Motorcycle club culture has gained a national interest through Hollywood’s lens with shows like “Sons of Anarchy,” the spinoff series “Mayans,” or the much-maligned reality TV show “The Devil’s Ride.”
More motorcycle enthusiasts are getting comfortable wearing patched-out vests, or ‘cuts,’ forming unaffiliated riding clubs.
Because of the clandestine nature of notorious criminal organizations like the Hell’s Angels or Bandidos, it should be noted that rocking biker patches come with some heavier implications.
If you want to sport some rad biker patches, take a look at some of these important rules for wearing them!
Some Guidelines to Consider
All motorcycle clubs and riding clubs have specific rules for wearing their biker patches.
If you are reading this article, we assume you are a ‘civilian’ (non-MC member) and probably just want to pimp out your new leathers or denim cut. Hell, punks and metalheads do it all the time!
While you and your biker buds should always feel comfortable letting your freak flag fly, this article is a set of rules (and maybe a warning) to help avoid conflict in your area, on the road, or at rallies.
Most MCs are recognized by the American Motorcycle Association and are not outlaw or 1%er biker gangs, but MC patches are sacred to their members and should be respected.
That being said, let’s get into some rules for wearing biker patches!
Always Respect the Patches of Service Men and Women
We want to open up the patch discussion with one simple rule-respect the patches of servicemen and women in the armed forces. Veteran culture was the fertile grounds biker culture sprang from, and they deserve our respect in and out of uniform.
Veteran patches will point out where and when the biker served and details of his combat. POW-MIA patches are placed on a biker’s vest in honor of a fallen serviceman or woman.
Never Wear the Patch of a Motorcycle Club You Don’t Belong to
It should go without saying that you shouldn’t wear the emblem patch of a motorcycle club (MC) that you are not actively a member of. Even former members who leave of their own accord or are kicked out are forbidden from wearing the patches or ‘colors’ of the club they have left behind.
Every MC has its own strict rules for patching or wearing colors, but it’s a universally bad idea to patch out with something that even remotely looks like patches worn by any local, state or national branch.
This is an important rule to follow because MC members view themselves as brotherhoods of bikers, and if you ain’t it, you ain’t it. If you don’t follow this rule, you will be asked to remove the cut or patch, or it will be forcibly removed from you.
Why risk violence from notoriously aggressive MCs by sporting their colors? Even if your patch isn’t an outlaw or 1%er MC, it is generally seen as very disrespectful to their club.
You wouldn’t wear a red outfit in South Central LA, and you wouldn’t wear a military uniform out of respect for the armed forces. The same rule applies to biker patches.
Motorcycle Club Patches Are Earned
Motorcycle clubs are closely affiliated groups of people, often shrouded in the mystery of secrecy, whose lifetime members pay dues and are vigilantly loyal. MC initiates, or prospects, must earn the right to wear the club’s patches through a vetting process akin to hazing.
MCs are all different but commonly wear a 3-piece patch, often including the MC emblem, name, chapter, or location.
Once prospects have completed the initiation process, they will be awarded the right to full membership in the club. Only fully patched-in members have earned the honor of wearing all 3 pieces of the club patch, referred to as colors.
Because MC members consider their bond to be as strong, or stronger than blood ties, it is viewed as highly disrespectful for outsiders to wear their patches. This can be imminently dangerous for you or anyone you associate with if you choose to wear anyone else’s patches.
As a note, even patches denoting where you are from, like a town or state, should be avoided. This is because MCs are, by nature, territorial and a declaration from an uninitiated person or group as belonging to that territory might be considered a threat. You don’t want to be dealt with accordingly by an MC.
The small, square patch embroidered with the letters MC should be avoided because it often necessitates permission from, and collaboration with, larger, more established MCs. If you choose to do this, you could ruffle the feathers of other rival MCs.
Riding Club Patches Are Bought, Not Earned
A riding club (RC) is often a more loosely affiliated club for motorcycle enthusiasts who enjoy riding with one another and often invite outsiders to join up for group rides, open events, rallies, and charity events.
Most guys and gals want to patch out with the group of friends and associates they ride with, and we think that’s awesome! RC patches have a lot less heft than MC patches, so you can often buy them off local RC chapters or at rallies and charity events.
