Is ‘The Bikeriders’ Based on a True Story?

Following the trend kicked off this year by films like “The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare” and “Hit Man,” Jeff Nichols’ new film “The Bikeriders” is indeed based on real events. But, as with any “true” story on screen, it takes its liberties.

Now in theaters, the film follows the Vandals, a riding club out of Chicago, founded by a man named Johnny (Tom Hardy) in the 1960s. Over the course of roughly a decade, the club grows enormously, and eventually morphs into a proper gang, whether Johnny likes it or not.

So, what’s real and what’s not in this particular film?

The Real Vandals

The Vandals weren’t a real group of riders, but the characters in the film were based on real people. “The Bikeriders” was inspired by a book of photos by the same name, created by Danny Lyon.

He’s played in the film by “Challengers” star Mike Faist, but he is a real photographer — currently 82 years old — who followed a real club known as Outlaws MC. And yes, the Outlaws were formed in Illinois; specifically, McCook. In fact, most of the snapshots seen in the film are re-creations of Lyon’s actual photos.

Lyon never actually captured a photo of Benny’s face, so it’s unclear whether or not Austin Butler bears any real resemblance. But, like in the film, Lyon did have extended conversations with Kathy (Jodie Comer), and those were recorded. Comer based her accent in the film on that audio, which was roughly 30 minutes long.

The movie also used recordings from Lyon of conversations with other members, including Cal, Zipco, and Cockroach, and those are re-created in the film too.

The Real Story

Meanwhile, the story itself is mostly fictionalized. Since Lyon’s book was a photo book, it didn’t extensively detail the lives of these bikers through writing. Director Jeff Nichols was left to imagine the story on his own.

That said, thanks to the audio of Kathy and other records, some of it is semi-accurate. The Outlaws did expand pretty rapidly and eventually had chapters in Milwaukee, and even in Lousiville, Kentucky. Now, it’s international, and according to The Chicago Reader, the real biker gang had somewhere in the realm of 1,400 members in 2014.

And, just like in the film, the real Outlaws did eventually turn into a proper gang, and as of November of last year, was classified as a criminal organization by the U.S. Department of Justice.

“The Bikeriders” is now in theaters.

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