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What's it like to be an outlaw biker? 'We're dickhead magnets,' one of them tells Adam Shand. 'Drunks in bars like to test themselves against a so-called outlaw.'

Once seen as a free-wheeling, brawling, pleasure-seeking bunch of misfits rolling down the highways, bikers are now cast as social bogeymen. If you believe the dire warnings of the media and politicians, they are an organised crime threat on a global scale.

Adelaide has long been regarded as the biker capital of Australia. Ten years ago South Australian Premier Mike Rann declared himself the nemesis of the biker community and he was committed to putting the clubs out of business with draconian new laws.

Bikers have rarely explained themselves; they have worn their outcast status as a badge of honour. But in 2005, author Adam Shand went inside the world of the outlaws to understand whether such drastic measures were justified or whether this was a fear campaign designed simply to win elections.

For the next six years, Shand mixed with bikers, talking to them about their lives and listening to their stories. He travelled with them on the road, spent time in their clubhouses, attended funerals and other club functions. He wanted to understand why men joined these secretive, arcane organisations which seemed to be at odds with the rest of society. What he found were not crime gangs but brotherhoods battling for their survival against threats from within and without.

By 2011 the bikers had won historic victories in the High Court. As Mike Rann's premiership imploded, the bikers were still riding high and living free. The hysteria was beginning to ebb. Outlaws explains how all this came to pass.

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