How To Become A Hells Angel

So, you woke up this morning with one simple objective in mind: to become a member of the legendary biker gang — er, motorcycle enthusiast club — known as the Hells Angels. You had a really weird dream involving a lot of leather, a lot of Harleys, and an enormous ball of twine for some reason, and immediately upon jumping out of bed you Googled "How to become a Hells Angel," and you landed here. 

First — a little background: According to the club's website, the Hells Angels were founded on March 17, 1948, in San Bernardino, California. During the '50s, a whole slew of unrelated chapters began to pop up, and they eventually united and drafted their own charter and bylaws. In the early '60s, the club expanded internationally with its first chapter in Auckland, New Zealand. Today, the club has 467 chapters in 59 countries (and counting).

Since you're extremely interested in joining, you should know that there are several very strict requirements to be met if you are even to be considered, and while the Angels claim that they are just a bunch of dudes who love motorcycles and are in no way an organized crime syndicate, law enforcement strenuously begs to differ, as outlined in a document titled "Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs" (via Public Intelligence). But we'll leave the moral ramifications to you, and do our best to get you started on the path to membership, beginning with the basics.

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You've got to have a motorcycle and a drivers license

Yep, this is a pretty big one, and it may be stating the obvious: If you want to join the world's most famous motorcycle club, you have to own a motorcycle, and be legally able to operate it. There's no official rule stating that your motorcycle must be a Harley-Davidson, but if it's not, you're liable to have your entreaty for membership met with derisive laughter, if not a swift kick in the rear end on your way out the door. Per the website One Percent Bikers, if it's not a Harley (and it really should be) it has to at least be made by an American company. According to "Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs," (via Public Intelligence), Hell's Angels require that your hog must also be powerful enough to keep up with everyone else (with an engine size of at least 1200 cc).

Hot Cars reported that since the inception of the Hells Angels after World War II, Harley's were the chosen mode of transport, in part because early members had been in the war and thought that it was more patriotic to buy and ride American-made motorcycles. Plus, in those days, Harley's weren't very expensive and maintenance was easy. The relationship between the Hells Angels and Harley Davidson runs deep to this day. 

You've got to be ready to ride, like all the time

All set with your new hog? Great. Now, if you don't have literal callouses on your butt (which you probably don't having presumably only ridden it from the dealership to your abode), you'll probably want to get some riding time under your belt — say, several thousand hours. As it turns out, the Hells Angels take the "Motorcycle Club" part of their name quite seriously, and members are pretty much expected to live on their hogs.

According to the One Percenter Bikers website, to a Hells Angel, being a "motorcycle enthusiast" doesn't mean dragging your Harley out of the garage on weekends for leisurely rides with your bearded, tatted homies. Angels go literally everywhere on their cycles, rain, shine, or meteor showers, and we don't mean down the street for groceries. Chapters often organize long, sometimes interstate rides, and if you fail to participate, you're not going to get far within the club. So, if you really dig the whole idea of the "biker lifestyle" but aren't actually down to ride your bike until you literally can't feel your bum anymore, the Hells Angels are probably not for you.

You have to have the right personal qualities

This is where the requirements for potential members get a little bit nebulous. According to One Percenter Bikers, potential candidates must be the kind of guy (and we do mean "guy," as women can't be full members) that won't piss off their fellow bikers. Obviously, this means that squares and wimps need not apply. Having friends in common with other members and also shared interests (in addition to motorcycles) can help candidates gain an advantage.

Oh, and if you happen to be a woman? Just because you can't be a full member doesn't mean you can't have a valuable place within the organization. According to the Vancouver Sun, women are key to gathering intelligence on law enforcement and rival clubs and are often encouraged to enter the military or other positions of authority to assist in these endeavors. Women will also allegedly hold contraband such as guns and drugs for the guys while on the road — and while hangers-on are pretty much treated as club property (no, really; some even wear "property of" patches on their jackets), wives and girlfriends are treated with a level of respect that is in the ballpark of that commanded by full members.

