One Percenters Motorcycle Gang

Hell's Angels
Central Press / Stringer / Hulton Archive / Getty Images

The term "One-Percenters" originated from the July 4, 1947, annual Gypsy Tour race sanctioned by the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) which was held in Hollister, California. The Gypsy Tour race, which was the pièce de résistance of motorcycle racing events during that time, was held at different locations across America and had been previously held in Hollister in 1936.

The Event

A location near the town was chosen again in 1947 partly because of its long relationship with bikers and various biker-related events that were held throughout the years, and also because of the welcome the  AMA received by the town merchants who knew the positive impact it would have on the local economy.

Approximately 4,000 attended the Gypsy Tour race and many of the riders and non-riders ended up celebrating in the town of Hollister. For three days there was a lot of hard-core beer drinking and street racing that went on in the town. By Sunday, the California Highway Patrol was called in armed with tear gas to help put an end to the event.

The Aftermath

After it was over, there was a record of about 55 bikers being arrested on misdemeanor charges. There were no reports of property being destroyed or of looting and not a single report of any local people being harmed in any way.

However, the San Francisco Chronicle ran articles that exaggerated and sensationalized the event. Headlines like "Riots... Cyclists Take Over Town" and words such as “terrorism” described the general atmosphere in Hollister over the holiday weekend.

To top it off, a San Francisco Chronicle photographer by the name of Barney Peterson staged a photograph of an intoxicated biker holding a bottle of beer in each hand while leaning against a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, with broken beer bottles scattered on the ground.

Life magazine picked up on the story and in the July 21, 1947, edition it ran Peterson's staged photograph  on full-page display titled, “Cyclist’s Holiday: He and Friends Terrorize Town.” Ultimately, to the dismay of the AMA, the image sparked both fascination and concern about the violent, unruly nature of the growing subculture of motorcycle groups.

Afterward, films about motorcycle clubs with members depicting bad behavior began hitting the movie theaters. The Wild One, starring Marlon Brando, brought particular attention to gang-type behavior displayed by members of motorcycle clubs.

The event became known as the "Hollister Riot" although there is no documentation that an actual riot occurred and the town of Hollister invited the race back, other cities across the country believed what the press reported and it resulted in numerous cancelations of the Gypsy Tour races.

AMA Responds

It was rumored that the AMA defended the reputation of its association and member, with an alleged press release stating that, "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." 

However, in 2005 the AMA denied credit for the term, saying that there was no record of any AMA official or published statement that originally used the "one percent" reference.

No matter where it actually originated from, the term caught on and new outlaw motorcycle gangs  (OMGs) emerged and embraced the concept of being referred to as one-percenters.

The Impact of War

A number of veterans returning from the Vietnam War joined motorcycle clubs after being ostracized by many Americans, especially within their same age group. They were discriminated against by colleges, employers, often spat upon when in uniform and some considered them nothing but government-grown killing machines. The fact that 25 percent were drafted into the war and that the rest were trying to survive it did not seem to sway opinions.

As a result, in the mid-1960-70s, a surge of outlaw motorcycle gangs emerged across the country and created their own association which they proudly called, "One Percenters." Within the association, each club could have its own rules, operate independently and given a designated territory.  The outlaw motorcycle clubs; the Hells Angels, Pagans, Outlaws, and Bandidos emerged as what authorities refer to the "Big Four" with hundreds of other one-percenters clubs existing within the subculture.

Differences Between Outlaws and One Percenters

Defining the differences (and if any exists) between outlaw motorcycle groups and one-percenters depends on where you go for the answer.

According to the AMA, any motorcycle club that does not adhere to AMA rules is considered an outlaw motorcycle club. The term outlaw, in this case, is not synonymous with criminal or illegal activity.

Others, including some outlaw motorcycle clubs, believe that while all one-percent motorcycle clubs are outlaw clubs, meaning that they do not follow AMA rules, not all outlaw motorcycle clubs are one-percenters, (meaning that they do not participate in illegal activity.

The Department of Justice does not differentiate between outlaw motorcycle gangs (or clubs) and one-percenters. It defines "one-percenter outlaw motorcycle gangs" as being highly structured criminal organizations, "whose members use their motorcycle clubs as conduits for criminal enterprises."