They were first seen in the 1950s as the Japanese automobile industry expanded rapidly. The first bōsōzoku were known as kaminari-zoku (雷族 "Lightning Tribes"). It is common to see bōsōzoku groups socializing in city centers and playing loud music characterized by their lifestyle, such as The Roosters, and the Street Sliders.
The word bōsōzoku is also applied to motorcycle gangs, who share an interest in modifications (often illegal) for motorcycles, such as removing the mufflers so that more noise is produced. These bōsōzoku groups also engage in dangerous or reckless driving, such as weaving in traffic, not wearing motorcycle helmets, and running red lights. Another activity is shinai bōsō (市内暴走) speeding in city streets, not usually for street racing but more for thrills. With many bikes involved, the leading one is driven by the sentōsha (先頭車), the leader, who is responsible for the event and is not allowed to be overtaken. Japanese police call them Maru-Sō (police code マル走), and dispatch a police vehicle to trail any groups of bikes to prevent any possible incidents, which can include riding through suburbs at speeds of 5–10 miles an hour, creating a loud disturbance and waving imperial Japanese flags, to starting fights which can include weapons such as swords and Molotov cocktails. These bōsōzoku gangs are generally composed of people under the legal adult age, which in Japan is 20 years old, and are subject to increasing state and police pressure.
The stereotypical bōsōzoku look is often portrayed, and even caricatured, in many forms of Japanese media such as anime, manga and films. The typical bōsōzoku member is often depicted in a uniform consisting of a jumpsuit like those worn by manual laborers or a tokko-fuku (特攻服), a type of military issued overcoat with kanji slogans usually worn open with no shirt underneath showing off their bandaged torsos and baggy matching pants tucked inside tall boots. Tokko-Fuku in Japanese means "Special Attack Uniform", which is the uniform of the Kamikaze pilots, which in Japanese were called the "Special Attack Battalion" (特攻隊). The uniforms will most likely be adorned with militaristic slogans, patriotic rising sun patches, ancient Chinese characters, or even manji. They will also often wrap a tasuki, which is a sash tied in X around the torso, a look inspired by Japanese World War II fighter pilots. Leather jackets, often embroidered with club/gang logos, and even full leather suits are also seen as common elements of the bōsōzoku look. Among other items in the bōsōzoku attire are usually round or wrap-around sunglasses, long hachimaki headbands also with battle slogans and a pompadour hairstyle most likely akin to the greaser/rocker look or perhaps because of the hairstyle's association with yakuza thugs. The punch perm is considered a common bōsōzoku hairstyle as well. Surgical masks are also stereotypically worn by bōsōzokus perhaps to conceal their identities although these type of masks are also worn by allergy sufferers in Japan, especially during autumn. Females are also shown dressed in a similar style but dress in a more feminine manner with long and often dyed hair, high-heeled boots and excessive make-up.
Bōsōzoku are known to modify their bikes in peculiar and often showy ways. A typical customized bosozoku bike usually consists of an average Japanese road bike that appears to combine elements of an American chopper style bike and a British café racer, for example: oversized visored fenders like those found on café racers, "sissy" bars and raised handle bars like those on a chopper. Loud paint jobs on the fenders or the gas tanks with motifs such as flames or kamikaze style "rising sun" designs are also quite common. The bikes will often be adorned with stickers and/or flags depicting the gang's symbol or logo. There are also marked regional differences in motorcycle modifications. For example, Ibaraki bōsōzoku are known to modify their motorcycles in an extensively colorful, flashy way. They will often have three or four oversized visored fenders in a tower like way in a motorcycle painted in bright yellow or pink with Christmas light–like adornments.