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But the once infamous and fear-inducing annual national bikie run is now all but dead with the Bandidos the latest outlaw motor cycle gang to be run out of town by dedicated NSW cops.
And when at one time hundreds of bad boy bikies had virtual free rein across thousands of kilometres of Australian roads, they are now confined to a remote 45km stretch of bitumen on the north coast of Tasmania.
Tough 2012 anti-consorting laws designed to target the gangs ban people from associating with two or more convicted criminals, and the aggressive tactics of NSW Police’s anti-bikie Strike Force Raptor have resulted in the outlaws having to travel more than 1300km to saddle up for their once vaunted rite of passage in Tassie.
Gang members did not wear their colours as they rode through NSW because of the stringent consorting laws, which have led bikie numbers to drop in the state. They are banned from wearing them in Kings Cross and most licensed premises.
Bikies are able to congregate openly in Tasmania due to a lack of the consorting laws used in NSW and Queensland. However, even on the Apple Isle Raptor officers were waiting for them, to ensure the formerly fearsome roadhogs were riding in accordance to the rules of the road.
NSW Gangs Squad boss Detective Superintendent Deb Wallace said wherever NSW bikies go her Raptor officers will follow.
“We will travel anywhere to keep an eye on them and let them know we are around,’’ Supt Wallace said.
The Bandidos, the second biggest club in the country held its national run with 300 members riding from the small Tasmanian town of Devonport to nearby Burnie on Friday. Weeks before the Rebels, Australia’s biggest club, was also forced to head south for its national run.
On both occasions Raptor officers — complete with their own marked highway patrol car — dogged the gangs, working closely with their Tasmanian counterparts to monitor the gangs and share intelligence.
NSW Police, along with Victorian officers, made sure the Bandidos trip south would not run smoothly, starting a four-day operation by targeting what the bikies hold dearest — their motorcycles.
During a series of random breath tests at Albury on Wednesday police stopped 28 motorcycles and three cars, issuing 35 traffic tickets, ruling 14 motorcycles defective, including 10 which were towed. They also issued dozens of consorting warnings.
Several raids on homes, hotel rooms and a brothel were also carried out.
During a search at Corowa officers found a Taser, homemade mace, 37 cannabis plants and cannabis. Two vehicles were also towed for not being roadworthy. No charges have been laid.
On Friday when the bikies finally made it to their destination, a tiny Devonport clubhouse, police were again lying in wait. The small building in a quiet residential street in East Devonport is home to the local Bandidos chapter, which is believed to number just two members.
And when the Harley-riding bikers arrived Tasmanian Police and several Raptor officers were waiting for them at the top of the street.
The Bandidos have been trying to establish a foothold in Tasmania. Initially bottom dwellers in the Bandidos hierarchy, Devonport’s Mersey River chapter was upgraded from “hang around” status to a prospect chapter midway through this year.
Prospect chapters are also being established in Launceston and Hobart, though clubhouses are yet to be opened.
The only time the beaten down bikies were able to experience any degree of freedom was on the overnight ferry from Melbourne, where 30 of them donned their colours and roamed the decks of the Spirit of Tasmania whining about losing their motorcycles in Albury.
The diminished bikie run kicked off at 10.30am on Friday, lasting only 45 minutes to Burnie where the bikies then hit the local pubs and cafes.
The gang, started 50 years ago in Texas by a dock worker and named after Mexican bandits, then turned into a tourist sideshow, posing in a large group on the beach. “Wouldn’t Raptor like this photo,” one of them yelled out as they grimaced for the camera.
When the bikies started the return leg at 1pm police brought them to a halt just 10 minutes in, again painstakingly checking their chariots for any signs of defects. Several were breath tested. No problems were detected.
While no arrests were made in Tasmania, Supt Wallace said the operation was part of a national strategy to tackle bikies.
“There is a lot of co-operation between us and other police and we find joint operations like this helpful especially intelligence gathering,” Supt Wallace said.
“Over the past decade, the NSW Police Force has dedicated significant resources to targeting and disrupting the activities and ‘businesses’ of outlaw motorcycle gangs, with great success.
“The success of last week’s operation is a testament to the planning of Tasmania Police and the solid working relationships and information sharing between jurisdictions.”
HIGHWAY HOONS A MENACE NO MORE
ONCE bikies rode in packs up and down the NSW coast and all over Sydney, oblivious to the road rules as many rode without helmets or fear of the consequences.
Most weekends it was not uncommon to see 30 of them, all wearing colours, in your rear-view mirror as they brazenly zigzagged between traffic up and down the highway.
And occasionally you would see hundreds of bikies riding along in formation when a club got its members together for a national run.
There is no denying it’s a spectacular sight to see 500 Harley-Davidsons tearing up the road with riders decked out in their full colours, jackets emblazoned with skulls and daggers.
The roar of the machines, the sheer numbers and air of menace they exude may seem exhilarating or even romantic to some, but it is also intimidating to others.
Thankfully it’s now a rarity to see large groups of bikies riding together and anything that discourages their intimidating public displays can only be a good thing.
Strike Force CRaptor is an elite militarised unit of the NSW Police