The bikers’ movement dates back to the years after the Second World War. While many biker groups were dismissed as fronts for criminal gangs in the early days of the movement, their reputation has changed for the better in recent years. To disprove the stubborn myth that all bikers are gang members, What’s On explores the Ukrainian biker world and the leather-clad, bearded freedom lovers that inhabit it.
The history of bikes dates back to 10 November 1885, when Adolf Daimler, son of car industry pioneer Gottlieb Wilhelm Daimler, presented his first wooden bike. It puttered down the road with an incredible-for-that-time 12km/hour capturing the imagination of would-be bikers everywhere. The rest is history. Today, the world's fastest bicycle, the Dodge Tomahawk, can cover 560km in one hour, though most bikers ride something a bit more modest.What we find interesting, however, is the culture of biking.
There are a surprising number of rules and restrictions in the biking world, considering bikers’ famed love of freedom. As it turns out, each biker club has an intricate hierarchical system, replete with rules that dictate everything from what members wear to how they interact.
This hyper-organised facet of today’s biker culture tradition dates back to the first American motorcycle clubs (MCs) founded in the 1950s. The heyday of American motorcycling produced the Hells Angels MC, Outlaws MC, Mongols MC and Bandidos MC, often referred to as the Big Four. As these groups expanded across the US and established branches overseas, organisation became paramount to maintaining order. As the biggest and oldest motorcycle clubs worldwide, the Big Four have set the tone for younger clubs across the world. Here in Ukraine, there are many active motorcycle clubs, but the biggest are the Silver Bullets MC, the Bandidos MC, and the Steel Riders MC.
Know Your Place
So how do we ordinary pedestrians figure out whether a biker belongs to a particular club or whether he rides alone? Club rules typically call for members to wear a vest emblazoned with the group’s insignia on the back. Vests are typically also covered in what the groups call “rockers”, or small patches that, like military medals, denote the member’s status in the club hierarchy.
The hierarchy within the clubs is simple, though the road to the top is quite long for a new biker. First, a current club member must invite a novice to the club. If the community likes him, he becomes a supporter and attends club meetings for a trial period. If he passes muster, the supporter is given a “hang-around” rank. If the members like him after that, the newbie moves from “prospect” to “member”. The top echelons of the group include president, vice-president, treasurer, sergeant-at-arms, road captain, and a number of other roles open only to official members. These higher-ranking members oversee the life and general operations of the club, issuing decrees to lower-ranking members.
And by the way, the use of “he” to describe an aspiring biker is not an oversight; only straight, white men are welcome in most of these clubs.
The Free Agents
Though belonging to a biker club is a desirable privilege, not all bikers feel the need to join one. “A motorcycle is just a key to a vast biker’s world,” says Oleksandr, an experienced biker we caught up with on the Kyiv streets. He emphasised that the ideology of a biker is quite similar to that of an ordinary man. The priorities are the same: to enjoy life, to find joy in yourself, your friends, your relatives, and everything you do in your life.
Oleksandr’s girlfriend Tetyana, is also a biker. She is considered a novice because she’s only been biking for two seasons, but she’s already fully adopted the lifestyle. She says the hobby doesn’t interfere with her life in the least. “Everyone knows that I’m a biker and it even helps me because traffic jams are no problem and I’m never late. I can change my bikers outfit to casual clothes in the blink of an eye and be ready for any business meeting,” she says.
Although ladies can’t join most clubs, the growing number of female bikers makes me wonder, is it dangerous for a girl to ride a heavy motorcycle? “You have to be really careful. Really look around before doing a tricky manoeuvre or turning,” Tetyana warns. “But the most important thing is to work with a teacher who has a lot of experience.”
Oleksandr chimes in, “Life itself is dangerous. Riding a bike is as dangerous as skydiving, for example. You’ll encounter so many types of drivers on the road: careful drivers; racers; idiots – just like in everyday life. It’s easy to respect each other and avoid most accidents.”
The fall biking season is drawing to an end soon. Many bikers will store their steel stallions for the winter, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn a few things if you’re interested. Oleksandr suggests newbies dedicate this time to education, whether it’s reading books about biking or talking to professionals, who have plenty of useful advice to give.
Tetyana reminds me, “Biking is a state of mind. I have a couple of friends who don’t have bikes at the moment, but they will never tell you that they are not bikers.” During the sleepy winter months, these aficionados will spend their evenings sharing stories about the road at local pubs, bowling, or repairing and glossing up their objects of passion in the garage. In the spring, they’ll start up their engines and once again savour the freedom of the open road.
Kyiv Bikers’ Favourite Watering Holes
Docker Pub (Bohatyrska 25), 537-1340
Route 66 (Zhylyanska 87/30), 239-3865
Dakota (H Stalingrada 14g), 468-7410
Moto Chopper Bar (Naumova 29), 223-3448
Red Rock Bar (Vozdukhoflotskiy 93), 383-7681