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Ride to die: masculine honour and collective identity in the motorcycle underworld

Mohammed Rahman (Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK)
Adam Lynes (Birmingham City University, Birmingham, UK)

Journal of Criminological Research, Policy and Practice

ISSN: 2056-3841

Article publication date: 2 November 2018

Issue publication date: 12 November 2018




The purpose of this paper is to discuss the nature and extent of violent practice in the motorcycle underworld. It does this by considering the murder of Gerry Tobin, and then uses the biography of the founding member of the Hell’s Angels motorcycle club (HAMC) for a critical analysis. The authors are interested in understanding the role of masculine honour and collective identity, and its influences in relation to violence – namely, fatal violence in the motorcycle underworld. The authors argue that motorcycle gangs are extreme examples of what Hall (2012) considers “criminal undertakers” – individuals who take “special liberties” often as a last resort.


The methodological approach seeks to analyse the paradigm of “masculine honour”, and how the Outlaws MC (OMC) applied this notion when executing the seemingly senseless murder of Gerry Tobin. So too, the author triangulate these findings by critically analysing the biography of the founding member of the Californian chapter of the HAMC – Sonny Barger. Further to this, a case study inevitably offers “constraints and opportunities” (Easton, 2010, p. 119). Through the process of triangulation, which is a method that utilises “multiple sources of data”, the researcher can be confident that the truth is being “conveyed as truthfully as possible” (Merriam, 1995, p. 54).


What is clear within the OB worldview is that it can only be a male dominant ideology, with no allowance for female interference (Wolf, 2008). Thus, Messerschmidt’s (1993) notion of “hegemonic masculinity” fits the male dominated subcultures of the HAMC and OMC, which therefore provides the clubs with “exclusive” masculine identities (Wolf, 2008). For organisations like the HAMC, retaliation is perceived as an alternative form of criminal justice that is compulsory to undertake in order to defend their status of honour and masculinity.


Based on our understanding, this is the first critical think piece that explores a UK case of homicide within the context of the motorcycle underworld. It also provides a comprehensive understanding of violent practice with the motorcycle underworld from criminological and sociological perspectives. This paper will inform readers about an overlooked and under researched underworld culture.



Rahman, M. and Lynes, A. (2018), "Ride to die: masculine honour and collective identity in the motorcycle underworld", Journal of Criminological Research, Policy and Practice, Vol. 4 No. 4, pp. 238-252.



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