Northern Ireland's subculture of "outlaw bikers" has prevented many youngsters from joining sectarian and paramilitary groups, an Ulster University academic has found.
Harley-riding Paul Moore, a lecturer in media studies, spent two years going on club runs with the Northern Ireland bikers, and travelled to San Francisco to meet Sonny Barger, founder of the Hell's Angels Motorcycle Club in the 1960s.
He is speaking on his research today at an international conference on European ethnology at UU, sponsored by the Economic and Social Research Council and organised by the Academy of Irish Cultural Heritages.
Dr Moore found that the Northern Ireland bikers played up to their public image as feared rebels, and were well aware of the literature and iconography of the biker movement. But their image was a protection from the wider Northern Ireland society. They were strictly non-political and non-sectarian, and Dr Moore said membership of this supposedly lawless group in fact ensured that young men did not become involved in paramilitary lawlessness.
Dr Moore said the Northern Ireland bikers' focus was on family and brotherhood. Despite the bikers' outlaw status, sex roles in the subculture were rigid and highly traditional, with the women preparing meals and looking after the children while the men rode off on their "hogs".
"Ironically, it was this very solid infrastructure constructed by their partners which allowed them this freedom," he said.
The bikers had no social life outside the group, and contributed weekly to finances that could be called on by members in difficulties. "It was almost like a 19th-century cooperative or friendly society," Dr Moore said.
He said the bikers "partied like anybody else" and were not involved in hard drugs, but on occasion there were problems when they were challenged in bars.
"I never saw these guys starting violence, but I saw them finish it once or twice," he said.