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When I first set foot inside the door at Icon Tattoo in Blue Springs, Missouri, I was taken back by how modern and clean everything appeared. In one corner of the waiting area you'll find a couple of full-size video games and a full-size statue of Captain Morgan, which just happens to be my drink of choice. Down both walls of the shop you find row after row of neatly arranged tattoo samples.

Denny opened his shop two years ago after working at several well known tattoo studios in Kansas City, including Grimms, Exile and Irezumi Body Art. Denny and Brian are the only tattoo artists in Blue Springs, which keeps them hopping. Denny informed me that tattoo shops have become the fifth fasting growing business in the United States.

Denny took a few minutes out of his busy schedule to sit down for an interview to tell me about Icon Tattoo.

CC: How did you get started in the tattoo business?

Denny: My brother is a tattoo artist and he introduced me to the art?

CC: What makes Icon stand out from other tattoo studios?

Denny: Low production and we specialize in custom tattoos. We do flash as well, but we really enjoy custom work?

CC: What should someone look for when choosing a tattoo artist?

Denny: Anyone who is interested in getting a tattoo should do their homework first. Always ask to see the tattoo artist’s portfolio and make sure they are licensed with the state. In the last six months, the state of Missouri now requires all tattoo artists to have a business license. Also make sure the tattoo artist uses new needles and you see them actually take them out of the sealed package. Believe it or not, there are some tattoo artists who reuse their needles. What most people don’t know is that most tattoo studios are actually cleaner than your doctor's office.

CC: What percent of your customers are men versus women?

Denny: I’d say about 70 percent of our clients are women?

CC: Where and what are the most popular designs for women these days?

Denny: The most popular spot is the lower back. Tribal is real popular as well as flowers. Large traditional tattoos are also back in.

CC: Where do most of your customers come from?

Denny: Most are from here in the Blue Springs area, however we have clients who come from all over the Kansas City area. We just had a lady who flew all the way in from Florida for a tattoo. We occasionally get customer from Oklahoma because they are one of the few remaining states where tattooing is illegal.

CC: Do you tattoo many bikers?

Denny: Yes, I’d say at least 10-15 percent of my customers ride. I’ve tattooed several Freedom of Road Riders members. Word spreads fast.

CC: What changes have you seen in the tattoo industry over the past few years?

Denny: There are more and more artists who are doing tattoos as another form of artistic expression.

CC: How many tattoos does the average person usually get?

Denny: It’s funny because most people start out wanting only one, but before long, they want more and more. It’s kind of addicting.

CC: Are there any body parts you won’t tattoo for a customer?

Denny: I won’t do the neck unless the customer already has a full sleeve because I feel you have to earn it. I also try to discourage younger kids and adults from getting finger tattoos or tattoos on other exposed areas, which I call job stoppers. You wouldn’t believe, even in this day and age, how many people still look down on tattoos.

CC: Do you offer body piercing?

Denny: Yes. We use hollow single use needles, which is much clean and safer than piercing guns you see used in a lot of mall locations. We even started a petition with the state to ban the use of piercing guns.

A few customers came into the shop looking for tattoos so I figured it was time to wrap up the interview so Denny could get back to business. So the next time you want a great tattoo from someone you can trust, stop by Icon Tattoo, which is located at 1412 G SW 7 Highway in Blue Springs, Missouri or give them a call at 816-220-8281 to schedule an appointment.

Story and photos by Mike Schweder

The synopsis for The Illustrated Man with Rod Steiger in a 1969 movie by Rotten Tomatoes says: “In 1933, a man whose body is covered with tattoos searches for the woman who painted him. During his trek, the drifter meets a young man, who envisions three futuristic sci-fi tales, each based on a different tattoo; “The Long Rain,” “The Veldt” and “The Last Night of the World.” Now flash forward 39 years to 1972 at Independence Avenue and Prospect in Kansas City, Missouri. There you will meet Jack Cox, self-taught from the old school, and owner operator of The Illustrated Man Tattoo Studio. Unlike the drifter in the movie, Jack is covered from head to toe in tattoos.

So what’s in a name you ask? How about over thirty years in the business. That in itself is a compliment, but to get a closer insight on how it all started, I talked with Shar Cox, Jack’s wife and Office Administrator. Jack is a little shy when it comes to interviews and photos, but you would never know it after seeing his artistic ability and completed pieces.

Jack got a tattoo first, lost his job second, and then started hanging out at a tattoo shop. Back then, it was something of a secret society to get into the business. He mentored with Art Balch and the rest is history. After 12 years at Independence Avenue and Prospect, he moved to 17th and Main where he remained for five years then on to 31st and Main. At the end of his five year lease there, he began looking for a new studio location.

