Harley-Davidson Motor Company is the most celebrated motorcycle manufacturer. HD, more than any other motorcycle brand, symbolizes the American way of life, spirit of rebellion, and longing for an open road.
The iconic Harley is an unsurpassed two-wheeled steel horse that really deserves to be immortalized in the memory of millions, especially those for whom a bike is the best friend, and the roar of the engine is the most beautiful music. High-speed ride along an endless road on this “bad boy” is one of the strongest drugs for romantics of the highway.
How it all began
For more than a hundred years of its existence, the Harley-Davidson Motor Company has come a long way from a simple children's hobby of two school buddies to a legend in the world of motorcycles. But this success has not been given from above. Almost everything that Harley-Davidson has today is the result of a competent, high-quality, and well-designed advertising campaign.
When you purchase a Harley, you join a fraternity of strong and independent people. The most prominent specifics of the company's marketing policy was the creation of the brand’s fans community. It was a private club for the elite, and one could sign up for this club only by becoming an owner of the Harley-Davidson motorcycle.
The company has chosen quite clever methods to increase sales and attract new customers. In fact, their promotional gimmicks deserved the praise of millions of marketers from across the globe. The most memorable trick was a guaranteed discount on a HD motorcycle when demonstrating a tattoo with the logo of Harley Davidson. Thus, the company killed two birds with one stone - it increased sales and received free advertising for a very long time because a tattoo remained on biker’s body forever.
Although today the company has stopped this peculiar promotion campaign, its fans continue getting inks with the symbols and images associated with this renowned motorcycle brand. For these people, this is another way to become a part of the free and rebellious world created by Harley-Davidson.
Why do Bikers Get Tattoos Anyway?
The history of biker tattoos begins simultaneously with the birth of the biker movement. Everything happened after the World War II. The veterans came back home from the war but they didn’t feel they belonged to this new world, this new society with its values alien to these free-spirited people.
Having made friends with motorcycles during the war, the former military did not want to part with them in peacetime. They began to create motorcycle clubs in order to declare themselves and their intentions to go separate ways with a prim and artificial society that spread over America in the middle of the twentieth century.
At first, riding a motorcycle was just a hobby. Men gathered in groups and drove from town to town without any apparent purpose. For these people, a bike became a deliverance from the shackles, a symbol of freedom, and it allowed bikers to become their own masters. Bikers were surrounded by an aura of romanticism and modern-day chivalry. Later, however, some bikers became engaged in various criminal activities, including looting, robbery, riots, beatings, kidnapping, as well as just petty hooliganism. A motorcycle rider began to instill fear in ordinary civilians and was associated with something dangerous, but at the same time, intriguing and beguiling.
Since the favorite brand of American bikers was (and still is) Harley-Davidson, they started marking their bodies with HD motorcycle tattoos, V-twin engines, and simply the logo of this legendary company. Such ink, to some extent, became a link between individual riders and American biker culture.
Harley Davidson tattoos styles and types
There was a time when biker tattoos associated with criminals riding Harley-Davidson motorcycles. They were inked with handmade equipment. But now the time has changed and riding a bike is something beyond criminal activities. These days tattoos are inked by professional artists at legitimate tattoo parlors.
Let’s take a look at some essential elements of biker tattoo designs and a few themes that you could get a tattoo of.
- The skull
The first and foremost popular choice of the bikers is a skeleton or a skull with the glowing eyes, snakes, and flames. The skull is a renowned symbol among motorcycle riders and it denotes fearlessness of the death and neglect of danger. The image of a skull is a kind of guardian on the road. A popular belief says that the death tags people whom it has already visited with a skull mark. If the death sees a person with this mark, it walks away. Such a tattoo is an attempt to deceive death.
- The Eagle’s design
An eagle is known as a symbol of the United States, where the biker culture has been originated, so it’s no wonder that American bikers gravitate toward inks depicting this mighty bird. If you are looking for a way to demonstrate your patriotism but don’t want to go with in-your-face images, then eagle designs are your number one choice. At the same time, eagle tattoos look classy because eagles have sharp sight and soar high in the sky. Just like bikers, they are swift, fast, free, and nobody can tame them. Did you know that Harley-Davidson emblem created for the 100-anniversary of the brand also carries eagle’s wings?
Besides adorning their own bodies, bikers often customize their mean machines with symbols dear to their hearts. For instance, you can often see eagle images on the parts of a motorcycle such as an engine. Besides, you may notice that bikers decorate their helmets, gloves, or jackets with stickers or patches depicting eagles.
- Flag of the United States or other countries
Another way to show your patriotism and love for the country is a tattoo depicting the main national symbol, the national flag. Since the biker culture was born in America, the most widespread flag seen on biker tattoos is the Stars and Stripes. Even motorcycle riders from other countries get American flag tattoos to show their respect and support to the US biker community. Plus, since we are talking about Harley-Davidson tattoos, do not forget that this company was ‘born and raised’ in the USA and it reflects all American values – strive for the freedom, Independence, and your own way in life. So being American is in the blood of this renowned brand.