No wannabe cops or IV drug users need apply

Perhaps we should have asked this sooner, but have you ever taken any steps — even baby steps, like just putting in a preliminary application — toward becoming a police officer or a prison guard? No? Well, great, you still stand a chance. The Hells Angels will not consider for membership anyone who has ever made moves to pursue either of those law enforcement professions, according to the Vancouver Sun.  

On the opposite spectrum, just as being crime-y isn't exactly a disqualification for entry (allegedly), nor is having a healthy set of vices. Drink booze? Smoke cigarettes? Do drugs? Sure, all of that is fine, as long as it's not a very specific type of drug use we're talking about. According to "Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs" (via Public Intelligence), Hells Angels members can be summarily expelled if they are ever caught partaking of intravenous drugs, even once.

You can't ever have been convicted of one specific crime

In a perfect world, nobody would ever, ever be convicted of sexual assault on a child, because that crime would never, ever take place. But if you aspire to Hells Angels membership, which you obviously do, this is pretty much the one crime that you may never have come within shouting distance of, according to How Stuff Works. Oh, and if you happen to be a member who runs afoul of the law for this reason, you can expect your treatment at the hands of your fellow members to be ... harsh.

Take, for example, the case of Terrence Tognolini, who in 2010 was convicted of just such crimes while a full member of the Angels, as reported by the Sydney Morning Herald. A few years earlier, after the charges were first brought, Tognolini was cordially invited to attend a chapter meeting at which he was the sole topic of discussion, unbeknownst to him. After being informed that his fellow members had been made aware of his hobby of drugging and sexually abusing teenage girls, Tognolini had his patches stripped, was beaten bloody and senseless, had his tattoos roughly covered up by black ink, and was dumped via wheelbarrow into the street. His former buddies then called his brother to "come pick up his trash." So, if you have these predilections, don't even think about trying to join the Hells Angels.

There is no formal race requirement, sort of

Once again, we're into some sticky territory here, so stay with us. Say, are you Black? If so, you might want to re-think your Hells Angels ambitions. It's not that the organization is racist; heavens, no. It's simply that there are enough racists among its ranks that Black folks are probably not going to get a shot, at least that's according to Sonny Barger, the legendary late President of the Hells Angels' Oakland, California chapter. In an interview with the BBC, Barger put it like this: "The club, as a whole, is not racist, but we probably have enough racist members that no Black guy is going to get in it." 

You see, it only takes one member out of an entire chapter to veto someone's potential membership, and based on the club's 70-plus-year history of exclusion, not many Black people are applying. Despite how it sounds on its face, though, Barger is probably not being disingenuous. The Angels have historically enjoyed a good relationship with the all-Black motorcycle club the East Bay Dragons, and Barger himself even wrote the foreword for its founder Tobie Gene Livingston's autobiography, "Soul on Bikes."

First you must become a Hangaround

Alright! So, we're all squared away so far, and if you still want to be a member you must first become a trusted friend of the club, one who is vouched for by at least one full member. The title you'll receive at this first level of involvement is "hangaround" (via Vancouver Sun). At this level, you don't get those killer "rockers" on the back of your jacket yet. (The one reading "Hells Angels" is the top rocker; the bottom rocker indicates your chapter.) In fact, all you get is one little black-and-white patch with your sponsoring chapter — and the process of earning this title isn't super-fun.

As detailed in author and former UFC referee Yves Lavigne's non-fiction book "Three Can Keep a Secret if Two Are Dead," being a potential hangaround mostly involves getting beaten up a lot until you prove your mettle, and if you can't deal with that, you're liable to get your bike and your woman confiscated before getting kicked to the curb. But once you're voted in as a hangaround by the majority of the chapter, you can ... well, hang around the clubhouse (but not during meetings), run off unwanted visitors, hold contraband (allegedly), and follow orders from literally any member who requires anything of you. Of course, during this time, you'll be evaluated by everyone for the presence of those "personal qualities" that are so key to Angels' membership, so try not to act like a square or a wimp.

