From the neon-lit streets of Tokyo, where the Bōsōzoku (暴走族)tear through the night with their vibrant displays of rebellion, to the North-South Expressway flanked by palm tree plantations, where the Mat Rempit weave through traffic with audacious skill, motorcycle subcultures have left an indelible mark across the globe. In Great Britain, the Mod epitomize style and sophistication, while in America, the Outlaw motorcycle clubs command both fear and fascination with their outlaw ethos. Yet, amidst this rich tapestry of motorcycle culture.

Singapore has its own storied history that should not be overlooked – the era of the Hell Riders. These daring riders of the 1970s and 1980s carved their own path through the streets of Singapore, defying societal norms and embracing a lifestyle of freedom and rebellion. As we delve into the world of motorcycle subcultures, let us not forget the unique legacy of Singapore’s sub-cultural landscape.

Hardcore Hell Riders, backed by stone-throwing fans, roared into action again at ‘Orchard Circuit’, but their bravado ended when the police mounted their biggest crackdown. Picture shows a police van arriving to disperse the crowd.

The Hell Riders, the term coined by the media, comprising youths aged 16 to 22 from diverse backgrounds. They rode modified motorcycles, typically in the 125cc to 350cc range, with alterations like louder exhaust pipes. Identified by their distinctive crash helmet markings. Organized circuit races, often involving gambling syndicates, were common, held at locations like Changi Coastal Road and Orchard Road-Penang Road. Despite crackdowns, reported cases of hell-riding increased, contributing to rising fatalities and injuries attributed to reckless driving and poor road conditions. The culture revolved around clandestinely organized races attracting significant spectatorship, often frequented by gambling syndicates sponsoring riders as ‘jockeys’, yet efforts to curb activities were largely ineffective as mortality rates among motorcyclists soared.

A jeering crowd stoned a patrol car when police cracked down hard on Hell Riders racing along ‘Orchard Circuit’. Picture shows two Hell Riders speeding in Penang Road at 2 am.

In response to escalating hell-riding activities during the 1970s, Singapore enacted stringent measures through the Road Traffic Act, penalizing reckless driving with fines, imprisonment, and license disqualification. Additional measures were implemented, including a ban on learner riders from the roads starting October 1985, who were subjected to comprehensive skills tests at the Ang Mo Kio driving and riding circuit. Regular motorcycle inspections at the Registry of Vehicles were also mandated, with offenders penalized for minor modifications. These concerted efforts resulted in a significant decrease in motorcyclist deaths, dropping below 100 for the first time since 1981 by 1985, contributing to Singapore’s lowest road death rate in 31 years by 1987.

Some 50 motorcyclists who call themselves ‘Hell Riders’ were rounded up in a traffic police raid in Sims Avenue in the early morning.

By the end of the 1980s, hell-riding activities were effectively curbed, marking a shift in motorcycle culture in Singapore.

More than 40 youngsters, including several teenage girls, were detained by riot squad troops who were called out to disperse a large crowd watching an illegal race by ‘Hell-Riders’ in Penang Lane. At least two supercharged motorcycles believed to have been stolen and found abandoned in the area were seized in the raid.

During the 2010s, a fresh era began with the emergence of recreational motorcycle groups, known for their coordinated overland road trips, charitable rides during significant events, and a strong emphasis on camaraderie among riders who share a passion for specific bike makes. The popularity of the “Long Way Round” documentary by Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman also played a significant role in popularizing motorcycle travel, inspiring more riders to embark on adventurous journeys.This marked a notable departure from the infamous hell-riding gangs, signifying a positive transformation in Singapore’s motorcycle fraternity.

And poof! Conspiratorially vanished too are the days of snagging a COE for a measly dollar!



The Hell Riders have made a resurgence and continue to exist today, albeit with a focus on expressing their ethos rather than defiance. Injects new vitality into the local motorcycle community and inspire others to embrace the thrill of the open road.

What if, we can reimagine…

Continue Reading : RE /IMAGINE : Journey Through The Present Future

Leave a Reply