture alliance via Getty Images
Arne Dedert/picture alliance via Getty Images

A lot of thought went into the Hells Angels insignia. First, there’s the number 81 that appears alongside the logo. H is the eighth letter in the alphabet, and A is the first. Hence, 81 means H.A., or Hells Angels.

The insignia is a skull with wings wearing a motorcycle helmet. A winged skull is often associated with the Latin phrase “Memento Mori,” which means “remember that you shall die.” The group’s colors are red and white, likely taken from the American flag.

The Brotherhood Always Comes First

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Pinterest

Once you join Hells Angels, you are expected to put the club first. Members receive voting rights and invitations to all events. Unless an emergency occurs, you are expected to show up and treat all other events as secondary.

Even wives are expected to understand that the club comes first. Hells Angels is a lifestyle, and if members don’t take it seriously, they could get kicked out. Even if members wanted to join another organization, they likely wouldn’t have time.

Don’t Worry About The Missing Apostraphe

A sign for the Hells Angels Berlin chapter is on a building.
Olaf Wagner/ullstein bild via Getty Images
Steve Thorne/Redferns

You may have wondered why Hells Angels is missing an apostrophe. Usually, it would be spelled Hell’s Angels, as in the angels that belong to Hell. It is possible that the name is inspired by the 1930 film Hells Angels, which is also missing an apostrophe.

Whether this is true or not, members are not bothered by the grammar. The Hells Angels website says, “Yes, we know there is an apostrophe missing but it is you who miss it. We don’t.”

Brutal Punishments For Rule-Breakers

Members of Hells Angels talk to each other while leaning on a railing.
JANEK SKARZYNSKI/AFP via Getty Images
JANEK SKARZYNSKI/AFP via Getty Images

If members break the rules, they could be punished. According to investigator Julian Sher, some punishments can be brutal, even harmful. Because Hells Angels are so secretive, few people know what their punishments are.

In the worst-case scenario, a member will get kicked out of the group. The remaining members will shun him from the community. It’s no wonder why some people who are kicked out end up moving away. They can never re-enter the charter.

Hells Angels Never Talk To The Media

Two members of Hells Angels stare at the camera.
Scott Olson/Getty Images
Scott Olson/Getty Images

Just as members cannot reveal information about each other, they also can’t talk to the media. Hells Angels are a secret organization, which makes it harder for journalists to learn about them.

Investigator Julian Sher did manage to get some information. Members are not allowed to talk about their codes, even to fellow members (unless they are being taught). Few members have participated in interviews, and the ones that did could only answer so many questions.

Members Never Retire

A photo shows an older gentleman's hands who is a member of Hells Angels.
Maciej Luczniewski/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Scott Olson/Getty Images

Once you’re a Hells Angel, you’re always a Hells Angel. Members do not retire. The only way that they can leave the group is by breaking the rules and getting kicked out. Members are respected for their entire lives.

Peoples’ charters become a second family. When a member passes away, all others gather together to celebrate their memory. Many will even donate to the family to pay for a proper funeral. They are incredibly loyal to one another.

When They Stop, They Stop Together

Hells Angels members are parked on the side of the road.
Getty Images/Getty Images
Getty Images/Getty Images

Hells Angels members always drive as a unit. If one of them pulls over, they all pull over. If a cop stops one of them, then they all stop. Hells Angels are like family, and they all stay together through the thick and thin.

The same goes for interpersonal relationships. If you mess with one Hells Angel, you mess with them all. Hells Angels are famous for their intense loyalty to the group and their tendency to get tough sometimes.

Yes, New Members Are Hazed

A group of Hells Angels gather and talk.
JANEK SKARZYNSKI/AFP via Getty Images
JANEK SKARZYNSKI/AFP via Getty Images

Hells Angels prospects cannot retaliate against hazing. Members will often force prospects to do physical labor or even embarrassing, harmful actions for initiation. According to the group, this is not done to belittle members, but to test their character.

If a prospect objects to the hazing, they will be viewed as “not tough enough” to join Hells Angels. Little information exists about Hells Angels initiation, and every charter does it differently. But the process is rarely pleasant for prospects.

