Occasionally, people confuse biker tattoos with prison or gang tattoos. While there are biker gangs and some bikers might end up in prison, the tattoo genres are fairly distinct. For the most part, prison and gang tattoos are often self-done or amateur tattoos that signify a person's presence or initiation into a gang, along with their gang “accomplishments.” Biker tattoos, on the other hand, are any tattoos that involve a love of motorcycles, the open road, and freedom.
They usually involve traditional biker symbols, like flames or skeletons and skulls, and have a certain aura of rebelliousness. Those who have the tattoos, however, might be family-oriented individuals with conventional, normal jobs, and only enjoy biking and biker culture as a hobby or recreational activity. Bikers are no longer necessarily excluded from mainstream society and biker tattoos do not symbolize gang involvement or deviant behavior.
Typically, biker tattoos center around a specific type of bike. Someone who rides Harley Davidson or chopper-style bikes is not likely to get a tattoo of a Japanese crotch-rocket motorcycle. Biker tattoos might also include a reference to a specific motorcycle club. These clubs are not gangs, necessarily, but rather they are groups of individuals who share a common interest and organize themselves as such. Many times these clubs are registered with national motorcycle organizations and membership is based upon specific criteria and beliefs.
Sometimes, though, motorcycle clubs are known as outlaw clubs, and are not registered with any higher authority. These clubs may or may not be involved in gang or illegal activity. It is important to note that within the world of bikers, outlaw is not synonymous with criminal. Rather, the term outlaw is reserved for clubs that are not interested in being affiliated or policed by those national organizations and prefer to operate independently and under their own authority.
Likewise, biker tattoos will often include quotations or mottos that exemplify their biker philosophy and beliefs. Sayings about living free, embracing freedom, or riding forever are popular among bikers. Other common biker motifs include symbols of Americana, like biker culture from the 1950s and American flags. In the 1960s, the Biker Cross, which is derived from the Maltese and Iron Crosses, became a favored symbol and has continued in popularity among bikers.
Initially just a symbol of independence and rebellion, the cross now stands for valor, honor, strength of character, and defending your beliefs. Biker tattoos usually incorporate the personal beliefs of the individual biker, so there is a huge variety found in biker tattoos and designs. Religious beliefs, nationalities, brands, clubs, etc., all factor into individual tattoos. Like other tattoo styles, this individualization allows people to customize their tattoo to specifically represent themselves, their opinions, and their personal philosophies.
People with biker tattoos are obviously involved, to some extent, in biker culture. Unlike other tattoo designs, getting a biker tattoo implies that you are, in fact, a biker. However, there is no minimum level of involvement necessary for biker tattoos. Casual, weekend riders might get their favorite motorcycle logo tattooed in tribute to their hobby.
Hardcore or heavily involved bikers might have more tattoos, but not necessarily. Tattoos are not a requirement for being a biker. Similarly, someone with a loved one who was involved in biking culture could have a biker tattoo, although they themselves are not bikers.
In this case, the tattoo is a tribute to the biker and not a symbol of themselves. It represents the other person. For the most part, this is perfectly acceptable in biker culture. Bikers are often close-knit and well acquainted with other bikers, being that the culture is relatively small, and, therefore, are not offended by commemorations or memorials of their comrades.