On top of the Stars and Stripes tattoos, flags can adorn various parts of motorcycles as well as biker vests, jackets, and sometimes the entire outfit.
- Heart tattoos
It is a mistake to think that hearts are a purely female symbol and they are exclusively for romantic ladies. Manly, muscular, and bearded bikers often use this symbol in their tattoos. Such tattoos became popular among soldiers and sailors in the second half of the twentieth century. During the Second World War, a heart tattoo reminded soldiers of the loved ones for whom they fight. Since the first bikers were veterans of the Second World War, the image of the heart migrated from the battlefields to the biker culture. Today, the most common designs are images of the heart with inscription. The text on the heart or on the ribbon wrapped around it often indicates the name of a loved one. A classic example is a tattoo with the inscription "Mom".
However, a biker's love for his motorcycle can be as strong as his love for his mother. Therefore, instead of the inscription ‘mom’ or the name of a loved one, we can see the name of a favorite motorcycle or brand. A tattoo depicting a motorcycle’s engine in the shape of a heart is also popular among bikers. Such tats are usually inked on the chest.
- Wing tattoos
Freedom is the running theme among bikers and their tattoos. The most common symbols of freedom are wings, eagles, tongues of flame, etc. They reflect the essence of belonging to a biker get-together, namely, independence, disobeying rules, a nomad lifestyle, and a thirst for speed. Images of wings are one of the most popular motifs in aviation.
During the Second World War, the pilots of military squadrons often put images of wings, normally flamed, on the fuselage of their combat aircraft. After the war, it was military pilots who originated biker clubs so many aviation-specific topics were adapted for biker culture.
- Old-school tattoos
Stylistically, biker tattoos are fairly simple and are made in a more or less single style that has remained unchanged for decades. On a whole, biker-themed sketches and drawings do not have significant differences or prominent features. As well as the rules by which the followers of this subculture live, it is possible to describe the main message of their tattoos - freedom, the power of fraternity, and rebellion.
One of the most powerful symbols of freedom is a beautiful, speedy bike that takes a biker away. Another popular old-school motive is flames and fires erupting from under the wheels of a bike, adding an effect of incredible speed. Also, motorcycles can be depicted on a road and highway, leaving a trail of fire on the pavement.
In addition to symbols of freedom and speed, Harley Davidson tattoos are often complemented with roses, girls, crosses, and various phrases, which express a biker's personal preferences. At the same time, the location of a tattoo on the body does not really matter. The size is not important either, whether it is a gorgeous picture covering the entire back, or a small emblem on the neck.
- The Harley Davidson tattoo
Harley-Davidson is one of the most popular biker tattoo themes. The biggest biker club is made up of fans of this particular brand. The modern-world bikers are not only people who ride classic choppers but also motorcyclists on sports bikes. Nevertheless, Harley-Davidson is the standard of a motorcycle and therefore, people often get tattoos with the name of this particular brand or with the V-Twin engine, which has become firmly associated with Harley bikes.
Tattoos with Harley-Davidson name or logo are often combined with some intricate design (we have already discussed popular themes that go hand in hand with HD motives). However, the brand’s name can also be used without any further additions or combination, just on its own.
During its existence, the company has utilized several branded images. In 1940, the company introduced a metal logo, which was used until 1946. In 1955, in the background of the classic Harley-Davidson inscription, a large letter “V” appears in honor of the famous V-twin engine. 6-7 years later, the Harley emblem was modified to look like a trailer and a four-beam star. However, the most memorable and celebrated is the“Bar and Shield” logo developed back in 1910. It is believed that the aunt of one of the school friends-inventors painted this logo on the doors of their shed, outlining the letters in red. Harley and Davidson liked this image and they decided to leave it as their logo. Since then, the canonical logo has gone through a lot of changes, but still managed to retain its recognizable appearance. In 1965, the “Bar and Shield” emblem acquired a classic look - a black and white image, which is often complemented by an orange highlight in honor of the very first version of the logo. Celebrating the 100th anniversary of the brand in 2003, the company introduced a renewed logo with wings, which was later modified for the 105th anniversary.
More designs for the biker’s tattoos
Bikers are not just crazy motorcycle riders in leather jackets. Being a biker is a unique philosophy, unusual religion, and special status. How to recognize a biker? He must have a jacket, a helmet, a passion for his motorcycle, and tattoos.
All bikers belong to a specific motorcycle club, although there are loners as well. In order to designate their affiliation to a certain "clan", bikers started wearing special club patches on their jackets and vests. However, over time, such an oath to the club was transferred to tattoos and now most bikers wear an emblem of their motorcycle club on their bodies.
In addition to club symbols, there is a number of symbols that bikers most often get inked. After all, bikers are considered to be regular visitors of tattoo parlors. To be a biker means to be free and disobey the rules and laws. Therefore, the symbols of freedom, tongues of flame, wings, eagles, etc., can be seen on every true biker.
Another popular category of biker tattoos is plots of the everyday lives of these modern knights. These include tats in honor of friends or relatives, as well as images of events that are important to bikers, such as meaningful rides or rallies.
