The mystique of the outlaw motorcycle gang is alive and well. The subculture known as the one-percenters evokes images of violence, loyalty and criminal behavior. First, let’s be clear that the majority of motorcycle clubs do not exhibit criminal behavior. Further, not all serious gang (or club) members are one-percenters. In fact, the label one-percenter came from an AMA response to biker violence in the late 40s stating that 99% of all bikers are law abiding citizens; and only 1% exhibit anti-social or criminal behavior.
The most identifying feature of the outlaw biker culture is the 3-piece patch worn on the member's back. Here is a quick explanation of the significance of the patch or “colors”.
Earning a place in an outlaw motorcycle club is a process often defined by violent or criminal acts. Further, outlaw motorcycle clubs require total allegiance from their members. The club takes priority over the member’s job, outside friends, and even family. A member who does not exhibit total adherence to the “code” can be severely beaten or even killed.
An individual who is just “hanging around” a gang is awarded no part of the patch. The process of earning colors starts with a “prospect” being sponsored by a full member. At that point, the prospect is given the lower “rocker”. The rockers are the upper and lower curved portions of the three-piece patch. The lower rocker indicates the location of the club. Later, the other two portions of the patch may, or may not be earned. The other two parts are the upper rocker that states the club’s name, and the center logo patch. In some gangs, the last two parts of the patch are earned at the same time; in others, the process is separated.
As was stated earlier, the actions that earn the patch may be criminal or violent. A biker who does not display total loyalty to the club will not earn the patch. Further, virtually all outlaw gangs require a unanimous vote of the local membership for a prospect to become a full member.
Because of the crime and territorial violence associated with the wearing of club colors, some local or state law enforcement agencies have placed restrictions on the wearing of certain patches. The colors can actually be permanently confiscated if worn in public.
It should be noted that the some non-outlaw motorcycle clubs have adopted the 3-piece patch. Christian and veteran motorcycle clubs now sometimes wear a three piece logo. The difference is that these patches typically don’t have a specific location in the bottom rocker.