Jane magazine, October 2000
Hundreds of bikes jam the freeway outside of Oakland. Riding two-up in a lane, they swarm around cars, speed and try to out-macho each other. It's the ninth annual Hell's Angels poker run -- a daylong ride with bar breaks on the hour. The scent of testosterone is intoxicating, or maybe that's just the exhaust. Most of the women here are in the sissy seat, riding on the backs of their boyfriends' Harleys and holding on for dear life.Then there are the Devil Dolls -- a group of girl bikers who are through with riding bitch. Their motto: "We'll be seeing you on the road ... in our rearview mirrors!" Goth Girl is the group's blond cofounder who wears cat-eye contact lenses and is so pale she claims to glow in the dark. T. Rexxx is a honey blond with a six-pack stomach who carries two knives while Angel is a former convict who likes to ride at 100 mph (or faster). There's also Calamity, the redheaded cofounder who's broken every bike she's been on, and SheWolf, a potential new member like me, whose helmet reads: I don't condone lewd behavior, I encourage it. They cruise side by side in the middle of the pack, holding their speed steady and ignoring the yahoos who try to cut them off.
Based in San Francisco, their group is one of the few female outlaw motorcycle clubs in the country and the only one approved by the Hell's Angeles. They represent a breakthrough in a part of motorcycle culture where feminism has been slow to take root. Not everyone has been happy to see more women bikers on the road, and today there are more than ever -- one in 10 motorcyclists is female, up from a lousy 1 percent in 1960.
I'm riding with the Dolls as a groupie, hoping to be invited to join. As someone who has been riding for almost nine years, I'd also like to see how these women navigate such a notoriously macho scene. Since the girls have told me that the event is about what they call "big American iron," I've ditched my Ducati and rented a cream-colored Harley Fatboy to fit in. It looks and rides like a motorized marshmallow and has nothing on the flamed-out paint jobs of the other girls' rides. Goth's bike is blood red, with the words Devil Dolls scrawled on the tank. Angel's is cobalt blue. Hers pictures a goddess with swirls and stars coming out of her hands. I feel like a mod who took a wrong turn and ended up with the rockers.
And that's not a bogus analogy. As outlaw bikers, the Devil Dolls are non-conformists who live by their own code of honor. They're loosely patterned afer the Angels, and if members were to have a bone to pick with someone, they probably wouldn't be phoning the cops. "I'll just call my friends, and I know they'll get something done," says Goth Girl. "The bottom line is, we would kill for our motorcycles," she says. I can't tell if she's joking.
"I don't have to worry about walking home."
I'm not part of their club, so I'm stuck cruising at the back of the poker run. Bystanders either hail us or eye us suspiciously as we run red lights and wreak traffic havoc throughout the East Bay. I'm behind Trisha, another wannabe Devil Doll, who rides with a cigarette clenched between her teeth. "I got a lighter that will light in any kind of wind" she tells me when we stop at the first bar. "I've been on the back at 120 and been able to light up," Thinking it might just be buying her some cred, I flirt with the idea of buying a pack. But since I've hardly ever even taken a puff, I forget it -- for me to suddenly take up the habit would be like Sandra Dee shooting junk.
Inside the bar, it looks like a cattle ranch was cleared to gear up the regulars. The look is leather. the dress code is black. It's only 11 a.m., but a bunch of bikers are drinking. ZZ Top's "Sharp Dressed Man" is on the jukebox. The men here are anything but -- in fact, most of them are dead ringers for the band. Shaggy facial hair is de rigueur, just as swinging, saggy cleavage is the order of the day for most of the women, few of whom look like they shop at Victoria's Secret. The Devil Dolls are an exception.
Trisha has a rose tattoo on her left breast and serious blond helmet hair. Her face is already wind-worn from years of riding as a passenger. She bought her first bike in February and has been logging 1,000 miles a month ever since. "I like being able to leave whenever the hell I wanna leave. I don't have to worry about walking home," she says. "I don't have to be nice to somebody if they piss me off because I know that's my ride out of here."
I ask some of the guys from one of the motorcycle clubs there whether women should have their own bikes. "Gets her off the back of mine," one says. Another says, "If she can keep up with me, she can ride with me." When I ask him if he'd ever ride bitch, he looks at me like I'd asked him if he took it up the butt. "There are a couple guys who can't ride behind girls. They just cut you off," Goth Girl says. "I feel safer riding with just girls."
