Saturday, November 17, 2012

Bikers' tattoos...

Nothing sends fear into the minds and hearts of non-bikers like seeing a badass biker covered with evil looking tattoos.  As if the loud ear blasting bikes and the dust and grease covered black leather outfitted biker without the tats weren't enough to send a message of "fuck the Man," bikers, and especially Outlaw bikers, like to adorn themselves with these graphic illustrations of rebellion, making a statement even stronger than needed to convince the average person of the biker's symbolic anti-establishment ways. 

Of course, bikers aren't the only folks with tattoos.  Tattoos have virtually become mainstream, with bankers, lawyers, doctors, engineers, and housewives all partaking in the individual expression of the medium.  Despite the growing acceptance of tattoos, however, there is still a strong sentiment of disdain and mistrust towards tattoo wearing folks. And if you're of a religious family the resistence is even stronger. 

Not too long ago my 6 year old step-grandson, who lives with his mom, step-dad, and other step-grandpa, who is very religious and has clearly impacted my grandson's thoughts, visited me and my wife for a few days.  I had recently had a new forearm tattoo done, and when he saw it he said, "Papa John, you're going to the devil because you have tattoos."   Interestingly, he had never said anything about my other five tattoos, but this one, a fierce looking skull with red eyes, caught his attention.  Not too long after that day, on another visit by my grandson, a good biker friend of mine showed up at the house.  He had just had a huge "dark" backpiece done and when he showed it to my grandson and I asked, "Is he going to the devil," my grandson without hesitation replied, "definitely!"

But even within the tattooed world, there's a caste system.  And, with bikers it's very evident that bikers judge other bikers by the extent and "darkness" of their tats.  The location and expression of tattoos are statements, and not all of us are willing to risk being too open about how we might really feel about this world by what tattoos we inked into our bodies.

Most of us who have tattoos are happy to get a shoulder piece or a back piece, those that are easily covered by clothing.  Some even dare to go with pieces on their lower arms, but for most doing so is to test social norms and mores, and to risk careers and acceptance, even by family.  It's the hard core tattoo enthusiast, or the convict, or the hard core biker that are brave enough to go with the neck pieces, or the hand pieces, and, most daringly, the face pieces that are blatant in your face expressions of some kind.

Let's face it, tattoos are statements by the wearer.   Motorcycle club members inevitably adorn a tat of their club's logo.  Ejection from the club oftentimes means losing the tattoo by any means necessary.  Stories of removal by cutting them out with a knife, scraping them off with a file or cheese grater, or burning them off with a torch are common among the biker community.  But beyond that ugly scenario, bikers have tats to express rebellion, for the most part, although many a biker's tats are inked as a memorial to a lost brother, family member, or some other significant event like a rally. 

So bikers and tattoos are virtually synonymous.  Some question whether or not a biker without a tattoo is a real biker.   

Do you have tats?  What do they mean to you?


  1. I knew a biker that rode for 77 years, rode with multiple clubs but never part of one, and was higly respected by quite a few of the club leaders. when that man died at the age of 98, there was still not one drop of ink in his body. so do you HAVE to have ink to be a biker..... i say most def not.

  2. Getting a tat is nothing more than caving to peer pressure. To be a true lone wolf biker, you have to truly do your own thing. That includes going without tats if that's your choice.

    1. Larry, some would argue the other way around, that getting a tattoo is throwing the finger at the norm, the establishment, the "right" way, and not caving to peer pressure of society and the norm which still looks down on tattoo wearers.