Another important element of biker life, captured in tattoos, is danger, risk, death. It is believed that the symbols of death carved on a body will scare the Grim Reaper away and bring good luck. Therefore, you can often notice bikers decorating their bodies with intimidating tats such as death with a scythe, a skeleton, a skull. These drawings also symbolize the challenge of fate and the cat-and-mouse game with death.
A long time ago a tattoo was a symbol of rebellion, a challenge to society. Today, however, most people have a tattoo so ink ceased to be something outrageous. Therefore, bikers have found a new way to confront society. Sporting a 1% tattoo, they want to emphasize their belonging to one-percent rebels (outlaws). Other 99% of motorcyclists are law-obedient people and they have nothing to do with motorcycle gangs or criminals.
In addition to the above-mentioned motifs, bikers often sport other ambiguous tattoos, for example, a swastika, mythical monsters, the Confederate flag or the Maltese cross.
Questions you have to ask before getting a Harley-Davidson Tattoo
If you want to get a biker tattoo, you need to choose wisely. A tattoo will stay with you forever so you need to make a conscious choice in order not to regret about it later. Some biker tattoos come along with great responsibility. Most motorcycle clubs require their members to wear a tattoo depicting the club’s colors. When for any reason a biker leaves a club, he must paint over a club tattoo with something else. Some clubs allow their colors to be supplemented with the date the member has joined the club. If a member quits this club, it is possible to simply add the date of dismissal. However, the most severe punishment awaits those members of biker clubs who were expelled in disgrace. Club council may require that a tattoo is removed immediately. In this case, club colors can simply be cut out or burned from a biker’s body.
So, before you decide to get a biker tattoo, you have to ask yourself, as well a tattoo artist, a few questions.
Get a clear idea about what do you need:
You have to carefully think about the idea of your tattoo and if you need it at all before going to a tattoo parlor. A tattoo is permanent so once it is done it can't be undone. Of course, laser tattoo removal technologies make it possible to get rid of any inks but they are expensive, painful, and you will have to be tortured by a laser a few times before you can shed your tattoo for good. You can avoid all these troubles if you simply give this idea a good thought and elaborate all the critical aspects of a future tattoo.
Experts suggest that before going for a tattoo, do a drawing or print out a design you like. This will help you embed your imagination in a drawing, fill it with first-hand experiences, ideas or a plot, and make it personal. You can also draw inspiration from your biker comrades or simply surf the web looking for images that catch your eye.
Decide the part of your body you want to cover with a tattoo:
As a rule, visitors of tattoo parlors choose a place for a tattoo even before they decide on a design and color. However, if you roughly imagine what to get inked but do not know where, there is a fairly clear set of criteria and details that can prompt the right decision.
The first thing you need to decide on is the meaning of your future tattoo. Answer this question: do you want to show the tattoo to others? Places for a tattoo are divided into open ones, i.e. those that are easily seen, and hidden, i.e. those that are visible only when you want it.
For example, a face tattoo always attracts attention, and, most likely, it will be negative attention. Such experiments are inherent in extraordinary, extravagant people who are ready to challenge society and are not afraid of the reaction of others.
There are borderline options, such as the neck or shin. In this case, a tattoo will peep out from under the clothes, which often causes interest. Conservative places for tattoos are the chest, abdomen, shoulders, back, and feet.
Many tattoo fans ignore such a property of a tattoo as practicality, although, it is extremely important. Unfortunately, we live in a world of stereotypes, when a tattoo or piercing can cause problems at work or in a family. Therefore, before applying the image on an open part of your body, make sure that it does not create unnecessary obstacles in your ‘civil’ life.
The most important parameter of a tattoo and its location is aesthetics. The plot that you are going to transfer to your body should look perfect on the place chosen by you. You have to take into account many aspects: size, color, shape, various effects, etc. Before you make a permanent tattoo, you can ask your artist to make a temporary transfer to evaluate how good you have chosen the place for a tattoo.
Research on from where you want to get the tattoo:
It is known that in the United Kingdom, a tattoo artist is required to be registered by the local authority. So before you go to a particular tattoo parlor you have to find out if this place is registered and if it is completely safe to get a tattoo done there.
In order to learn the credibility of a tattoo artist, you need to ask around make your own search. You can check reviews and feedbacks from people who have already done a tattoo at this parlor or, or you can inquire your tattooed friends what artist they got their inks from.
Be ready for the pain and discomfort:
You have to keep in mind that getting a tattoo is painful regardless of a body part you have chosen for this purpose. Even if you are told that tattooing is painless you need to take it with a grain of salt because the process involves puncturing with needles. You have to be brave enough to bear this pain (although if you are a true biker there is no pain unbearable for you). You also have to find out about the procedure of healing, subsequent care, and the products you should use after getting a tattoo. You ought to give your tattoo a few days to get healed.
The Bottom Line
Getting a biker a Harley-Davidson tattoo is a great idea if you are an avid motorcycle fan or you belong to one of the numerous motorcycle clubs. There are many designs to choose from so you won’t suffer from the lack of ideas.