“The highways are crowded with people who drive as if their sole purpose in getting behind the wheel is to avenge every wrong done them by man, beast or fate.”
– Hunter S. Thompson
Think of the words ‘Motorcycle Club’ (MC). If you’ve watched Sons of Anarchy or read Hell’s Angels – Hunter S. Thompson’s seminal, gonzo journalism expose on that most notorious of Outlaw Motorcycle Clubs – you probably have a specific image in mind: A convoy of greasy-haired, hard-drinking, Harley Davidson-riding outlaws, thundering down one of those ubiquitous highways that run like black veins through the American countryside.
There’s truth in that image. But it’s a truth that’s entrenched in a bygone era and a different place. On the clogged arteries of Singapore’s roads- with its over-zealous traffic officers and glaring streetlights – certain compromises have had to be made.
Or, as Church, the vice-president of Hard Heads Motorcycle Club- pithily describes it: “This is Singapore, bro. What you going to do? Fight for territory? More like stand there, I eye-rape you, you eye-rape me.”
“Let’s say I call you ‘brother’. But maybe you’re a businessman, and I want to make use of you. You see… there’s a difference.
If he’s a brother, I want to bond with him; we ride together, we die together, whatever. That’s the kind of spirit an MC should have.”
The easiest mistake to make when it comes to Motorcycle Clubs is to think of them in a binary fashion: Either as drug dealing, gunrunning, girlfriend-pimping criminals, or as hobbyists dressed up in biking kuttes – rowdy perhaps, but only marginally more dangerous than your average cosplayer.
Both these perceptions do little justice to reality. Legal and outlaw (“one-percenter”) Motorcycle Clubs aren’t flip sides of a coin; they’re cells in a complex body, intrinsically but loosely linked by shared values.
The one-percenter Motorcycle Clubs of public imagination have their genesis in the California of the 60s, in Oakland and Los Angeles and San Jose, as they careened their cavalcades of motorcycles into American towns. But the terror they evoked was also exaggerated by sensationalised stories in the news media, feeding the news-cycle’s insatiable appetite for moral panic and problem populations.
The guys that comprise HardHeads Motorcycle Clubs are law-abiding citizens: They don’t go on gun runs; they don’t deal meth; to my knowledge, none of their charter members have been imprisoned for planning to blow up another Motorcycle Club’s clubhouse. But they don’t exist in isolation from the deviant elements of the subculture.
“We were approached by a global one-percenter Motorcycle Club [Ed’s note: Identity has been hidden to protect anonymity of respondents’ contacts] to start a chapter in Singapore,” Rooster – HardHeads Motorcycle Club’s secretary – tells me. “One of our members knows them well. But joining them would be a whole different ball game, a whole different set of rules. Some of us are family men. When we took a vote on it, it boiled down to a lot of nos.”
There are undeniable criminal elements to the Motorcycle Club subculture but, as the members of the HardHeads Motorcycle Club are at pains to explain to me, ‘criminal’ is a category that is both permeable and ambiguous: Law-abiding Motorcycle Clubs get ‘patched over’ and join one-percenter clubs; one-percenter clubs renounce their criminal affiliations, incorporating bylaws banning drug use among members; Bandidos Motorcycle Club, a global one-percent Motorcycle Club, has a chapter here in Singapore, but has yet to have any reported run-ins with the authorities.
The true constants of a Motorcycle Club are its structure and value system. The internal hierarchy of a Motorcycle Club is largely consistent worldwide: Executive committees consists of a president, a vice-president, a treasurer in charge of finances, a secretary in charge of communications and a sergeant-at-arms who acts as both disciplinarian and bodyguard to the president. Full members of the Motorcycle Club (known as full patches) have votes in all club decisions. An unanimous vote is needed for important decisions, such as patching in a full member.
In terms of values, the historical roots of Motorcycle Clubs in ex-US miliary veterans are still apparent: Tradition, respect, earned leadership, collective decision-making and – most importantly – brotherhood, are the words most Motorcycle Clubs live by.
“‘Brother’ can be just a word,” Church tells me. “It’s the agenda behind [it] that’s important. Let’s say I call you ‘brother’. But maybe you’re a businessman, and I want to make use of you. You see? There’s a difference. If he’s a brother, I want to bond with him; we ride together, we die together, whatever. That’s the kind of spirit a Motorcycle Club should have.”
BROTHERHOOD IN A MOTORCYCLE CLUB
“One common thing that all of us here have is a love for bikes. When you want to go overseas and travel, you have to think of your safety as well. We go out together and we ride back together in one piece.
There are certain groups where if the bike breaks down, they’ll just tell you “sorry, you’re holding us up. Settle it on your own.” We’ll stay with you until the tow truck. You’re not alone on the highway.
We don’t leave anybody behind.”
REFUSING ONE PERCENTERS
“Of course, who doesn’t want to wear the biggest club’s colours? But it always comes with a give and take. We needed to vote, and get everyone’s consensus.
It’s not so much a risk in Singapore. But if you wore their colours overseas it’d be whole a different ballgame altogether. If people see you wearing the colours of a One Percenter Motorcycle Club, you’ll just make yourself a target, if you’re at the wrong place at the wrong time. Imagine if they said ‘there’s a shipment coming in, pick it up?’ Are you going to do it?”
DEMOCRACY AND LEADERSHIP
“One man doesn’t make the club.
There’s no such thing as one person’s say [and] that’s it. Not even the president. A good president is a good scapegoat [Laughter around the table].
No, how we would define a leader is a person who directs us to the right path. I think our ex-president has done a very good job. Our current president is fairly new, even though he’s a veteran in the scene, he’s new as a president of our club, so we hope he gears us in the right direction as well.
The president and vice-president are also the faces of the club. So it’s how they carry themselves, how they handle themselves towards other people [that’s important].
That’s what the leaders are supposed to do. Obviously the committee members are there to inject the right structure, to get it all to fall in place. ”
CRIME AND LEGALITY
“We’re very diplomatic with the rest of the Motorcycle Clubs. It’s not like Sons of Anarchy. You’re in Singapore, what can you do? No guns, no drugs.
There’s bound to be tension, it’s inevitable. Everyone has pride. Everyone wants a certain standing. But for us we don’t care. We’re friendly with most all the clubs.
If the police want to be asses, they can just say that we’re an illegal gathering. but all-in-all, the Motorcycle Clubs in Singapore aren’t on the watchdog list for secret societies. We’re registered as a society so they can’t say anything.”
THE SCENE ABROAD
“If I’m not wrong Interpol Australia have joined in the fight here. They’ve recently landed in Singapore, because they know some of the big players have set up shop here. They’ve basically been living in our island for some time. And I’m quite sure that’s sensitive to them.
You see it more when you’re overseas. Like in Thailand. Thailand is a haven for bikers. All the big names are there, like Hell’s Angels Motorcycle Club, Rebels Motorcycle Club. But you’ve to know who owns the house, which is the Thais, and they really don’t appreciate you going there to stir shit.
So you want to know where all the drugs from Europe come from? They’re all being cut in Thailand. Only in America they get it from South America itself. That’s why Thailand is the heaven…or haven? Whatever the fuck you call it.
In Australia the biker scene is different. Our ex-president had to migrate to Australia. He’s a nomad, doesn’t wear a territory patch, if not he may get shot at. The laws in Australia are different. The cops will stop you if you’re wearing your colours.”
All photos by FORTHX.