Black Biker History - Choppers And Motorcycle Clubs

East Bay Dragons MC

I do not claim to be an expert on any historical MC stuff, but I have always found it fascinating. Being a guy who tries to emulate what others have done in the past, I have always found it to be important and respectful to learn the history of the source of my passion. One aspect of chopper history that has always fascinated me are the black chopper builders and motorcycle clubs. That being said, I’ll just spout out things that I have learned through my chopper years thus far.

Cliff Vaughs on beautiful Slabside Shovelhead called the "Super Hog"

Cliff Vaughs. Member of The Chosen Few MC. If you don't know who this bad motha was, he was the guy who designed the bikes ridden by Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper in the classic film 'Easyrider'. Him and another badass black dude named Ben Hardy built the iconic Captain America and Billy bikes for the movie. Hardy was a very skilled bike builder, and built 2 “Billy” bikes and 3 “Captain America” bikes. Being that it was 1969, they got no credit for building arguably the most famous choppers in history.

Ben Hardy built the Captain America and "Billy" bikes for the famous Easyriders movie with some design help from Cliff Vaughs.
The Chosen Few Mc.

The Chosen Few Motorcycle Club. An important piece of chopper / club culture. They were founded in 1959 in Los Angeles. “When you talk of the Outlaw Bikers you automatically think of ‘Them Crazy White Boys’ doing what a lot of folk wish they could do. Live Life Like You Want & Fuck You And Your Rules. Well Guess What? There was some crazy Black bikers who felt the same way, and didn’t give a Fuck. Thus was born the Black Outlaw Bikers!” The first white boy to come to the Chosen Few MC was “White Boy Art.” He came around 1960, followed by “White Boy Tom”. Soon they started to attract other white outlaw riders that wanted to join them. The Chosen Few became a multi-racial MC with chapters that were all black, all white, half white and half Mexican, half black and half white, all Mexican, half Mexican and half Indian, a few Asians & one Iranian dude. They were one of the first, if not the very first, multi-racial one-percenter club.

East Bay Dragons MC

The East Bay Dragons Motorcycle Club. The baddest of the bad, in my opinion of course (mainly because they are from Oakland and Bay Area chopper influence, blah blah)......... Originally started as a car club, they made the switch to an M.C. in 1959. Due to harassment from law enforcement, long time friend Sonny Barger suggested they switch to a motorcycle club because bikes were more discreet than cars, easier to maintain, and cheaper to work on. In 1959, and even well into the sixties, although there were two Harley Davidson dealerships in Oakland, no dealership in the Bay Area would sell bikes to black customers. All the original founding members had to buy used bikes in order to obtain ownership of one. The Black Panthers came to The Dragons for ideas and support during their creation. Due to the support both organizations had for each other, some of the Black Panthers eventually became members of the East Bay Dragons after the Black Panthers disbanded. Most of the black clubs around back then rode dressers and baggers, while The Dragons rode choppers. For all of you Sons Of Anarchy fans, The Grim Bastards were loosely based on the East Bay Dragons and their relationship with the Hells Angels that surpassed racial barriers during the 1960s and 1970s. To this day, they are still an all black, all male, all Harley-Davidson riding motorcycle club....son.

Bessie Stringfield on her 1940 Knucklhead.

