Ninety-nine per cent of people riding motorcycles and the clubs they belong to are law-abiding, according to an oft-cited quote by the American Motorcyclist Association. It's only one per cent that are hard-partying, non-mainstream people, the organization said in the 1960s.

The description gave birth to the moniker "one percenter," with some bikers donning patches proclaiming their "1%" status.

But according to the Outlaws Motorcycle Club, law-enforcement officials changed the meaning of "one percenter" in the 1980s so that the term referred to members of criminal gangs. It no longer referred only to those who refused to live by the rules of society.

The Outlaws, however, still proudly wear their one percenter patches and say they are a law-abiding organization whose members share a commitment to biking and brotherhood. The U.S., however, has classified them as a criminal group.

 Hells Angels

As of April 2009, it was estimated that the Hells Angels had 34 chapters across Canada and about 460 full-fledged members. 

Here's a breakdown of the Hells Angels chapters by province:

 Ontario 15
 British Columbia  8
 Quebec  5
 Alberta  3
 Saskatchewan  2
 Manitoba  1
 (Source: Criminal Intelligence Service Canada )

Characteristics of a biker gang

Despite the large law-abiding portion of the biker community, outlaw gangs do exist across the country.

According to police, biker gangs share several characteristics:

  • They show off their colours in public.
  • Biker gangs use force and violence to survive and grow. Intimidation, arms and explosives are their weapons of choice.
  • The organizations have a hierarchical structure. Committing crimes is left to new recruits while those higher up reap the rewards.
  • The hierarchical structure allows the leaders to operate with impunity while flaunting their image of power to attract recruits and draw them into crime.
  • It is difficult for law-enforcement agencies to infiltrate these organizations because becoming a member involves committing crimes. North American clubs also tend to require their members to own American-made bikes, often Harley-Davidsons.

The largest outlaw motorcycle gang in Canada is the infamous Hells Angels, though the organization denies it's anything more than a motorcycle club.

Founded in 1948 in California, the Hells Angels has grown over the decades to more than 2,000 members across the U.S. and 26 other countries, the U.S. National Gang Intelligence Center says.

In Canada, the Angels are believed to have 460 full-fledged members and 34 chapters, according to 2009 estimates by the Criminal Intelligence Service Canada.

Turf war

The largest and most-feared chapter of the Hells Angels was formed in Montreal. It opened in Quebec in 1977 when a biker gang called the Popeyes joined the Angels.

After the Rock Machine emerged in 1986 and quickly became the biggest rival of the Hells Angels, a turf war between the two erupted in the late 1990s. Over the years it claimed more than 150 lives, including two prison guards and 11-year-old Daniel Desrochers, who died when a car bomb exploded outside a biker hangout.

His death and the outrage that followed prompted Bill C-95, legislation passed in 1997 that stiffened penalties for convicted offenders who are shown to be members of established criminal organizations.

In early 2009, Gérald Gallant, who confessed to contract killing during the bloody biker wars, helped police arrest 11 people who allegedly ordered or carried out killings during the course of the turf battle. He also pleaded guilty to slaying 27 people over three decades, making him one of Canada's most prolific killers.

Here's a brief look at the major biker organizations that have operated in Canada.

Hells Angels

Criminal Intelligence Service Canada describes the Hells Angels as the largest "outlaw motorcycle gang" in the country, with active chapters concentrated mostly in Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia.

In its 2004 report, CISC said the Angels derives "significant financial income" from criminal activities such as prostitution, fraud and extortion but primarily relied on drug trafficking for income.

The gang moved into Ontario in 2000. Before that, its only presence in the province was with a chapter of the Nomads, the club's elite branch. The Nomads doesn't tie itself to geographical locations and doesn't have formal clubhouses, like other chapters.

Within a year, the Angels had absorbed members of the Para Dice Riders, Satan's Choice and Last Chance, giving them at least 100 members in the Toronto area — the highest concentration of Hells Angels in the world.

In mid-April 2009, police targeted more than 150 people linked with the Hells Angels in early-morning raids mostly in Quebec, but also in New Brunswick, France and the Dominican Republic. They also seized four suspected Hells Angels bunkers.

Bandidos

It's considered world's second-most powerful criminal biker gang, with more than 2,000 members in 14 countries, according to NGIC's 2009 report, which describes the Bandidos as a "growing criminal threat."

The Bandidos was founded in the 1960s in Texas. The club's old guard was said to be against its absorption of the Rock Machine's Ontario branches for fear of igniting the same kind of war with the Hells Angels that gripped Quebec for much of the 1990s and left at least 150 people dead.

In April 2006, eight people — all Bandidos members or associates — were found dead in a farmer's field near the small town of Shedden, Ont., about 30 kilometres southwest of London. Police said the killings virtually wiped out the Toronto chapter of the Bandidos.

Outlaws

First established in the United States in 1935, the gang came to Canada in 1978 when several chapters of Satan's Choice in Montreal changed allegiance and set up shop as the Outlaws Motorcycle Club of Canada. The group is known to detest members of the Hells Angels.

Rock Machine

Second only to Hells Angels in Quebec. A long-running turf war with the Angels left more than 150 people dead as the two fought over the lucrative trade in illegal drugs. The war also led to the passage of anti-gang legislation by the federal government.

As the Hells Angels expanded into Ontario, so did the Rock Machine. The organization established three chapters. In 2001, it aligned itself with the Bandidos.

Satan's Choice

Once one of Ontario's strongest motorcycle gangs, Satan's Choice became part of the Hells Angels' 2000-2001 expansion into Ontario. Satan's Choice had branches in Keswick, Kitchener, Oshawa, Sudbury, Simcoe County, Thunder Bay and Toronto — but nothing outside the province.

Para Dice Riders

Another group that was once among Ontario's strongest biker gangs. Its membership was limited to the Toronto area. The group was absorbed by the Hells Angels in 2001, when the Angels moved into Ontario.

Last Chance

Another small Ontario-based biker gang that agreed to switch over to the Hells Angels when the world's most power biker gang moved into the province.

Lobos

Originally concentrated in the Windsor, Ont., area, the Lobos motorcycle gang decided to take up the Hells Angels on its offer of merger in 2001.

Loners

The Loners Motorcycle Club was founded in Ontario in 1979 with a handful of chapters, including a now-defunct one in southwestern Ontario that was headed by Wayne Kellestine. As part of its Ontario expansion drive, the Hells Angels tried to persuade the St. Thomas Loners chapter to join the Angels. Kellestine — who was injured in an assassination attempt in 1999 — resisted.

The club has expanded to the United States and Europe, but in Ontario, its highest profile in recent years was a legal fight by a Toronto chapter to keep its mascot on its property north of the city, in 2001. The neutered, declawed lion named Woody was moved to an animal sanctuary.

Vagabonds

Another Ontario-based motorcycle gang that was more or less absorbed by the Hells Angels when it expanded into Ontario in 2000-2001.

The Red Devils

Said to be the oldest motorcycle gang in Canada, the group is made up of a couple of dozen members concentrated in the Hamilton, Ont., area.