"Password?" Goth Girl asks when someone knocks at "church" -- the downtown loft that doubles as Devil Doll headquarters. "Schlong," T. Rexxx answers. Goth Girl opens the door. Inside, the room is filled with black candles. It's Goth's pad, after all. A giant cutout of the group's logo hangs next to a sign that reads Harley Parking Only -- Violators Will be Terminated. A police mug shot of her boyfriend, Cisco -- a founding member of the Angels -- hangs on the opposite wall, next to a photo of Judge Judy, whom Goth Girl adores.
The girls gear up for their weekly ride. T. Rexxx, whose manicured nails match her red vinyl pants, puts on a Girl Thug sweatshirt. SheWolf throws on some chaps. Calamity adjusts her skull choker chain. Goth Girl freshens her sunscreen and pancake makeup. Her face will soon be covered with soot and her lipstick will be half dirt, so she powders down when she gets where she's going. They all braid their hair, hoping to avoid any tangly beaver-tail action. Then they pull on their matching black vests with Devil Dolls patches on the back.
We head out to the bikes and fire them up. Their collective roar is deafening. Goth Girl is in the lead. How she handles her bike with its ridiculously high handlebars is anyone's guess. That's why the ape hangers, as they're called, are illegal in California. She's been pulled over for them but says she's sweet-talked her way out of the tickets by showing the cops photos of herself and some of the other girls scantily clad. "I guess you could say that the pictures did help," she says.
Calamity hasn't been so lucky. She's been stopped for other reasons -- like the time she had a light out -- but cops aren't fond of those stickers all over her bike reading Support Your Local Hell's Angels. When one cop asked about her involvement with the group, she said, "It's purely sexual, sir." Like Goth Girl, she's dating one of the guys in the Red and White. That's a euphemism for the Hell's Angels that refers to the colors of their patch. She met him when she knocked over his bike.
"You can spank the prospect."
Two weeks later, I'm back in San Francisco for another run with the gals. It's a couple days before Hollister, one of numerous annual Harley-oriented events. The Devil Dolls have a booth to hawk tees and tanks that read Worship Your Local Devil Dolls. We're selling them so that if the girls want to take a week off from work and go for a ride, they won't have to worry about giving up their day jobs, because they'll have some money to fall back on.
Our booth is within spitting distance of a kettle-corn stand, but I still manage to smell a cigar. It's Angel. Her hair is blowing in the wind as she stands smoking and holding a whip. She's offering free spankings. "Or you can spank the prospect," Goth Girl suggests, pointing to me. These days, she calls me Harriet the Spy, cuz I'm always scribbling in my notebook. I take the nickname as a sign of acceptance.
As the new girl on the block, I'm stuck with working the merch. I'm shocked at how well their stuff sells. Then again, the Dolls are a novelty; most all-girl riding clubs are what they call "knitting clubs," meaning the members are mainly in their 50s. The Dolls are capitalizing on their youth and foxiness with their own calendar.
Photos from the 2001 shoot are on display at the booth; Satan, a potential member, is straddling her bike while holding a mock machine gun; Angel posed in a catsuit with a police officer handcuffed and on his knees in front of her. "We have spiced up many a bleak cell wall," Goth Girl says of their brisk sales to prisoners. Part of the proceeds go to the Hell's Angels Legal Defense Fund.
"If you can read this ... the bitch fell off."
A guy rides by wearing a T-shirt with this slogan across the back. "I hate that fucking shirt," Calamity says. It's late in the afternoon, and the gang's all at the booth staring out at the street. "There are lots of Calamity bikes here," she says, telling me that means bikes she'd like to steal. She's joking, although she does know how to hot-wire.
A sexy blond stops by to buy a tank. She's from Santa Cruz and wants to know if there's a chapter she could join, but there isn't. At least not yet. While the Dolls would like to expand, they're finicky about who they let into the group. "We know and trust each other. We're not gonna try to screw the other person's old man or lie or backstab. That's not what time it is," Angel says.
If I weren't a full-time journalist, I'd seriously consider joining the Dolls. Their support for one another impresses me. As for their affiliation with the Hell's Angels, I think it's a good thing. Since the HA are the group all others aspire to, their approval of the Dolls carries clout. That endorsement also blows smoke in the faces of the guys who can't handle a woman at the controls. Recognizing they're in the minority, both within the motorcycling community and on the road, the Dolls have decided "there's power in us chicks riding together," says Goth Girl. I say: Ride on.