How Accurate is The Bikeriders? History vs. Hollywood

Historical Accuracy (Q&A):

Is The Bikeriders based on a true story?

The movie was inspired by Danny Lyon's 1968 photobook of the same name. Lyon (pictured below) is portrayed by Mike Faist in the movie, though he is never mentioned by name. He spent four years embedded with a motorcycle club, the Chicago Outlaws, which is renamed the Chicago Vandals in the film. Since Lyon's photobook does not go into extensive details about the biker club and its members, the movie's plot and many details have been fictionalized. Director Jeff Nichols also said that he didn't want to upset any of the current members of the biker club, which is still in existence, by attempting to tell a true story. Nichols drew from Lyon's photos, even recreating many of them for the film. He also took elements from Lyon's interviews.

"I fictionalized a movie that was inspired by real things that they said and did in this very brief period of time," Jeff Nichols told Entertainment Weekly. "The Bikeriders is fiction."

Danny Lyon himself explained in an interview, "What Jeff did was to structure a fictional film script around the recorded monologues that are the recorded stories of the book."

The Bikeriders was inspired by the 1968 photobook of the same name by photojournalist Danny Lyon (left). He is portrayed by Mike Faist (right) in the movie. Photos: Danny Lyon/Focus Features

Is photojournalist Danny Lyon depicted accurately in the movie?

Not entirely. In the movie, Danny (Mike Faist) tells one of the bikers that he is a "photo student." However, in real life, Danny had been out of school for several years by the time he joined up with the Chicago Outlaws Motorcycle Club in 1963 at age 24. Back when he was in school, he had been a history student, not a photo student. A Bikeriders fact-check also reveals that the movie cleans him up significantly and makes him appear as more of an outsider who is allowed into the world of the biker gang. In real life, Danny was a legitimate member of the club who looked more unkempt than many of the bikers. He rode a motorcycle and was part of the world he was documenting, a form of journalism called New Journalism.

Are The Bikeriders characters based on real people?

Yes, many of the characters are based on real people who were part of the real-life motorcycle club, but in the film, they are thrust into a fictional story created by writer/director Jeff Nichols. This includes Benny (Austin Butler), Johnny (Tom Hardy), Zipco (Michael Shannon), Funny Sonny (Norman Reedus), Cal (Boyd Holbrook), and Cockroach (Emory Cohen), among others. Funny Sonny was a former member of the Hell's Angels who joined the Outlaws. You can see their photos in Danny Lyon's photobook The Bikeriders. He has also posted some on his Instagram.

The Bikeriders was inspired by the 1968 photobook of the same name by Danny Lyon. The book includes photos of the real people depicted in the movie, including Benny, Kathy, Zipco, etc.

Was Johnny, portrayed by Tom Hardy, that violent in real life?

No. In The Bikeriders fictional story, Johnny (Tom Hardy) sometimes resorts to violence to regain control of his club and to protect its members. TIME Magazine notes that in real life, the President of the Chicago Outlaws Motorcycle Club was more of a lover than a fighter. In the book, Johnny says that they would buy flowers for any of the club members who died in accidents, including ex-members who left in good standing. Death was always a risk since they rode without helmets.

Is Jodie Comer's character, Kathy, based on a real person?

Yes. Kathy, who is the narrator of the film, is based on a real person named Kathy Bauer who indeed fell in love with Benny, portrayed by Austin Butler. It's true Benny was a bit of a rebel and one of the biker club's more reckless riders. Like in the movie, Kathy and Benny Bauer got married five weeks after they met. The moment early in the film when Kathy first encounters Benny is taken almost directly from her interviews with photojournalist Danny Lyon. Kathy, who was not a member of the gang, had gone to a bar to meet up with a girlfriend, not realizing it was a biker hangout. In one of her interviews, she described the moment when she first saw Benny:

So I sees my girlfriend, and I goes over to her, and I sits down there, and I'm takin' everything in. And all these guys kept comin' up to me sayin', you know, different stuff like, 'You need a man,' or 'You want to come live with me?' And I was about ready to just run. So I says to my girlfriend, 'Well, I gotta go.' And she says, 'Oh, they’re not that bad. Just sit here.' So all of a sudden I seen Benny and he was standin' at the end of the bar. And I says to my girlfriend, 'Boy, who's the good-lookin' blond guy?' I says, 'He don’t look like the rest of these guys.' She says, 'Oh Kathy, you don't want to go out with him.'

Liverpool-born actress Jodie Comer does an impressive job recreating Kathy's North Chicago accent for the movie. What the movie doesn't tell you is that Kathy had three children when she met Benny. She was also 25, six years older than the real-life Benny, who was still a teenager when they met. Director Jeff Nichols told Entertainment Weekly that he regrets not depicting Kathy's kids in the movie. In early cuts of the film, he did have a scene where she talks about her kids, but it was distracting and made audiences not like her because her kids do not appear at all in the movie, as they're not an integral part of the story. In addition to the three children Kathy had when she met Benny in real life, Kathy and Benny had a son together. They remained with each other until Kathy's death. Writer/director Jeff Nichols put much of what Kathy said in her interviews into the script verbatim.

Jodie Comer and Austin Butler portray Kathy and Benny Bauer in The Bikeriders

Can I listen to the interviews that inspired The Bikeriders?

Yes. The movie was inspired not only by Danny Lyon's photobook, but also by tape-recorded dialogues of Kathy, Cal and Zipco, which can be heard on Lyon's website, The recordings are a helpful tool in analyzing fact vs. fiction in the film. There are no recordings of Austin Butler's character's real-life counterpart, Benny Bauer, who married Kathy.

The Bikeriders
by Danny Lyon