This section is for the ladies because I'm a helluva romantic. Let's talk about the legendary Bessie Stringeld. In the 30's and 40's, Bessie started tossing a penny on a map of the USA and riding her motorcycle wherever said penny landed. She rode to all 48 states and traversed the country around 8 times I think. Hotels wouldn't rent rooms to black folks, let alone a little black woman riding a Harley probably covered in road grime, so she often slept on her motorcycle. Can you imagine how gnarly that must have been, especially in middle America? Bessie rode Milwaukee iron. She said of the 27 Harleys she owned in her lifetime, “To me, a Harley is the only motorcycle ever made.” She was such a skilled rider that she would also do stunt riding in carnival shows. During WW2, she worked as a civilian dispatch rider. Her job was mostly to carry documents between domestic U.S. Bases. Bessie was married and divorced 6 times. When she divorced her 3rd husband Arther Stringeld, he asked her to keep his last name because he knew that one day Bessie would make that name famous. She moved to Miami in the 1950's and eventually started the Ironhorse Motorcycle Club. Of course she felt the hardships of the racial situation at the time, but she also felt the hardships of being a woman at the time. Disguised as a man, Bessie won a at track race but was denied the prize money after she took off her helmet. As I mentioned before, she was a stunt rider. She would get attention from the press by riding around while standing on the seat of her bike. She was nicknamed the “Negro Motorcycle Queen” and later the “Motorcycle Queen of Miami.” Take a moment to take all of that in and think about how much of a badass Bessie was. Here is a photo of her on her (from what I can tell anyways) 1940 61 cubic inch Harley Davidson OHV. Also known as the Knucklehead.

Sugar Bear

"If It Ain't Long, It's Wrong"

Let’s talk about a man of choppers. If you are into chopped motorcycles and haven't heard his name, you probably need to start over. For those of you that are just along for the read, let's talk about Sugar Bear. In the world of choppers, having long springer front forks is almost a must a some point. There have been dozens of manufacturers of these types of forks and almost all of them are hoppy, sketchy, and just plain questionable. However, there are a few builders that come to my mind who made springers that are undoubtably superior to the rest: Dick Allen, Denver Mullins, Arlen Ness, and Sugar Bear. I have personally seen and/or owned all of these at one time, and the quality truly is mind blowing. Bear got into bikes at the tail end of the 60's, which led to him meeting, learning from, and befriending Ben Hardy (One of the masterminds behind the Easyrider bikes). Sugar Bear opened his own shop in 1971 in South Central Los Angeles and started building spring forks in lengths up to 18" over stock, using solid steel to construct them during a time when most springers were made out of tubing. He was a mathematician when it came to figuring out rake and trail, which resulted in a front fork that could be ridden with one hand with no bounce and zero hop. Something that was usually unheard of with a long springer. Now it was on. He had a few advertisements throughout the years in numerous magazines, but most of his work was done by word-of-mouth. Fame wasn't something that he was seeking. He just wanted to make a living doing the thing that he loved, building choppers. This is something that I envy very much. As time went on and the styles of choppers changed and evolved, Sugar Bear stayed true to his roots and kept building them his way. This led to more and more business over the years, and turned into a family affair. His son "Little Bear" now works side by side with him keeping the legacy going. This last paragraph is from Street Chopper Magazine because I think it's said perfectly: Sugar Bear and his choppers and infamous springer frontends have stood the test of time. Sugar Bear is a true chopper-culture icon. His influence through the evolution of the custom motorcycle industry has left a mark and long-lasting impression on riders and chopper enthusiasts alike for decades past and for many years to come. As an individual and devoted bike builder who has been there since the birth of choppers, it is with great pleasure to have Sugar Bear's contributions help shape chopper history and his legacy to continue and flourish.

This is a culture that I have a huge amount of passion and respect for. Despite the stigma that the biker culture has, the era and culture of choppers (for the most part) is very color blind. I am aware of this, as are my "brothers of color". There are so many more black clubs and people that can be talked about, but my article was strictly on those that I am personally educated enough on to be confident to share what I know with you. I try not to step over the boundaries when I talk about things as sacred as motorcycle clubs and culture. Here are some time period photos that I feel work perfectly as an ending to this word explosion. FTW.

Words by: Nick Resty, Haints CLCD

16 thoughts on “Black Biker History - Choppers And Motorcycle Clubs”

  • Thank you for this history. I’ve read about some of these iconic riders. It was great learning about the CFMC. Integration is a huge positive in MC history.
    Thank you.