Only Prospects Do The “Dirty Work”

Members of the Hells Angels motorcycle club arrive for the Hells Angels' World Run.
JANEK SKARZYNSKI/AFP via Getty Images
JANEK SKARZYNSKI/AFP via Getty Images

Prospects undergo a trial run with Hells Angels before they receive their vest. During this run, members can give them the “dirty work.” This includes setting up a meeting room before an event or cleaning up afterward.

Prospects may participate in certain club activities, but they don’t have voting privileges. Many are put to work to test their dedication to the group. Activities may vary by charter, but prospects may buy food, clean, or run other errands for the club.

Every Year, They For Ride Thousands Of Miles

Dozens of Hells Angels bikers drive down a road in Berlin.
TOBIAS SCHWARZ/AFP via Getty Images
TOBIAS SCHWARZ/AFP via Getty Images

Anyone who wants to be a Hells Angel must love motorcycles. According to the Hells Angels website, members ride for a distance of 20,000 km every year. That’s over 12,000 miles annually for each member!

And that’s only the time that Hells Angels spend together. The U.S. Department of Transportation states that the average American drives 13,500 miles per year. Add that to a Hells Angel, and you have around 25,000 miles of driving motorcycles.

Members Must Show Up

Three members of Hells Angels walk together and talk.
Karol Serewis/Gallo Images Poland/Getty Images
Karol Serewis/Gallo Images Poland/Getty Images

Hells Angels have strict attendance rules. Members are expected to always show up to club events unless they are sick or injured. If members fail to attend, they imply to other members that they are missing the point of the club.

Prospects definitely have to attend club events. If someone continually misses events, they will likely not make it past the prospect phase. Since Hells Angels act like a family, they expect each other to come together for events.

They Often Work As Concert Security

Hell's Angels act as concert security at a Rolling Stones concert at Altamont Speedway.
William L. Rukeyser/Getty Images
William L. Rukeyser/Getty Images

Have you ever seen a Hells Angel in a concert? If so, they may been security. In 1961, George Harrison brought Hells Angels from San Francisco to London for a concert. The Beatles respected the bikers so much that they hired them as security.

Since then, several musical artists have hired Hells Angels to act as local security. In exchange, the members receive some extra cash and a free concert. If you ever need help at a concert, talk to a Hells Angel.

Non-Members Can Still Buy Merchandise

A sticker says to support the Hells Angels charter of Amsterdam.
RICK NEDERSTIGT/AFP via Getty Images
RICK NEDERSTIGT/AFP via Getty Images

Even if you aren’t a member, you can still buy Hells Angels merchandise. The merch does not have the insignia because only members can wear that. But charters still sell shirts, jackets, and other merchandise to fans.

If you buy one of these products, the money will go directly to the charter. It helps them put on events, including fundraising events for various charities. Although Hells Angels is a secretive club, it still needs to make money.

But Only Members Can Wear Official Merchandise

Hells Angels jackets hang outside to dry.
Roland Weihrauch/picture alliance via Getty Images
Roland Weihrauch/picture alliance via Getty Images

The merchandise that you see on charter stores is not their official merch. The official clothing–which includes Hells Angels the logo and insignia–can only belong to members. If you are caught wearing their logo without being a member, expect retaliation.

How can you tell if the merchandise is official or not? Check to see if it has the Hells Angels logo. If it only has the charter logo and not the Hells Angel one, you can buy it.

If You Want To Link To Their Website, You Need Permission

Hells Angels members stand in line.
Olaf Wagner/ullstein bild via Getty Images
Olaf Wagner/ullstein bild via Getty Images

Hells Angels have strict rules about how others can handle its website. You cannot link to the website without expressed written consent. This is done to protect the privacy and safety of Hells Angels members.

“You may not establish and/ or operate links to this website without the prior written consent of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club,” the website says. “Such consent may be withdrawn at any time at the Hells Angels MCs own discretion.”

They Never Discuss Missing Members

Hells Angels eat outside and talk.
Scott Olson/Getty Images
Scott Olson/Getty Images

You already know that Hells Angels don’t talk about fellow members to the media. But did you know that they will never discuss missing members, period? If a member disappears, Hells Angels will not reveal facts about them to cops, friends, or family members.

