Riding with the Hells Angels

An unlikely Bakersfield citizen casts what appears to be an appraising eye over the Hells Angels' Harley-Davidsons, 1965.
Photographer Billy Ray and writer Joe Bride, both from LIFE magazine, spent a few weeks with the Hells Angels in 1965.  Outlaw motorcycle gangs were still something of a novelty, so neither Ray nor Bride quite knew what they were getting into.  Bride had been doing a piece on Big Daddy Roth, who put him in contact with the Hells Angels.  After being blindfolded and taken to a bar in an unknown location, Bride negotiated a deal with the Hells Angles to spend time photographing them over a few weeks.  Neither the article or the pictures every made it into LIFE magazine, but Ray recently published a book containing them.  It is titled Hells Angels of San Berdoo '65 Inside the Mother Charter.

Although Billy Ray was not the writer, he had some great quotes when asked about his time with the Hells Angels.

“This was a new breed of rebel.  They didn’t have jobs, of course. They absolutely despised everything that most Americans value and strive for — stability, security. They rode their bikes, hung out in bars for days at a time, fought with anyone who messed with them. They were self-contained, with their own set of rules, their own code of behavior. It was extraordinary to be around.”

“There’s a romance to the idea of the biker on the open road.  It’s similar to the romance that people attach to cowboys and the West — which, of course, is totally out of proportion to the reality of riding fences and punching cows. But no doubt, there’s something impressive about these Harley-Davidsons and bikers heading down the highway. You see the myth played out in movies, like Easy Rider, which came out a few years after I photographed the Angels. You know, the trail never ends for the cowboy, and the open road never ends for the Angels. They just ride. Where they’re going hardly matters. It’s not an easy life, but it’s what they choose. It’s theirs. And everyone else can get out of the way or go to hell.”

A teenager seems drawn, like a moth to a flame, by the Angels and their machines, California, 1965.
Hell's Angels motorcylce gang members preparing to ride to Bakersfield.
Members of outlawed motorcycle clubs hangout, Bakersfield.
Hell's Angels motorcycle gang members hanging out in a parking lot.
Hell's Angels motorcycle gang members congregating on their bikes before heading to Bakersfield.
Joe Bride and Billy Ray (with the camera)
California, 1965.
Hells Angels' "old ladies," California, 1965.
A sheriff's officer keeps an eye on the proceedings outside a bar that the Hells Angels have made their headquarters-away-from-home during their San Bernardino-to-Bakersfield run, 1965.
"Buzzard" prepares to leave Bakersfield as cops and townspeople watch, 1965.
Hells Angel, seated on his bike, 1965.
Close-up of two Hell's Angels Berdoo jackets on the backs of two riders.
Hell's Angels motocycle gang members preparing to ride from Gorman to Bakersfield.
Outside the Blackboard Cafe at night, Bakersfield, Calif., 1965.
Biker chick, California, 1965.
Hells Angels cruise north from San Bernardino to Bakersfield, 1965.
Hell's Angels motorcycle gang riding in a pack on the road.
Hell's Angels bike rider.
A Hells Angel -- with his old lady holding on tight -- pulls a wheelie in downtown Bakersfield, Calif., as his friends watch, 1965.
"Buzzard" and an old lady, California, 1965.
A Hells Angel salute, 1965.
Hells Angels, California, 1965.
Hells Angel "Hambone" poses during a ride from San Bernardino to Bakersfield, Calif., 1965.