  • Super article! Ive never heard of the guys mentioned. Big ups for the story and hats of to the guys who made the iconic bikes for Easy Rider! Big shame they never got the creds for their work.

  • Facts .my uncle was in the chosen few from earlier start from cars to bikes. I recently finished his raked out 1970 sporty stroker.i think it needs to be featured in your magazine it would be good for the culture
    Thanks again!

  • terrance keene July 5, 2019 at 8:54 am

    Thanks for the history lesson. I always love learning more about the craft and of the men and women that blazed a trail for us to follow!

  • What a awesome nickname Sugar Bear.
    Thanks for the history my friends

  • Scooter Kenny July 5, 2019 at 11:16 am

    I love you guys for bringing SOME of this history forward, and I feel that I can add just a little bit to the conversation... The Capt. America bike (according to P. Fonda) was one bastard of a bike to ride. There is a video (Utube) where he briefly goes over this.
    No disrespect to the designer but the bike was built for "WOW factor", and that bike still wow-s to this day.
    There is also (easily found) a video of Paul Tuttle Sr. riding one of Sugar Bear's springers, and his reaction. The bike was "Flawless" (according to Paul Sr.). Imagine a fella that builds tough to ride bikes praising a fella that "Nailed it" some 50 years prior!
    Now Bessie... I hope that she has a continuing blood line, because THAT woman is the heart, and soul of what riders are. Without her persona,.. what are we?
    I thank all of you for keeping this REAL!!!

  • Nathaniel Griffin July 5, 2019 at 1:36 pm

    I was stoked when I opened my email and saw you guys took the time out to represent black bikers.When I was a kid my neighbor was this “big burly white dude “who would rip around on his loud blue chopper,I thought he was coolest. I knew one day I would own a Harley even thou I never saw a black guy on a motorcycle in my town, fast forward 30 years when I’m at stop light on my bike some people look twice not sure what to think haha! But it’s all love the riders I pass of all walks of life just enjoying the sunshine and our machine’s. Anyway that’s my story. I love your products slowly customizing my 98 sportster with lowbrow parts

  • Well Written & Educational = Thanks ... COOP

  • This is really interesting. I am one of the editors at the International Journal of Motorcycle Studies. We have an annual conference every summer; this year’s is already set but we’d love to see a presentation like this next year. Or perhaps an article for our journal. Nice work on an overlooked piece of history.

  • Having grown up in the York,G-Burg;Harrisburg Pa. area.I wonder how many members of the local chapter of the Chosen Few know of this history ? Thanks !

  • Thanks for the history lesson I grew up in Oakland Ca. during the '60s and 70's. I remember that the East Bay Dragons were quite active during this period. The Hells Angels clubhouse was just down the road from my neighborhood so they were seen around town also. Growing up in a multi racial, multi cultural city I was quite aware that all kinds of people were into all kinds of things.

  • And what a culture it was and still is.
    Good reading and photos Resty.

  • Great article! the world has so many contributors but too much tape to find the truth...

  • Michael Johnston July 7, 2019 at 5:01 am

    I dig the history . Thank You .

  • William Bruce July 7, 2019 at 8:10 pm

    Thank you for the black biker history. I would like to know more about black biker history.
    If you could.
    Thank you.

  • There's a few inaccuracies here, notably regarding the Easy Rider bikes. Ben Hardy built the two 'hero' bikes for the movie. The 'Billy Bike" especially was a perfect example of the style he was building at the time, there's plenty of evidence of that in Sugar Bear's photo archives. Cliff Vaughs worked for the movie company and it's probable that he and Larry Marcus copied the two bikes built by Benny Hardy. Fonda mentions in his autobiography that the secondary bikes were definitely inferior to the two 'Hero' bikes.
    Also, in the Sugar Bear piece, his son hasn't worked there for at least ten years, he's a one man operation concentrating his time on producing those amazing front ends and being generally the nicest guy in the industry,

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