Some hangarounds might become Associates

While it's not an official membership tier, some hangarounds might shed that title to become associates, once they have hung around long enough and demonstrated their loyalty sufficiently. To ditch the hangaround tag, it also helps to have the sponsorship and trust of a full member to recommend you for associate status, per the Vancouver Sun.

Associates still can't attend meetings, but they may be invited to attend parties at the clubhouse (fun!), and even to ride along when the chapter hits the road. Of course, they're also expected to help higher-level members out with sketchy illegal stuff when asked (allegedly), and they may be asked to carry out crimes ranging from the pedestrian to the extremely serious in order to definitively prove their lack of connection to law enforcement (also allegedly). Since one must demonstrate all of the right qualities in spades in order to assume this status, it's usually only held for a year or so before moving on to the next level, which is  ... still not the last one. Sorry, but we told you this wasn't going to be a piece of cake.

The next level is Prospect

So, after you've spent countless months getting your butt kicked by your new buddies, chafing your freshly-kicked butt with endless hours on the road, and putting your life and/or freedom in jeopardy on multiple occasions (allegedly), you'll finally be ready for the title of ... "Prospect," which seems like it should have come a lot sooner in the process, but here we are. This status will be every bit as awesome as it sounds, which is to say "not very" — because you'll have even more responsibilities, and still only limited amounts of respect.

According to Yves Lavigne's book, "Hell's Angels," a prospect will spend a lot of time cleaning members' bikes, and even more time sitting awake in the clubhouse for hours at night, guarding the place while everyone else dozes peacefully. You'll pretty much be on call for anything any member needs, 24/7, and this could go on for anywhere between six months and five years. Of course, you'll get to rock a few more patches, including the bottom rocker designating your chapter (but not the top, because you're not an Angel yet, Prospect). Finally, once you've proven your worth, dedication, and mettle, your big day will come.

Finally, you get patched in as a full member

To get "full-patch" membership, you must be voted in by your entire chapter unanimously. You get to wear all the sanctioned patches, including the infamous Death's Head logo and the top rocker, and yay! You also have to attend meetings, pay dues, and do all of the non-fun club stuff. Of course, that's not all. As outlined by Yves Lavigne in his book, "Hell's Angels," new members are expected to get a tattoo with the date they were patched within nine days, and within six months, they're expected to receive a briefing on a target provided by the club's intelligence, and ... er, off that person. Allegedly. Hey, probably just an urban legend, but Lavigne says that's how it works.

Those patches, by the by, are referred to as your "colors," and they are to be honored above everything, and we mean everything. They're a symbol of your commitment to the club, and just as you may be beaten senseless or worse for sullying them, you're quite in the clear to exact the same punishment upon anyone else who does. (Pro tip: Never pat a Hells Angel on the back.) At this point, we sure hope you're all about the life, because there is ... almost no turning back.

Once you're in, good luck leaving

According to Yves Lavigne in his book, "Hell's Angels," it's not that you can't leave the Hells Angels once you're patched in; it's just that hardly anybody ever does, at least honorably. Those who are allowed to walk away for whatever reason may often keep their patches, although they must amend their Date Patched In tattoo to include the date they exited. Those who are kicked out are stripped of their patches, and depending upon the circumstance, might have their tats forcibly covered up and/or be beaten, run out of town, or worse.

George Christie, who as the founder of the Ventura chapter was a contemporary of Sonny Barger, was apparently one of the luckier ones. After doing time for being involved in firebombing some tattoo parlors, he decided to bolt from the Angels, tired as he was of the constant violent run-ins with law enforcement and other clubs. 

In an interview with Vice in 2016, he said, "Club members who I was friendly with after I left had their memberships in jeopardy if they communicated with me. When I left, it kind of reminded me of a divorce: At first, everyone wanted to be [amicable]. They weren't happy about my decision, but they understood it. As things progressed, it became aggressive, and it was hard to take."  

So if you think you're hardcore enough to become a full-patched member of the infamous Hells Angels, just remember their mottos (per Hot Cars): "Angels Forever, Forever Angels," and "When we do right, nobody remembers. When we do wrong, nobody forgets."