Sonny Barger aboard his 80-inch Harley stroker with high bars and long tailpipies, 1959. This bike design was considered pretty progressive for its time.

Ralph “Sonny” Barger, long considered the Godfather of the Hells Angels MC (having  started the original Oakland chapter) is definitely an original “one percenter” if there ever was one.  There’s a lot of very interesting history behind Sonny and the Hells Angels that I can’t post, so if you’re itching for more, check out his books.  Here’s a little collection of pics, along with some of Sonny’s personal accounts on his life and times, and the history of the club– and be sure to check out the vintage Hells Angels video at the end of the post.


From Sonny Barger’s autobiography–

“When I saw The Wild One, Lee Marvin instantly became my hero. Lee’s character, Chino, was my man. Marlon Brando as Johnny was the bully. His boys rode Triumphs and BSAs and wore uniforms. Lee’s attitude was ‘If you fuck with me, I’ll hit you back.’ Lee and his boys were riding fucked-up Harleys and Indians. I certainly saw more of Chino in me than Johnny. I still do.”

Sonny Barger of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club.

Sonny Barger of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club.


Ralph “Sonny” Barger, (C, front row), President of the Hell’s Angels Oakland chapter, announces at a press conference that the notorious California motorcycle gang would not stage a demonstration 11/20 against anti-Vietnam marchers. Oct. 16th, during a VDC march through Berkeley, several of the club broke through police barricades and assaulted several demonstrators. Barger said his group was calling off its plans because the marchers “may provoke us to violence.” LTR: Top, Tiny Walters, (L), Ron Jacobson. Seated, Skip Workman, Barger, and Tom Thomas. Oakland, CA  –November 19, 1965.


“As a street tough, I looked the part.  I wore my Levi’s jeans with one-inch-wide cuffs at the bottom, smoked Camels (as opposed to Lucky Strikes, my Dad’s brand), had the attitude, and rode a motorcycle. My friends and I wore V-neck T-shirts with a cigarette pack rolled up in the sleeve.  We bought black engineer boots (with a silver buckle) at the Red Wing shoe store, the same place Oakland working grunts bought their work boots.  If you had the cash, a black leather jacket made sense if you rode motorcycles.”

“I joined my first bike club, the Oakland Panthers, in 1956.  It didn’t last too long.  We were a bunch of local bike riders who liked to hang out.  Freewheeling clubs were just starting out then.  After a couple weeks I knew we weren’t cutting it.  We seemed pretty pointless, like we weren’t a real club.  We were just a bunch of kids.  Some of us didn’t even know each other’s names.”

“I quit the club as quickly as I started it.  Sure, they’d party, but when the sh*t came down, they didn’t stick together.  I felt no brotherhood.  When the cops busted someone, he was on his own.  It was like ‘F*ck him, I’m outta here.’  What I needed was more solidarity and less cover your own ass.”


Sonny Barger riding with his Hells Angels brothers.
Sonny Barger riding with his Hells Angels brothers.


“During both world wars, bomber squadrons and divisions of military men formed their own tight circles.  Bands of young draftees and enlistees would think up a name and design a cool-looking logo to show how tough and deadly they were as fighters.  Patches were sewn on government-issue leather bomber jackets and the brass seemed okay with it.”

“The term ‘Hell’s Angels’ had been bouncing around the military as far back as World War I, when a fighter squadron first took on the name.  During the 1920s in Detroit, a motorcycle club affiliated with the American Motorcyclist Association named themselves Hell’s Angels… A group of mercenary war pilots called the Flying Tigers flew for the Chinese, and one of their squadrons called themselves Hell’s Angels. WWII had a few groups called Hell’s Angels, including an American Air Force bomber company stationed in england, the 358th Bomber Squadron, another Navy torpedo squadron– I think it was the 109th Airborne– and the 108th Airborne, paratroopers during the Korean War.”


Sonny Barger of the Oakland Hells Angels Motorcycle Club
Sonny Barger of the Oakland Hells Angels Motorcycle Club


“As far back as 1917, during WWI, both the German and American infantries successfully used bike (motorcycle) riders as couriers, scouts, and communications dispatchers.  In response, the Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Company won big government contracts manufacturing bikes for the American war machine in Europe, delivering up to 20,000 cycles.  During the 1930s and 1940s, Hitler’s Nazi war machine trained motorcyclists into more active combat roles, using higher-tech BMWs.  Hitler’s Panzer divisions relied heavily on skilled motorcycle soldiers.  Instead of scouts and messengers, motorcyclists mounted machine guns on their bikes, rode on reconnaissance missions, scouted ambushes, occupied bridges and landmarks, rode through land-mined fields, and escorted tanks into battle.”

“As a result, aggressive, restless, roaming daredevil riders evolved by the end of WWII, unafraid to ride full-throttle and kick ass.  Some cite returning wartime bikers as the beginning of ‘outlaw motorcycle types’ dating from 1948 to the early 1950s.  Before WWII, motorcycle clubs were like gentleman’s clubs– riders actually wore coats and ties.  After WWII, clubs like the Boozefighters retained both the aggressive spirit of war and combat and the look– leather bomber jackets, flight goggles, and long scarves.  One of their credos was– Jesus Died So We Could Ride.


