Harley Davidson Tattoos: History, Meanings & Designs

Harley Davidson Tattoos: History, Meanings & Designs

If you’re an avid biker or just a massive fan of the brand, you may be considering a Harley Davidson tattoo. But have you ever stopped to think about the history behind the tattoos?

The Harley Davidson logo is one of the most well-known symbols in the country. The company was founded in 1903 and has become a leading symbol of American independence, freedom, and determination. Owning a Harley is seen as a status symbol within the biking community.

Man, that sounds like there’s one hell of a history behind these tattoos! Let’s dive into the symbolism, different style options, and where the tattoos look best.

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What Do Harley Davidson Tattoos Symbolize?

The symbols and meanings of Harley Davidson tattoos are nearly interchangeable due to their long history in American consumer culture. For the sake of this article, we’ll discuss symbolism as how culture sees the tattoos and meaning as how the recipients see their own tattoos.

The Harley Davidson Company started in a shed in 1903. In the 100+ years they’ve been in business, the brand and logo have become synonymous with a tough and rugged American spirit. Motorcycles have the same branding; many believe it’s because of Harley Davidson.

In the bike community, owning a Harley is a status symbol with many social perks. The company is the oldest American motorcycle manufacturer still producing bikes and has a legacy of quality products. When the media thinks of Harley Davidson, they think of tough-guy bikers who get things done.

These symbols transfer over into the tattoos. The logo (or a bike’s design) can serve as a reminder of that legacy to anyone who sees the image. 

Though we all love the company, getting a Harley Davidson tattoo is not encouraged unless you’re connected to the biking community. It can be seen as disrespectful to those who know and live the history.

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What Do Harley Davidson Tattoos Mean?

These tattoos can mean a lot to different people.

People often want to express their love for the brand, bike, and fellow bikers. The community is very close-knit, and the tattoo can be a way of memorializing and remembering others.

The tattoo can also be about family. If your favorite memory of your grandfather was riding on the back of his Harley, of course you’d be inclined to get the tattoo! It would mean love and excitement – maybe it represents your grandfather himself.

Just like how the Harleys symbolize freedom, the tattoos can mean freedom. The ink could represent the road trip you took when it was just you, your bike, and a bag. It could mean the freedom to get up and see the country – even the world.  

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Characteristics and Styles of Harley Davidson Tattoos

These tattoos feature the Harley logo with a wide variety of other elements. Popular additional components include:

  • Bald Eagles
  • Eagles’ Wings
  • Flames
  • Helmets
  • Skulls
  • Engines
  • Motorcycles

Most of these tattoos are black and white or grayscale.

Harley Davidson Tattoo Characteristics

These tattoos are typically script based because the logo has “Harley Davidson” in the middle. The writing is the same font used in the logo but can also be switched for blockier letters if the tattoo design becomes too “busy.”

A lot of black ink and negative space is employed in the tattooing process. This makes the tattoo appear bolder at first glance, even when viewed from a distance. Additional elements can either make the tattoo more or less busy looking. 

Style of Harley Davidson Tattoos

“Black and Grey” tattoos aren’t as limited by subject matter as other tattooing styles. It’s a popular choice for Harley Davidson tattoos – especially when the bike or engine is included in the design. Artists can achieve incredible shading thanks to this tattoo style.

More recently, you may find tattoos styles featuring a “biomechanical” style. Though this style is typically drawn free-hand, many ink owners will incorporate the Harley Davidson logo into the biomechanical design. The bike, spokes, engine, and handlebars are all fantastic components.

You can check out these styles and others here

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Where Do Harley Davidson Tattoos Usually Go?

The number one spot for a Harley tattoo is on the upper arm and facing out. This is because it’s a prime location on the body for a tattoo you want to be seen regularly and from nearly any angle. It’s not like we expect a biker with a Harley to hide their tattoos!

A close second is across the chest or back. This gives the artist more space to incorporate more elements and enlarge the letters for easier viewing at a distance. Shins are also very popular, as is the back of the head (ouch!). More rarely we’ll see Harley Davidson tattoos on the backs of hands or the tops of feet. 

Not all the tattoos need to be large and can fit in smaller areas like the forearm or side of the neck. If your job has restrictions on tattoos, consider placing one in a location easily covered up by clothing or a work uniform.

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What Artist Should You Go to For a Harley Davidson Tattoo?

Since most of these tattoos aren’t based on realism, you won’t need an artist specializing in picture-perfect tattoos. Finding an artist with Classic Americana tattoos, Black and Grey tattoos, and great healed tattoos is the best plan.

I specify healed tattoos because most Harley tattoos have a high ink saturation (that’s what gives you the bold lines and text), which can lead to the tattoo “bleeding out” if done incorrectly. Finding an artist’s work that stands up to the test of time will give you the best result.

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A Harley Davidson tattoo means you know your stuff and aren’t afraid to speak on it. The logo is not only a symbol of American freedom but also of family ties and rich history. Anyone with this tattoo isn’t to be messed with (though I would ask them for a ride on their bike!).

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