Hells Angels are quite protective of their members, and this extends to missing persons. The exception is if a member passes away. Hells Angels will talk about these members to preserve their memory.

Hells Angels Is A Second Family

A member of Hells Angels wraps his arm around a fellow member.
Mathis Wienand/Getty Images
Mathis Wienand/Getty Images

Hells Angels are so loyal to one another because they feel like family. They bond over a common interest (riding bikes) and develop friendships from there. They enjoy their time together and often meet each other’s spouses and family.

Hells Angels is not just about motorcycles, though. It is a system of shared values, a culture, and a way of life. Members are a great example of a family you find rather than one you are born into.

Members Cannot Join Other Clubs

Hells Angels members are seen behind motorcycles.
Pieter Franken/AFP via Getty Images
Pieter Franken/AFP via Getty Images

The Hells Angels club is not only time-consuming, but it also requires extreme loyalty. The website tells members, “Never combine your support to Hells Angels with other clubs, street gangs, or others if you are unaware of the relationship between those others and the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club.”

Members cannot join another biker club because that would conflict with Hells Angels. They also cannot participate in clubs that have a negative relationship with their charter. Hells Angels always come first.

Hells Angels Own Dozens Of Trademarks Across The World

A view shows a Hells Angels member sitting on his bike with his back turned.
Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Hells Angels own dozens of trademarks around the world. In the United States alone, they have 18 trademarks, including the number 81 and the flying skull logo. The group owns similar registrations in the U.K., China, Brazil, Australia, South Africa, and several other countries.

These trademarks prevent others from impersonating the Hells Angels. They also allow the group to sell merchandise. Non-members can buy almost anything from Hells Angels: shirts, keychains, window decals, bikinis, and even underwear.

Many Companies Were Sued Over The Logo

The Hells Angels logo and insignia are seen on the back of members' vests.
Matt Cardy/Getty Images
Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Disney was not the only company that suffered after using the Hells Angels logo. In 2010, fashion designer Alexander McQueen used a similar insignia for a ring. The ring appeared on Saks Fifth and Zappos.com, and it received a lawsuit.

In 2012, the Hells Angels accused Toys ‘R Us of creating a yo-yo with the insignia on it. Members claimed that people who own these products could be mistaken to be a Hells Angel member, which they disapproved of.

Nobody Else Can Take Their Brand

Hells Angels embrace each other during a memorial.
VOLKER HARTMANN/DDP/AFP via Getty Images
VOLKER HARTMANN/DDP/AFP via Getty Images

You already know that Hells Angels will go to great lengths to protect their vests. But they will also rally to protect their brands. The group has sued large companies for infringing upon their logo and symbols.

One example is the Disney movie Wild Hogs, released in 2007. The Hells Angels sued Disney for using logos that were very similar to their own. Disney argued that this claim was “without merit.” It shows how far Hells Angels are willing to go to protect their brand.

Charters Take Decades To Establish

A Hells Angels member drives his motorcycle with his wife on the back.
Chris Jackson/Getty Images
Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Not just anyone can start a charter. It could take decades for Hells Angels to start a charter. According to the official website, a charter must consist of people who have known each other for years, are known in the community, and are specific to certain areas.

The website also says that if you’re ready to start a charter, you won’t have to ask how. Charters are specific to certain areas. If your town already has a charter, you cannot start a new one.

Members Must Remain Clean

A Hells Angels member pats another member on the back.
Mathew Sumner/San Mateo County Times/Digital First Media Group/Bay Area News via Getty Images
Mathew Sumner/San Mateo County Times/Digital First Media Group/Bay Area News via Getty Images

Although Hells Angels have a reputation of being big bad tough guys, they are strictly against illicit substances. Members must remain clean for fear of getting kicked out of the club.

“All ‘contact or use of [substances] is strictly forbidden,'” a member of a Toronto charter told The Star. Members who deal illegal substances will also be removed from the club. Expect Hells Angels to go to great lengths to keep their entire charter clean.

They Host Annual Charities

Motorcyclists drive with toys for the Toys for Tots Bike Run.
ASM/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images
ASM/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

Hells Angels host charities every year. Their best-known fundraiser is for Toys for Tots. Every year, usually around Black Friday, they buy bikes to donate to kids. That’s on top of every other toy they receive through donations.

