We ride for many reasons, the freedom, the camaraderie, the exhilaration…and many more. When you start riding you quickly realize two things. One you are in a Brotherhood of like-minded people though you may not know them by name. How many times have you waved at a fellow biker while riding? Secondly the non-#bikers or “Cagers” lump us all in one category….criminals with motorcycles. Just because we all dress alike doesn’t mean that we are all the same. In fact even experienced bikers sometimes have problems telling us apart. One of the easies ways is to look at the back patch on someone’s vest. That back patch, also known as colors can tell you a lot if you know what you’re looking for.
A persons colors means many things to different Bikers, some it signifies they are part of a club of owners of a particular bike (#hog, #goldwing owners, etc.). Others its a riding club, others a ministry, and others part of a #outlaw culture. Being social creatures we often will seek out other like minded people, If we see another biker at a gas station often we will go up to them to admire their ride and to talk bikes. Depending on the person and whom they are associated with, if you do something disrespectful such as touch their colors inadvertently of an Outlaw or 1% biker you could find yourself in a lot of trouble.
The term 1%’er comes from the #ama or american motorcyclist association. In 1947 a riot occurred in Hollister California. Trying to quell the negative image people were associating with bikers the AMA put out a Press Release saying that 99% of bikers are law abiding just looking for a little fun. The remaining 1% took this as a badge of honor and will wear a diamond shaped patch with “1%”. Sometimes it is also incorporated on the back patch.
The three most common type of back patches you will find are the one piece patch, three piece patch, and someone who has just sewn on something they thought was cool. Each patch signifies if the rider is associated with a #motorcycle Club, Riding Club, Motorcycle Ministry, or independent rider.
The one-piece back patch signifies the rider is either with Riding Club Family Club, or Motorcycle Ministry. It often is easy to get into these clubs, sometimes as little as just paying dues, or riding a certain type of bike. While these clubs do often do take pride in their back patch it pales in comparison to a three-piece patch wearer. Some Riding Clubs and Motorcycle Ministries do have rules about what else can be put on their back along with the back patch but often are not enforced by the club.
The Lone Wolf rider will have a patch sewn on the back of their vest. The most common ones are eagles, wolves, or something else to signify their freedom. This type of rider will also sew on a multitude of other patches on the back as well to signify rallies they have attended or a political statement.
Then there are the three-piece back patches. They are associated with Motorcycle Clubs. Not every Motorcycle Club is an Outlaw or 1% club. They have three distinct patches on their backs. The top rocker is the name of the club. The middle patch is the logo of the club. The bottom rocker is the clubs territory. Getting into one of these clubs can be a challenge. Often you have to be invited by a patch wearer to hang out with the club. This person is known as a “Hang Around”. They may wear a vest but will not have any of the three patches sewn on. This is so the club can get to know the person. The next level is a Probate. If after a period of time, which can be a year or longer, the club decides by a vote at a club meeting to allow him into the club they become a Probationary Member What they wear on the back depends on the club but usually its just a bottom rocker that says Probate. They have to prove themselves and are given a hazing period. Once the Probate has proven themself they are given their “Cut” or Colors. It is a big deal as they had to earn that patch and usually involves a ceremony of some type.
There are some pretty strict rules with these clubs about their colors. They cannot wear any other patch on the back. They can’t leave the Colors just lying around. They can’t wear them in a car and so on.
The club also goes through a process in order to wear their colors. They have to seek permission of the dominant club in the area or sometimes the Council of Clubs. The Council of Clubs are a council made up of the Presidents of each local club. They also have strict rules about what the patch can look like and the particular colors allowed to be used so you don’t get confused with another club. It is unwise to sew on a patch that looks like a MC club or without their permission.
The Outaw clubs are a society within the motorcycle society, much like Police or Firefighters are a society within our society. It is a Brotherhood. They have very strict code of conduct. The matter of fact is unless you do something to disrespect them they will leave you alone. There are some simple rules to adhere to if you find yourself interacting with them. Never approach a Outlaw biker, especially if they are alone. They are leery of the public. Never ask them questions about their club, members, size, or any of their club business.
Some people fear Outlaw clubs like they do sharks or big dogs. The matter of the fact is that if you treat them with respect they will respect you. Shows on TV about Outlaw clubs make it appear that they are out to hurt, intimidate, or steal from you. Most of the time when a Outlaw club is involved with violence it is typically with another competing Outlaw Club or Support Club. They often ignore other bikers and the general public.
We are all bikers out there expressing our freedom and uniqueness with the patches on our backs or clubs we like to associate with. Next time you are at a rally like Bike Week look at the sea of patches and it will all make sense!
Chuck Bowser is an avid photographer, Podcaster, Minister, Firearms Instructor, and Motorcycle Enthusiast. Chuck started riding bikes in 1984 with his first bike a 1982 #honda CB 650. He recently just sold his last bike a #harley Davidison Ultra Classic and is in a market for a replacment. He appreciates every kind of bike from sport bikes, cruisers, and baggers. He currently rides with a chapter of a National Motorcycle Ministry in west central Florida and has served as Road Captain and President of that chapter. Each year Chuck averages 15-20k a year on his bike attending local bike nights and national rallies such as Bike Week and Biketoberfest. He is certified in Prison and Servant Ministries.