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Book Review: 1000 Biker Tattoos

By Ernie Copper

Bikers and tattoos go together like bacon and eggs, so a book about biker tattoos had to be written. Accomplished photojournalist Sara Liberte has taken on the task, supplementing her abilities with the artistry and experience of co-author Chad Lemme.

As you might expect, the book opens with a point of view on what a biker is. Let’s face it, to effectively write a book on biker tattoos, that premise needs to be established. The definition need not be everyone’s cup of tea, and the “what makes a biker a biker” argument will rage on, but suffice it to say, for the purpose of this book the definition is skewed more toward the hardcore side and less toward the weekend warriors.

1000 Biker Tattoos, Sara Liberte, Chad Lemme

1000 Biker Tattoos, Sara Liberte, Chad Lemme

We are also given a basic history of tattoos from the Polynesians to World War II veterans. Shortly after the Big One, the biker and the tattoo were married and have lived as happily ever after.

An interesting chapter on brand loyalty explains that co-author Lemme was actually paid by Advanced Armament to tattoo their logo on his back; capitalism at its best. Some may question the spirit of being tattooed for pay, but if it were all about the art and the essence would there be any flash? Would there be any tattoo shops or would there just be a bunch of benevolent tattoo artists roaming the street looking for anyone wanting to create a lasting memory? What’s good for the artist is good for the collector. The authors stop just short of criticizing others for having Motor Company logo tattoos for no remuneration—free advertising if you will—but of the book’s 1,000 images, at least 150 of them are Harley-Davidson-themed tattoos or artwork along with Indian- and Triumph-themed ink. Brand loyalty lives!

There are chapters on famous tattooed bikers, Indian Larry’s famous “Question Everything” question mark tattoo, rally tattoos, tattoo art, back pieces and bodies, personal stories and more. A chapter on artist profiles give some insight into how some very famous people set off on the road to becoming tattoo artists. From a description of the tattoo process to a chapter on “Tattoo Regret,” this book covers all the bases.

If you’re interested in the history and the culture of tattoo and motorcycles, this book will likely get under your skin. The authors do a good job of achieving a balance between presenting bikers and particularly tattooed bikers as being unique, while riding the current wave of popularity among people from all walks of life. That balance is tipped from time to time with stories like that of George the Painter’s VIN number tattoo, thus proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that bikers are different, even when it comes to tattoos.

The book is filled with stories and insights and will provide the reader with something of an insider’s look into the culture of the biker tattoo. With tattoos as deeply personal as they are, each has its own story and no two are exactly the same. Who knows? It may even provide the inspiration for the reader’s next, or first, tattoo.


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