They will also raise money for Poverello House, a nonprofit organization that supports the homeless. Hells Angels may drive for awareness, allowing non-members to drive with them. Members of the community are often aware of Hells Angels charities.

The Community Knows Them Well

A member of Hells Angels helps volunteers to carve turkeys for the St. Anthony Foundation.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Hells Angels value community involvement. Several members participate in community events and charities. It’s not uncommon to see the bikers in local bars and shops, supporting their neighborhood businesses.

At one point, a local charter noticed that their local bar was raising money for SELF School. The nonprofit raised money for disabled children and cancer patients. Immediately, the charter rallied to donate money to this fundraiser. Helpful community involvement such as this is common with Hells Angels.

Patches Are As Sacred As The Vests

A Hells Angel sits on his bike while it's parked
Thomas Frey/picture alliance via Getty Images
Thomas Frey/picture alliance via Getty Images

You may have noticed that Hells Angels vests have patches. When a Hells Angel becomes a member, they receive the logo and insignia patches. They have to apply those in a certain order; every Hells Angel across every country does it the same.

As soon as the vest has patches, it is regarded as sacred. No one can intentionally dirty or cut through the vest. Many Hells Angels can even identify fake patches from sight.

Commemorating Fallen Riders

Hells Angels motorcycle club members escort a coffin during a funeral.
Alexander Koerner/Getty Images
Alexander Koerner/Getty Images

When a Hells Angel member dies, riders honor their memory. Such is what happened with 21-year-old Clay Hubbard. The member passed away in 2018, and the Hells Angels supported his mother, Christy Hubbard.

Christy said that the Angels were incredibly kind. They even prayed with her in her parking lot. Members also gave her a bracelet to remember Clay, and they said that she could “ride along with them on their rides.” Whenever a death occurs, Hells Angels work to comfort all those involved.

Members Require Consent

A woman puts on a helmet as she prepares to ride a motorcycle with a Hells Angels driver.
JANEK SKARZYNSKI/AFP via Getty Images
JANEK SKARZYNSKI/AFP via Getty Images

Despite their “rough and tough” reputation, Hells Angels give each other respect. The same goes for women. Taking advantage of women is unacceptable, and Hells Angels have zero-tolerance toward that behavior.

Many women accompany the Hells Angels as bikers or riders and are treated like family. An “Ol’ Lady” told Thought Catalog that she has never seen women “passed around” in the group. Women are treated with respect, and many charters strictly enforce this rule.

Give Respect, Receive Respect

Hells Angels club members pose near a motorcycle together.
Scott Olson/Getty Images
Scott Olson/Getty Images

Hells Angels operate by one main rule: if you respect them, they’ll respect you. Journalists have described the members as “inviting” and “incredibly welcoming.” As long as you’re polite, never be afraid of talking to a Hells Angel.

If you treat the riders well, they will respond in kind. Hells Angels are known for helping out neighbors and even strangers if they need it. However, if you treat a Hells Angel poorly, you should expect the same response.

Members Follow Their Own Rules

Two Hells Angels members drive motorcycles down the road.
Karol Serewis/Gallo Images Poland/Getty Images
Karol Serewis/Gallo Images Poland/Getty Images

Other club’s rules do not matter to Hells Angels. Only their own club’s rules matter to them. Generally, charters have their own rules, but the club as a whole has similar guidelines. Remaining loyal, not speaking about other members, and riding in formation are common rules.

One author wrote, “[Hells Angels] were self-contained, with their own set of rules, their own code of behavior. It was extraordinary.” Members don’t care about what society thinks, as long as they can be themselves.

Hells Angels Have Been Around Since The 1940s

Members of the Hells Angels Oakland chapter prepare for a press conference.
Getty Images
Getty Images

Hells Angels first formed in San Bernardino, California, in 1948. It started with a group of World War II veterans who shared a love of motorcycles. With a surplus from the war, motorcycles were more available than ever.

The ending of World War II lead soldiers to lack a sense of camaraderie. The group allowed fellow veterans to form friendships. Many gathered together from separate motorcycle clubs to form a new one inspired by American patriotism.

