There are many symbols in biker culture that represent specific things, and often only those within the community know the meaning. While some of these symbols are specific to certain motorcycle clubs, many of them are used universally as part of the larger culture.
The Number 13 (Diamond 13)
The number 13 commonly stands for "marijuana", chosen from the 13th letter in the alphabet, "M". It can also stand for "methamphetamine" or any sort of drug use in general.
Other common meanings include:
- "Mother" (the original chapter of an MC)
- "Only 12 jurors and 1 judge can judge me"
The true meaning of the number 13 varies between clubs, though drug use or outlaw club status is heavily implied. It is often enclosed in a diamond shape and worn as a "Diamond 13" patch or as a biker ring.
Related Reading: 5 Reasons Bikers Wear Rings
The 1%er or "one-percenter" symbol indicates that the wearer is part of an outlaw motorcycle club. This symbol originated in 1947, when the American Motorcycle Association (AMA) made a statement that "99% of motorcyclists are law-abiding citizens", implying that the remaining 1% of them were outlaws or criminals.
Outlaw motorcycle clubs are known to engage in illegal activities such as drug dealing, money laundering, firearms trafficking, and extortion. They often have a violent rivalry with other outlaw motorcycle clubs, as well as with law enforcement.
The 1%er symbol is worn by members of outlaw motorcycle clubs as a way to identify themselves and show their rebel status. It is often seen on their clothing, motorcycles, and other personal belongings.
Iron Cross (Biker Cross)
Many people are quick to assume that the biker/iron cross is a hate symbol due to its use by German Nazis during WWII. The iron cross is actually a type of cross called a cross pattée and predates Nazi use by around 700 years. Variations of this symbol have been used by groups like the Knight's Templar, the Kingdom of Prussia, and Germany in the late 1800s-early 1900s, predating Nazi Germany.
However, the iron cross has never been able to break its association with Nazi Germany despite being used for such a short period. Additionally, the specific version the Nazis used included a swastika which is not included in any of the other variations of the cross.
Nonetheless, the iron cross still holds a shock value and is a sign of rebellion. As such, bikers in the 1960s began using the iron cross symbol to purposely get a reaction out of people and establish themselves as part of the counter-culture. It has remained a strong symbol in biker culture to this day and is often paired with mottos or symbols like skulls.
FTW means "Fuck the World" and has origins stemming back to soldiers in the Vietnam War.
After returning home from the war, Vietnam veterans were treated poorly due to the increasing unpopularity of the war with the American public. Unlike veterans returning from WWII, Vietnam veterans did not receive much in the way of support or gratitude and were met with indifference or hostility.
The term FTW was created as an acronym for how Vietnam veterans felt about the world (the American public) that had seemingly turned its back on them. Their world outside of the war was the United States, and if the world wasn't going to have gratitude for them risking their lives, then fuck them (the world).
They felt that the only people they could rely on were their fellow veterans who had gone through the same experiences, and many Vietnam veterans joined motorcycle groups which gave them a sense of brotherhood again.
The term FTW has since been adopted by the biker community as a whole to show their disdain for mainstream society, the "world" outside of biker culture.
Biker Cuts (Vests)
Bikers vests or "cuts" are worn to show affiliation with a motorcycle club. They were originally made by cutting the sleeves off of denim jackets (aka the "cuts" name) but eventually transitioned mostly to leather.
Patches are worn on the vests to indicate things like the club name, logo, country or city, rank, and much more. Large patches with the club logo, name, and location are the most identifying feature of biker cuts and are sewn into the back of the vests. This is known as the emblem of the club or "the colors".
Safety Pin (Pass Pin)
A safety pin or "pass pin" is sometimes worn on the vests of MC clubs riding through another club's territory. It shows that they are not there to start anything and are just passing through. It is considered a sign of respect.