Yes, “Motorcycle Gangs” Still Exist. No, They Didn’t Attack a Man in New York.

 A member of the Bandidos, an actual motorcycle gang.

Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images

You have probably already heard about Alexian Lien, the New York man who was pulled out of his car and beaten in front of his family after incurring the wrath of a group of motorcyclists on the Henry Hudson Parkway last weekend. If you haven’t, though, get up to speed by watching the following video:

Based on this video footage at least, it seems that Lien is not without blame in this situation; he did, after all, zoom his Range Rover through a crowd of stopped motorcyclists, allegedly paralyzing at least one of them in the process. But the public’s wrath has fallen squarely on the bikers, who had gathered under the aegis of a group called Hollywood Stuntz, which apparently organizes massive road rallies in which motorcyclists congregate en masse, effectively taking over public roadways so that they can do stunts. (Or, I guess, “stuntz.”) The Stuntz crew has been repeatedly referred to as a motorcycle gang, a term that conjures images of leather-clad skeezeballs causing mayhem on the backs of their American-made bikes. It’s a term that has nothing to do with the reality of this situation. Whatever the Stuntz riders were, they weren’t a motorcycle gang.

The “motorcycle gang” as we know it—formally organized groups of hell-raising hog-riders who live on the edge of the law—first appeared in the 1940s, as part of the big post-World War II club-forming craze in America. They existed in opposition to legacy motorcycle clubs, groups of good citizens who cut their hair and followed the rules of the road. According to a 1991 report from the California Department of Justice, the first schism in Motorcycle Nation happened in 1947, when a rowdy group called the Pissed Off Bastards of Bloomington “turned the American Motorcycle Association- (AMA) sponsored Hill Climb into a week-long brawl.” The next year, after a motorcycle riot in Riverside, Calif., the local police chief pinned the violence on out-of-town “outlaws.” The name stuck.

The most notorious outlaw motorcycle gang is, of course, the Hells Angels—itself a spinoff of the Pissed Off Bastards of Bloomington—the roughnecks perhaps best known for doing a very bad job providing security at the Altamont Free Concert. Other prominent gangs include the Outlaws, the Bandidos, the Pagans, the Mongols, and the Vagos Motorcycle Club. Though they may have all begun as groups of motorcycle enthusiasts who consolidated to protect their rights to wear scraggly beards and drive like jerks, authorities believe they eventually diversified into more serious criminal activity.

The California Department of Justice report noted that “outlaw motorcycle gangs are sophisticated organizations who utilize their affiliation with a motorcycle club as a conduit for criminal activity. The nature of their activity is generally conspiratorial, and their goals are attained through use of violence and intimidation.” More recently, the FBI’s 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment accused various outlaw motorcycle gangs (or, in their unintentionally hilarious acronym, OMGs) of dabbling in prostitution, drug trafficking, extortion, money laundering, and “routine and systematic exploitation and infiltration of law enforcement and government infrastructures to protect and perpetrate their criminal activities.” The groups themselves commonly claim that they are merely social organizations—and charitable ones, at that—and that crimes committed by their individual members should not be held against the collective. That said, their members do tend to commit a lot of crimes, at least when compared against other social and charitable organizations, like the Elks, or the Kiwanis Club.

Now, back to Hollywood Stuntz, a crew that hardly qualifies as an outlaw motorcycle gang—or any sort of gang at all, for that matter. The riders seemed to have had no formal affiliation; rather, “Hollywood Stuntz” was just the name given to the rally that brought them all to New York last weekend. Metro reports that the Hollywood Stuntz rally may have been the brainchild of one man, a stunt rider known as Jamie “Hollywood” Lao; according to Metro, the since-dismantled website notes that Lao belongs to “a team of motorcycle stunt riders that hold annual events as a forum for themselves and other stunt riders in the New York area (and sometimes riders from out of state) to show off the most insane stunts the thousands of bystanders have ever seen.”

It’s clear that the bikers on the Henry Hudson Parkway acted aggressively in hogging the road, violating traffic laws, and pulling a man out of his car and beating him so badly that he had to go to the hospital. But calling them a motorcycle gang is just not accurate. Though the difference might seem minor to those of us who prefer four-wheeled transit, a gang of motorcyclists is not necessarily the same thing as an outlaw motorcycle gang.