The Name Came From A World War II Squadron

In 1943, American soldiers paint
Keystone/Getty Images
Keystone/Getty Images

The name Hells Angels came from a World War II squadron. Arvid Olson, one of the founding members, served in the Flying Tigers’ “Hells Angels” during the war. The bomber squad mainly operated in China.

However, some people suggest that the name appeared earlier. In World War I, soldiers often nicknamed their fellow squads Hells Angels. This was popularized by the 1930 film, Hells Angels. It is possible that the nickname traveled from World War I to World War II.

Charters Quickly Spread Through California

Dozens of Hells Angels members discard their motorcycles in the street.
Getty Images
Getty Images

After the first charter began in San Bernardino, others spread throughout the state. Ralph “Sonny” Barger, the founder of the Oakland charter, says that the first groups began in San Francisco, Oakland, Fontana, and Gardena.

Other motorcycle groups formed independently of Hells Angels. Across America, veterans and motorcycle lovers created clubs, unaware that other charters existed. Eventually, many of these clubs would integrate into Hells Angels. Some groups even formed in other countries, mainly in New Zealand.

They Went International In the 1960s

Hells Angels deliver mail during the London postal strike.
James Jackson/Getty Images
James Jackson/Getty Images

During the late ’40s and ’50s, Hells Angels remained in the United States. But in 1961, charters spread to other countries. The first international charter was founded in Auckland, New Zealand. From there, Hells Angels traveled across Europe.

In 1969, London introduced the first European charter. Today, there are over 275 Hells Angels charters in Europe alone. There are also groups in Australia, Brazil, South Africa, and more. Hells Angels vests now list what country the members are from.

The First Ever Journalist To Reveal Hells Angels

Journalist Hunter S. Thompson leans over a typewriter in 1976.
Michael Ochs Archives/GettyImages
Michael Ochs Archives/GettyImages

Many Hells Angels members believe that their reputation started off on the wrong foot. In San Francisco, the group was often viewed as hooligans. One of the first journalists to investigate them was Hunter S. Thompson.

Thompson lived with the Hells Angels for about a year. He befriended many members and engaged in their lifestyle. In 1966, he published a book about them called Hell’s Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga. But this book had mixed reactions.

…May Have Given Them A Bad Reputation

Journalist Hunter S. Thompson sits on his Penton Motor Cycle.
Michael Ochs Archives/GettyImages
Michael Ochs Archives/GettyImages

Many Hells Angels did not appreciate how Thompson portrayed them in the book. They accused him of writing the book for personal profit, and many wanted a share of the profits. Many of the members turned against him.

After he left the group, Thompson then gave up his status as the Hells Angels reporter. He handed his duties to Ralph “Sonny” Barger, the founder of the Oakland charter. Barger became the unofficial national spokesperson for Hells Angels.

They WERE Counterculture

Hells Angels members stand on the Berkeley streets in 1969.
Harvey L. Silver/Corbis via Getty Images
Harvey L. Silver/Corbis via Getty Images

In the 1960s, Hells Angels became a crucial part of the counterculture movement. In California, they often hung around the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco. That is where many local culture and music events happened.

Many members also had connections with famous people of the counterculture movement. They acted as security for bands such as Rolling Stones and The Grateful Dead. They also interacted with figures such as Ken Kesey, the Merry Pranksters, Allen Ginsberg, Jerry Garcia, and more.

Tattoos Became Associated With Hells Angels

Two Hells Angels members with tattooed arms stand near each other.
Maciej Luczniewski/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Maciej Luczniewski/NurPhoto via Getty Images

During the 1960s and 1970s, tattoos were not as commonplace as they are now. But Hells Angels, who were often supporters of counterculture, were not afraid to get tattoos. Common biker tattoos included the Hells Angels logo, the skull with wings, and the number 81.

Members would (and still do) place tattoos in visible spots, such as their arms, chest, or even head. As a result, many people associated tattooed people with bikers. This perception still prevails today.

Their Popularity Spawned Many Movies

A cinema sign displays that they are playing the movie
Sasha/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Sasha/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

When Hells Angels became more well-known in the 1960s, Hollywood made many movies about them. One of the most famous was the 1967 film Hells Angels on Wheels. Many members were hired to act or provide information on the group to make the movie as realistic as possible.

