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  • Writer's pictureDarien Smith

Ethnography

Autoethnographic Study of Bikers in Their Natural Habitat


3pm in a biker bar on the outskirts of Coventry city centre, I observed an older group of bikers sitting down and having some drinks together. To remain unintrusive so as not to influence their natural behaviour, I sat a couple of tables over from the group, keeping my presence minimal and my observation subtle. For their privacy’s sake I did not take any photos, videos or audio recordings of the bikers, nor am I going to mention the name of the bar.


Biker culture interested me. They are an ethnological group whose population is small yet I have never met a person who has never heard the term ‘biker gang’ or at least the name ‘Hells Angels’ the most notorious biker gang in the world (Sky History). Across fiction and non-fiction media, bikers are represented as violent, scary, antisocial types you should stay away from:


‘Violent biker gang invade quiet UK village as 3 stabbed and police arrest seven’ – Mirror (Fiorillo, 2022)

Dutch court bans 'violent' Hells Angels motorcycle club’ – Reuters (Deutsch, 2019)

‘Hells Angel given 11 years as crime boss and dealer’ – Toronto Star (Edwards, 2008)


I however hypothesise that most bikers, even the ones in gangs, at least in Coventry anyway, are just like any other social group, they just happen to share a love for bike culture. I wanted to see how bikers act in their natural habitat, a place where they talk to one another and feel most at home.


Sat on my own with nothing more than a notebook and beer, I quietly observed the group of 5 bikers roughly between the ages 45-65, sitting around a table drinking and socialising. My first observation was their clothes, they all looked the same, and they were all wearing leather or denim jackets covered in patches representing their favourite motorcycle brands or music artists. They all wore loose-fit jeans and black boots. Perhaps this is how they represent the group, almost like a uniform. Each patch on their jackets was worn proudly like a decorated soldier. On closer inspection they were not identical, the jackets were of slightly different styles and the patches were unique to one another. This is perhaps the group members’ way to express some individuality amongst themselves, though to an outside observer such as myself, at a glance, they all looked the same; perhaps this is by design.


Further observation of this group, I noticed they seemed laid back and comfortable in that bar. The staff and the bikers knew each other by name, and while I was there, they waved hello at almost everyone that entered that bar, even the people that didn’t look like stereotypical bikers. I could tell this place was their home away from home, and regardless of a bike or a patch-covered jacket, everyone in this pub was like family to them.


Regarding the group’s topic of conversation, it was mostly general chat, no different from any other group of people you find at a pub, However, as soon as they started talking about bikes that was where things changed a little. It was like they were speaking a different language, perhaps because I know little about bikes, regardless, they spoke about bikes with a lot of passion, more so than when they were just chatting about general things. Presumably due to their age, they have been biking and talking about biking for quite some time, however their passionate tone and body language when talking about bikes and riding indicated that this biker lifestyle they have adopted is a lifelong passion for these guys and I get the impression if prompted, they could talk for hours the subject. It is hard to imagine this group having a life outside of it.



References


Deutsch, A. (2019). Dutch court bans 'violent' Hells Angels motorcycle club. Reuters https://www.reuters.com/article/us-netherlands-hells-angels-idUSKCN1SZ18T


Edwards, P. (2008). Hells Angel given 11 years as crime boss and dealer’. Toronto Star. https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2008/10/08/hells_angel_given_11_years_as_crime_boss_and_dealer.html


Fiorillo, C. (2022). Violent biker gang invade quiet UK village as 3 stabbed and police arrest seven. Mirror. https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/violent-biker-gang-invade-quiet-28192294


Sky History. (n.d.). Top 6 Notorious Biker Gangs. Sky HISTORY TV Channel. https://www.history.co.uk/shows/outlaw-chronicles-hells-angels/articles/top-6-notorious-biker-gangs


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