In bikie club culture where loyalty and territory are highly valued, disagreements can too easily boil over.

In the unlikely event you are asked in a pub quiz "where in 1961 was the first Hells Angels chapter outside of California established?", scribble down Auckland, New Zealand.

This quirk of history meant New Zealand was an early adaptor of back patch-wearing outlaw motorcycle clubs, a counter cultural phenomenon that spread throughout the world. Made up of rebellious, tough young men these groups soon began to find themselves in conflict with one another.

But no battle has ever rivalled that which occurred between the Bandidos and the Cossacks in Texas last weekend. One police officer described the fatal brawl as a war zone and it's hard to disagree. When the gun smoke cleared at a popular restaurant, nine outlaw motorcycle club members lay dead and 19 suffered injuries requiring hospital treatment. Ongoing tensions between two biker gangs, the established Bandidos and the up-and-coming Cossacks, had come to the most violent of ends.

Nine killed in Texas gang shooting


Until then the most deadly outlaw motorcycle club fight occurred in a Sydney pub car park in 1983. Known as the Milperra Massacre, the fatalities numbered six, including a 14-year-old bystander caught in the crossfire.

In the aftermath of Milperra, a judge declared: "As patriotism can lead to jingoism and mateship can lead to cronyism, so bikie club loyalty can lead to bikie club war."

It was a poetic expression that made an astute observation. Loyalty to a club means backing up fellow members regardless of the circumstances. The bonds within outlaw clubs are at the heart of these groups; the bikers call it brotherhood. This loyalty is an admirable quality, but on occasion it means things spiral out of control.

Often major club wars in New Zealand have begun over seemingly minor issues. A perception of superiority of one club over another, a minor disrespect, or a misunderstanding leads to an attack by one on another. In support of their brothers, other members join the fray. Pride means neither side can back down. Then all hell breaks loose.

In many instances, this process can be understood only when placed in the context of the outlaw club culture. And this is why, amid all the speculation surrounding the Texas battle, one statement stood out to me.

It came from an undercover agent who infiltrated outlaw clubs in America. He told CNN, "It boils down to territory."

This is a common refrain heard in New Zealand where gang disputes are said to occur over the control of drug turf. As is most often the case, the real explanation is less dramatic and more interesting.

The undercover agent went on to explain that it wasn't the protection of territory, it was showing respect within it. The Bandidos had no problems with others clubs existing in the state they had long held claim over; they just weren't allowed to use "Texas" on their back patches. The Cossacks didn't like the rule. They put Texas on their patches and nine people died. This explanation for such a violent event may sound strange but it's not uncommon.

New Zealand's first outlaw club war started in Christchurch in 1974 when the established Epitaph Riders told a newly-formed Devil's Henchmen they couldn't wear back patches at all. Their war lasted for months, involved stabbing, shootings, bombings, but remarkably there was only one person killed.

The Henchmen did not relent, and Christchurch soon became home to a number of outlaw clubs, but the Epitaph Riders still staked certain claims. Years later they forced a newer club called the Templeton Riders to change their name by enforcing street-style copyright over the use of the word "Riders".

If you think that's petty, try opening an independent restaurant and calling it McDonald's.

New Zealand has had a number of high profile outlaw club wars over the years but today these events are rare. This fact notwithstanding, given the secretive nature of these groups, most interclub conflicts never become public. By the time they do it's too late to do much. The deadly battle in Texas was preceded by a number of smaller clashes, which with hindsight are the tell-tale signs of escalating conflict.

If there was a chance of stopping this, it was then.

• Jarrod Gilbert is a sociologist and author of Patched: the History of Gangs in New Zealand.