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GOING THE DISTANCE
"TATTOOS IN THE BIKER SUBCULTURE"
PHOTO BY GENGHIS
AN EXCERPT FROM AN ARTICLE BY ADAM DI STEFANO:
"In the Western world, tattoos were once the marks of rebels, bikers or ex-convicts. They were a sign of subcultures, and to "normal" people, they were a sign of an unsavory character. That's changing, though. Tattoos are going mainstream, and now it turns out that the last person you would expect to have one, does.
Teenage girls get them to rebel against their parents. Many businessmen have them hidden under their three-piece suits. Soccer moms have butterflies on their ankles because they "look pretty." Thirty years from now, either 50% of the population will be inked, or the next generation will see what a 30 year-old tattoo really looks like, and the trend will slow way down...."
A Biker Lite tattoo.
Hey Biker Lites, how're those hopey, changey tats workin' out for ya? Did you princesses experience any fainting spells during the tattooing sessions? Did the tattooist offer you a cup of hot chocolate and a crying towel as a house courtesy?
There was a time when tattoos in the biker subculture meant something. Of course, for those of us in the biker subculture that are in it for life, they still do. Tattoos have a history in the biker subculture, as old as the culture itself. After some dude got his Harley knucklehead in the 1930s, he more likely than not got some motorcycle-related ink art embedded beneath his epidermis. These days, ya got the Lites gettin' effete, hopey, changey---and wait for it---tribal tats to go along with their leather vests festooned with 15 pounds of badges and pins. Is this change of life we can believe in? Biker Lites Gold-Carded their way into the culture at the Harley-Davidson dealer, and Visa'ed hope and change---composed in tasteful floral arrangements, of course---onto their skins at the local tat parlor. The change in their existences that they'd hoped for, evaporated as quickly as their fervor for motorcycles inevitably did, as soon as the next fad hit their transitory lives. Their pesty motorcycles didn't get them the young hot chicks in bikinis like the ads implied they would.
As soon as the Softail was out the two-car garage doors, the appointment with the dermatologist was scheduled for the laser removal of those ill-advised tattoos. Out with the hArley-dAvidson, and in with the iPad, baby.
For your edification, allow me to tell you what a motorcycle-related tattoo means to real bikers. It means their very life. That's not to say that bikers don't have other aspects of their lives besides their motorcycles. After all, we have jobs and family. We have the same worries about security and the recovery from the recession that straights have. We have rent to pay, food to buy and doctors' bills to pay. We are fanatical about our footballs teams just like Joe Sixpack. Hell, we are Joe Sixpack, but with old Harleys sittin' out in the yard. Old Harleys that we keep like new that is, because these bikes are the centerpieces of our lives, and major signifiers of our identities since our teenage years. In short, THE BIKE has always been there for us. THE BIKE is not a recent arrival. What is a recent arrival is the Biker Lite with his splashy-paintjobbed, fat-rear-tired bike, and matching lifestyle tattoos.
"Love is the feeling you get when ya like something as much as your motorcycle..."
That about encapsulates it, in a few simple words. Simplicity is power. THE BIKE to the biker, is his lifeblood, his reason for being, his inner identity. It is what makes him unique. It is what sets him apart from all the rest around him who have similar worries and problems. THE BIKE elevates the biker's life to a realm where the dirt of the world that plagues everyone else, cannot touch him as long as he sits proud in the saddle of his Harley, wind in the hair and the music of the straight pipes playing at full volume on the highway. To the true biker, his tattoos are a symbol of the overriding importance of THE BIKE in his life. To the Biker Lite, tats are merely another accessory, like the latest tin rally pin attached to his leather vest, just another pin among many cheap symbols of peer-pressure-driven status. Tin badges are a dime a dozen, as are their possessors. Meaningful tattoos that ride bikers' skins all of their lives, are far more rare, like a precious metal in contrast to ubiquitous tin. To the true biker, his bike maximizes his life. To the Biker Lite, the bike accessorizes his life. Likewise, tattoos can either represent the maximizing of life, or the cheap coopting of profound cultural symbols for the purpose of superficial ego-gratification. I report, you decide.
Tattoos can mean different things to bikers, but they all connote commitment. An example of this commitment is one percenters tattooing themselves with club colors. Another is the tatooing related to bikers' commitment to their bikes, or the brand of their bikes. Harley-Davidson has been emblazoned on the hides of so many bikers for the past 80 years, it's surprising that The Firm hasn't sued these tattoo recipients en masse for copyright infringement. The Harley-Davidson motorcycle is iconic in the biker subculture. As such, the loyalty to the brand for the better part of a century is legendary. Chief among the manifestations of the brand loyalty to Harleys, are the tatoos that bikers have sported as a show of their commitment to the Harley-Davidson motorcycle. Dig it. Later.