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NBC Insider The Bikeriders

Is The Bikeriders Based on a True Story? Outlaws MC and 1960s Biker Culture Explained

Written and directed by Jeff Nichols, the film zooms into theaters everywhere on June 21.

By Josh Weiss

Do you hear that? The cacophony of a dozen motorcycles roaring down the highway gets louder and louder as we ride ever closer to the June 21 debut of Focus Features' The Bikeriders.

Written and directed by Jeff Nichols (Midnight Special), the film centers around the eclectic members of a Chicago motorcycle club between the 1960s and '70s. Much of the story is related through interviews given by Jodie Comer's Kathy, the put-upon wife of one of the club's leading members, played by Austin Butler. While not 100% true to reality, the period drama — which also stars Tom Hardy, Michael Shannon, Boyd Holbrook, and Norman Reedus — does draw inspiration from actual people and events.

Is The Bikeriders Based on a True Story?

Yes, The Bikeriders is based on a true story, namely photojournalist Danny Lyon's 1968 non-fiction book of the same name.

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"I found Danny Lyon’s book 20 years ago, and it has been an obsession in my life ever since," Nichols explains in the official production notes provided by Focus Features, saying it was "quite simply, the coolest book I’d ever come across. My hope was to make a film that captured this feeling, and more importantly, transferred it to a larger filmgoing audience. That is my wish for The Bikeriders."

Are The Vandals a Real Motorcycle Gang?

The Bikeriders Book

No, but they are based on the real-world motorcycle club known as the Chicago Outlaws. Lyon — who is portrayed in the film by Challengers star Mike Faist — spent four years as a legitimate member, interviewing colleagues and snapping photographs. Originally founded out of an Illinois bar in 1935, The Outlaws MC still exists to this day with chapters all over the world.

"What Jeff did was to structure a fictional film script around the recorded monologues that are the recorded stories of the book," Lyon said last year while in conversation with A Rabbit's Foot. "These are great, heartfelt narratives that often tell more about the character of the speakers than they do of the world they are describing."

1960s Motorcycle Culture Explained

Austin Butler as Benny in The Bikeriders

Spurred on by Marlon Brando's Johnny Strabler and James Dean's Jim Stark, those patron saints of bad boy/greaser coolness in The Wild One and Rebel Without a Cause, motorcycle culture absolutely exploded amidst the counterculture shift of the 1960s.

Raging against the uptight conservatism of the previous decade became all the rage and nothing screamed "Rebel!" more than shrugging on a leather jacket emblazoned with all manner of patches, tucking a fresh pack of cigarettes into your shirtsleeve, and hitting the open road without a care in the world on a tricked-out Triumph Thunderbird 6T. These cooler-than-cool riders were so prevalent, in fact, that they became the focus of the 1964 girl group hit, "Leader of the Pack." Performed by the Shangri-Las and famously featured in Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas, the song is told from the perspective of a girl dating a motorcycle-riding bad boy.

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Tyler Malinky of the Lowbrow Customs blog attributes this notable mid-century upswing in motorcycle popularity to the vehicle's widespread military use throughout World War II. Moreover, the plethora of riding clubs that began to crop up in the post-conflict years were often formed by soldiers struggling to find a place for themselves in the non-structured routine of peacetime.

"In many cases, they craved both the excitement and sense of camaraderie that they had known during their service," adds Malinky. "By associating with other veterans, these new bikers could gain the social support of a group who understood each other in a way that few others could."

Who Stars in The Bikeriders?

Austin Butler as Benny and Jodie Comer as Kathy The Bikeriders

The Bikeriders features an all-star cast comprised of Austin Butler (Elvis), Jodie Comer (Killing Eve), Tom Hardy (Venom), Michael Shannon (Boardwalk Empire), Boyd Holbrook (Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny), Mike Faist (Challengers), and Norman Reedus (The Walking Dead).

What Is The Bikeriders Rated?

The Bikeriders is rated R for "language throughout, violence, some drug use and brief sexuality."

When Does The Bikeriders Open in Theaters?

The Bikeriders will zoom into theaters everywhere on Friday, June 21.

The film is produced by Sarah Green, Brian Kavanaugh-Jones, and Arnon Milchan. Yariv Milchan, Michael Schaefer, Sam Hanson, David Kern, and Fred Berger serve as executive producers.