Hell's Trademark Attorneys

Mess With These Bikers And They’ll Sue

By Buck Wolf

Sept. 21, 2000 — You know the world has changed when the foremost member of the Hell’s Angels barnstorms across the country with a cell phone on his Harley.

In the 1960s, if a nonmember presumed to ride his motorcycle with the Angels’ notorious winged skull insignia, he could look forward a good beating and a lifetime of eating corn on the cob with no teeth.

These days, the Angels’ logo is trademarked, and if you cross them, their hotshot intellectual property lawyer will dash off a vicious cease-and-desist letter to exact a different sort of pain.

Yes, the famed outlaw bikers now have lawyers. But if you think that’s ironic, Ralph “Sonny” Barger will tell you that the Hell’s Angels aren’t a motorcycle gang. “It’s a club. It’s always been a club,” he says. “The cops and the press might tell you something else.”

And this club is very protective of its image.

“In the 1960s, if you ripped us off like that, we’d bust your head,” Barger says. “But these days, we need lawyers.

“We can’t reach the corporate types who make phony Hell’s Angels patches and paraphernalia. You could go to a building, beat up a security guard, but what’s the point? You never get to the suits who rip us off.”

Quiet Life in Arizona

Wisdom comes with age, even as the tattoos along Barger’s beefy arms fade. Barger now croaks his replies, having lost a larynx to cancer. Like a typical retiree, he moved to sunny Arizona, having left Oakland — the California city where he helped found the Angels 42 years ago.

One can only imagine Barger lining up for the earlybird special with other silver-haired Phoenix transplants. Barger served nearly 13 years in prison and has been charged with gun possession, income tax evasion, kidnapping, drug possession and conspiracy.

But Barger still works — operating a local bike shop.

And yes, Barger has a story to tell. More precisely, a book and movie to sell: Hell’s Angel: The Life and Times of Sonny Barger and the Hell’s Angels Motorcycle Club (William Morrow). A film is also in the works, with Barger and the Angels splitting the booty 50-50.