MC and RC patches are similar, at first glance. Patched riding clubs often have rules of conduct for interaction with serious MC members, including polite conduct, respect towards leaders, officers, and patched members. This can help deescalate situations where MC members feel disrespected.
You Are Responsible for Good Conduct
Whether you rock a patch of an MC or an RC, it’s especially important to show respect to other riders with or without patches. Because of the exclusive nature of territorial MCs, always show respect to other riders with patches so you don’t inflame any pre-existing tensions.
MCs have extreme codes of conduct within their own hierarchical organizations, as well as how they interact with other MCs. These rules also dictate how they interact with other bikers.
This is because every affiliate, prospect, old lady or full member of these MCs is representing the entire organization all the time.
RCs have looser rules for their bikers, but generally show respect to other MCs and RCs and to everyone else out of allegiance to their riding club.
If You Are Asked to Remove a Patch or Vest, Do It
Chances are, you aren’t as dedicated to your biker patches as the guy who sweat (and maybe bled) for his. If you are asked to remove your patch or vest, just do it. Politely.
If someone is insistent that you remove a symbol that means something to them, why not respect their wishes? At the end of the day, we’re all about riding bikes, not rising to conflict!
Never Touch Another Bikers Patches, Cut, or Colors
Bikers who are members of an MC rock patches that they have earned. Often these patches tell a story of leadership, brotherhood, initiation, and veteran status; other patches may denote imprisonment, drug use, or other illegal activity.
It is commonly seen as incredibly disrespectful to touch other biker’s patches, so don’t do it! There is a superstition surrounding biker’s patches, cuts, or colors-often these lifers will wear their vests with pride until they die, and will be buried with them as well.
Patches, cuts, and colors are owned by the MC, not by the member. Because of this, it is disrespectful to the whole club membership, leadership, and charter.
Never Wear ‘Outlaw’ Or 1%er Patches
Outlaw bikers were originally called this because they were unaffiliated with the American Motorcycle Association, the organization that designates motorcycle clubs as official MCs.
The term ‘outlaw’ is now more commonly associated with MCs and biker gangs affiliated with criminal activity, referred to as 1%ers (because they are the 1% of bikers that aren’t law-abiding citizens).
Because these patches are directly associated with the criminal side of motorcycle clubs, it will arouse suspicion from law enforcement, as well as questioning from real ‘outlaw’ or 1%er clubs. Best stay away from these patches.
Don’t Worry, It Isn’t All Off Limits
Now that we have laid out the rules for wearing biker’s patches, it might seem like we’re trying to turn you off from wearing patches on your vest, leathers, or denim jacket. But that’s not the case!
There are loads of biker patches out there that we love to see on bikers everywhere!
And we aren’t trying to scare you off from looking the part whenever you and your partners ride out. We just want to let you know that some individuals and MCs take their patches very seriously.
Lots of everyday symbols from bikers, tattooists, gearheads, and music culture look cool as heck and are sport-able to the max!
A great way to tell your story as a biker is to buy patches from rallies and organizations that you support! Lots of rallies, from block parties to Sturgis, have cool patches to sell. So swoop ‘em up! It’s always great to have a cool-looking, keepsake patch that tells a story!
There are tons of great biker organizations out there that raise money for all sorts of funds and causes-usually, your donation or a bit of extra cash will land you another patch to stitch into the collection!
Even though some symbols like the number 13 or Aces have always been co-opted by outlaw MCs to denote illegal activity, I say wear them if you want! And if a day comes when bikers no longer wear skull patches because they are tough and awesome, it will be a sad day indeed.
We are only preaching caution because there might be some negative results to wearing biker patches! Still, we’ll caution against trying to mimic MC vest styles too closely, as members of those organizations might take offense.
And as far as I’m concerned, riding and having fun is the best part of being a biker! And looking great in a patched-up vest is just a perk.
A Note on Swastikas, SS Bolts, & The Totenkopf
For years, bikers have rocked Nazi patches as a statement of total opposition to society’s norms.
A lot of different symbols like the swastika, SS bolts, and the Nazi death’s-head (known as the Totenkopf) have been incorporated into the vast landscape of bikers’ patches.
By no means are we accusing biker culture of widespread white supremacy (although there are a notable few).
But there are tons of ways to say ‘FTW’ without incorporating patches that promote hate. It’s less edgy and more outdated than confederate monuments.