The 1966 movie The Wild Angels is thought to have inspired the biker film genre. The plot portrays a fictitious Hells Angels charter in Southern California. Similar biker movies continued into the 1970s.

The Club Inspired Sons of Anarchy

Cast and crew attend the
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

From 2008 to 2014, the American crime drama Sons of Anarchy aired on FX. The show was loosely based on the Hells Angels. Many of the plotlines are inspired by real events that happened with Hells Angels.

The show’s creator, Kurt Sutter, recruited many members for the show. Sonny Barger, Chuck Zito, Rusty Coones, and David Labvrava made guest appearances. Labvrava also served as Sutter’s technical advisor, ensuring that the club’s portrayal was as realistic as possible.

More About David Labrava

David Labrava arrives at the season six
Steve Granitz/WireImage
Steve Granitz/WireImage

David Labrava is a famous Hells Angels member who played Happy Lowman on Sons of Anarchy. But he has done far more than that. He is also a tattoo artist and wrote a best-selling autobiography, Becoming a Son.

Labrava has also written, produced, and directed his own film in 2015 called Street Level. For years, he has written for motorcycle magazines. You can still find him in the “Burnin’ Rubber with Jimmy Carbone” column in Ol Skool Rodz.

Many Celebrities Have Befriended The Angels

The Rolling Stones glance at the Hells Angels while performing onstage.
Robert Altman/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Robert Altman/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

George Harrison is not the only celebrity who befriended the Angels. Many other band members and celebrities have interacted with the club, including the Rolling Stones, the Merry Pranksters, Mick Farren, and Tom Wolfe.

Other celebrities have supported Hells Angels by purchasing their merchandise or donating to their fundraisers. In 2018, Drake was seen wearing a sweatshirt from a Toronto charter. Many Hells Angels members are also actors and athletes, so it’s no wonder that they would form friendships within the industry.

Today, There Are Thousands Of Hells Angels Across The World

Hundreds of Hell's Angels drive motorcycles down a road.
Sean Dempsey/PA Images via Getty Images
Sean Dempsey/PA Images via Getty Images

The U.S. Justice Department estimates that there are between 2,000 to 2,500 Hells Angels members worldwide. Over 230 charters exist across 26 countries. At least 90 of those chapters are in the United States alone. It is the largest motorcycle club in the world.

In America, most Hells Angels charters exist in California, New York, Massachusetts, Ohio, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Kentucky. But that’s only a fraction of the 800 members across the country.

Many Members Look Up To Sonny Barger

Biker Sonny Barger sits at a table in 1979.
Janet Fries/Getty Images
Janet Fries/Getty Images

Although every charter has its own president, many Hells Angels look up to Sonny Barger. At 82 years old, he is still riding. From 2000 to 2010, he wrote five books about the Hells Angels. He has also acted in films and shows featuring Hells Angels, including Hells Angels on Wheels and Sons of Anarchy.

In 1998, Barger moved away from Oakland to the Cave Creek, Arizona chapter. There, he worked to promote motorcycle safety through his books and interviews.

One Of The Most Famous Hells Angels, Chuck Zito

Chuck Zito sits on a motorcycle ing The Hard Rock Hotel and Casino.
Denise Truscello/WireImage
Denise Truscello/WireImage

Every Hells Angels member knows about Chuck Zito. He is a famous actor, boxer, martial artist, and of course, boxer. He also served as the president of a New York charter for many years.

Zito has been a Hells Angel since the 1980s, and he initially worked as a bodyguard. Later, he became a stuntman and later, an actor. He appeared on many TV shows and movies, and in his free time, he taught people how to box.

Hells Angels Don’t Want A Bad Reputation

A Hells Angels member comforts another member.
Chris Jackson/Getty Images
Chris Jackson/Getty Images

The Hells Angels call themselves a 1% motorcycle club. The phrase means that 1% of their members are bad people, while 99% are kind. Unfortunately, many people perceive them as the 1% of their members.

Hells Angels have a history of running into the law. Despite this, members do not want a negative reputation. They partake in community events and charities, and they prefer to be recognized for those good deeds. But at the same time, bikers can’t control how others view them.