Sonny Barger
Sonny Barger

“Club-less and bored, I rode around the Oakland streets with a new wild bunch.  We talked about starting up another club.  One of the riders, Boots, Don Reeves, wore a modified Air Force-like patch he’d found in Sacramento– a small skull wearing an aviator set inside a set of wings.  I thought it was cool as hell.  The bottom rocker read ‘Sacto.’  We later found out that Boots’s patch came from a defunct motorcycle club in North Sacramento.  Boots’s idea was to name our new club after the patch, the Hell’s Angels.  We all liked the name, so we hit a local trophy shop in Hayward and made up a set of patches based on the design (later called the death head) in April of 1957, not really knowing that there were other Hell’s Angels motorcycle clubs around the state of California.  For almost the first year of our existence we didn’t even use “Oakland” as a bottom rocker.  Instead, we were “Nomad” Hell’s Angels. Yeah, that sounded like us.


Sonny Barger

Sonny Barger of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club.


Famous Sonny Barger quotes–

“Treat me good, I’ll treat you better; treat me bad, I’ll treat you worse.”

“The greatest thing that I have learned is probably the simplest thing any of us can learn: I am who I am.”

“My most basic credo is: I never said freedom was cheap. And it ain’t. Never will be. It’s been the highest priced and most precious commodity in my life.”

(Referring to Keith Richards during the Altamont Concert in December 1969.) “I stood next to him and stuck my Pistol into his side and told him to start playing his guitar or he was dead.”

“If I ever get too old to ride my motorcycle, and have pretty girls, I’d rather just rob a bank and go back to prison.”






  1. I remember reading his autobiography while I was in the Marines… To me that type of free spirit and raw energy along with some rebelioussness and living life on you’re own terms is what America was originally built on… Great post as always!

  2. Pingback: ‘Sonny’ Barger Feature at The Selvedge Yard | Definitive Touch

  3. Grade A bio. The man is extremely interesting. Free and Easy just did a nice feature on him, but unfortunately in Japanese of course. I heard that quote about keith richards at altamount before and wondered if he actually said it…pretty nuts!

  4. The whole selling dope and pills thing really brings it all into focus after you admire these photos for a few minutes.

  5. Citizens who idolize the 1% world truly amuse me. They see the surface and understand nothing of the depth. They see the outward trappings and know nothing of what’s underneath. They toss around words like “freedom” and “free spirit” and “live to ride, ride to live” and fail to comprehend what it really means. Their use of sacred words like “Brother” and “Bro” has turned them into meaningless syllables they toss about with impunity. They know nothing at all about any of it yet they think it can be purchased with a new bike and a pirate costume. Sorry Citizen…but $17,000.00 and 17 mines don’t make you a biker.

    • As Sonny said, “Having all these people riding bikes kind of takes the heat off us”. (Not exact words he said, but the meaning is the same…).

      I have always had bikers as my heroe’s, ever since up at Big Bear Lake in California an HA was lifting a tryke to do some work on it and ripped open his arm, I got my Dad’s first aid kit and fixed him up. In appreciation he gave me a ride on his bike to my Dad’s horror! I was 13 years old at the time and have been on a bike as early as I could get one. (My Dad was not one for giving things to me, I had to get it on my own).

      I will be the first to say I am not tough enough to be a 1%’er. I am not even tough enough to be in a major outlaw club, but I can dream. Clubs have their own laws…and to say they are not civilized is, well, shall we go into the carnege that countries do to each other?

      • outlaw clubs dont look for tuff members they look for members who stick together when things get tuff so they will know that their backs are covered wether on their own or together as a club

  6. Sonny and his pals are cute. Is that OK to say? 😉 They look like lots of “bad boys” here in Texas. Why is it that the outlaws are always the coolest looking? Hmmmm….something about anthropology.

    • Regardless of what modern feminist ideology makes women say, women always go for masculine men. That’s why the dumbass badass gets chicks while the dependable, boring braniac laments his lonesome fate–by himself.

      It is possible to be manly without being a Neanderthal, but wimpy never cuts it with the ladies.

      • Wimpy cuts it with lots of ladies. Wimpy with money, wimpy without abuse, wimpy and kind, wimpy and whipped–there’s lots of wimpy that gets women out there. I read a study that women tend to go for more macho guys when they’re ovulating–the rest of the time, women tend to prefer more laid back. So there you go.

  7. when i was ten years old i was taught the code of ethics by my uncle mack parker,dont lie cheat or steal or steal from our neighbors to pay are own bills. that was 44 years ago i have raised 2 ex-wifes and 4 kids since then and helped countles youngsters to follow this perfect way of life,thanks uncle mack which was with the gallopping gooses 1945, thank you hells angles, thank you the red and white and finally thank you mr barger. always riding high…… your associate, wild bill phoenix arizona…….

  8. To understand Barger and the other 1%’ers, one has to be of a notion that Your Liberty and freedom to be yourself is the most precious commodity. Yeah, it can look pretty coarse to the uninitiated, but so F’ing what? Why is that your business and why should he or anyone else care?
    See, Liberty has been eroded to where society breeds just those attitudes, which are indicative of real free spirits. Free spirits are not the touchy-feely, peace, free love, stop the war, kumbuya spewing types. Those are simply air-heads without a clue. A real free spirit knows when they are being encroached on, and responds with force; sometimes physical, sometimes intellectual, but is capable of either or both. Violence is not something you apologize for, because it is a tool you use when necessary. Does the hammer apologize to the nail? F*ck no. The Teacher to the Student for educating them? Again, F*ck no.

    Now, get out there and RIDE!

  9. Back from Nam in ’68 and right up to Haight. Been ridin ever since. I’m still ridin the same ole pan/shovel I did back then! Some things will never change. Thanks Sonny, for all you, and the guys, have done to make my world a little better! Crow, L.F.F.L Tucson, Az.

  10. Legends live forever…….bullshit baffles brains (just ask your local police department…they’ll prove it to you). Long live Red & White!!!!!!

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