Shar: We found an old radio station building downtown that was so perfect and with the Power and Light District Redevelopment plans, we almost committed to it. But when the redevelopment plans fell through, we were back to square one looking for a new location. We felt the Lord was leading us to look north of the river so we started checking out places. We were also tired of dealing with the City of Kansas City, Missouri, who was trying to regulate our business and tried to shut us down for nude body painting, which we were not doing. After two lawsuits against the City, ending in our favor, we fought for our rights and the rights of all other tattoo businesses in Kansas City to not be regulated. We had a regular business license, but currently Kansas City is issuing licenses that are regulated and the business owners are not even aware of it. That means the City can come into your business at any time to inspect, look at your accounting records, or whatever they want.

CC: So after the obstacles with the City of Kansas City, Missouri, what challenges did you face in moving to a new location?

Shar: Plenty! Other businesses did not want us in the same shopping center or next door to them. One lady told the landlord that she was concerned that one of our clients might murder her some night! (Shar rolled her eyes to that). We have an excellent business resume, family members in law enforcement and we still had problems.

CC: How long did it take to find a place?

Shar: We kept looking and looking, seven months altogether. Our insurance man told us about a doctor’s office that was available. We met with the owner, Dr. Sportsman, gave him our resume and after calling our pastor and another reference it was a done deal. The building was a perfect set-up because the rooms were already divided. It gave us five tattoo rooms, a kitchen, large lab room and reception area.

CC: Did you buy the building?

Shar: No, we are currently renting, but would like to purchase it when the time is right.

CC: How many artists do you have, and are you one also?

Shar: We have 5 artists: Jack, Ben Alvarez, Spike Palmer, Chris Orr and Creepy Gary. They are all independent contractors with us. I apprenticed about ten years ago and I just don’t have the talent. I am more skilled in the administrative and management areas of the business.
CC: How many tattoos does Jack have?

Shar: He is covered from head to toe and is running out of space.

CC: And you?

Shar: I have one big one, working on a partial body suit.

CC: How did you get started getting tattoos?

Shar: I was working at a doctor’s office on the Plaza back in the eighties and tattoos weren’t exactly the proper thing to do. I was going through a major change in my life and decided to get one on my hip. The second one, I was taking a friend to get one and never dreamed I would get two. I saw a design I loved and started looking at tattooing as an expression of myself.

CC: And is that when you and Jack met?

Shar: Yes, we formed a friendship and he encouraged me to continue so I have been adding to them since 1987 to present.

CC: How long have you been married?

Shar: Sixteen years.

CC: What has been Jack’s most artistic endeavor?

Shar: We had a client that had a mastectomy and Jack tattooed a beautiful angel over the scar. Another one had a breast recreated and Jack added texture to make it more natural looking.

CC: What awards has Jack received?

Shar: He won 2nd place in Black & White at the National Competition in 1986, held in Texas. He also received excellent test results in the Compliance Alliance of Professional Tattooing Course.

CC: Do your artists have art backgrounds or degrees in art?

Shar: Some do. Ben is linear thinking, sees it more mathematically, spatially. Chris has a Geology and English degree and can do anything in design, very creative.

CC: What makes a good tattoo artist?

Shar: It’s not always about art; someone artistic may not make a good tattoo. If you really want to learn, are disciplined enough, are good with people, responsible and apply yourself, you will gain from this business. When Jack started, he would go to Fort Leavenworth, Kan. military base twice a month on paydays. All of the time slots for Friday, Saturday and Sunday would be sold out for the entire weekend and he had four others helping him. They would work until 2 a.m. every night, so you must be very dedicated and disciplined.

CC: What do artists do when they get burned out?

Shar: Good question. It happened with Jack when he moved to Kansas City after tattooing with the same guy for 20 years. He surrounded himself with young artists. His quality of work has improved so much in the past five years because of his renewed enthusiasm and he really loves what he does.

CC: What is your advice to first time customers?

Shar: Decide where you are going to put it. Placement, in the sense a young girl wants one on her forearm that says 'Bitch.’ I try to talk her out of it. We had a guy who wanted 'Armed & Dangerous’ on his arms, so we gave him a scenario of being pulled over by a cop and how that might be perceived.

CC: Do you have a booth at the bike shows?

Shar: Not anymore. The people putting them on don’t require other tattoo vendors to be licensed and we don’t want to be associated with people who tattoo out of their basement. Not only are we licensed with the City of Gladstone, Missouri, but also the State of Missouri, the UMKC School of Dentistry tests our autoclave machines and keeps them up to par, and we have a bio-hazard waste container picked up on a routine basis. Hygiene is very important.

CC: What is the risk of infection?

Shar: After the customer leaves our door, the skin breaths. It’s like an open screen door, it lets stuff on the outside come in for a warm spot which is the open wound, and dirt gets in the area. We give verbal and written after care instructions. Usually during and after getting a tattoo their adrenalin is so high they don’t always hear what you are telling them. But we always tell them to call with any dumb questions!

CC: What is the average healing time?

Shar: Two weeks on the surface and four to six weeks internally.

CC: Is the customer always right when there is a complaint?

Shar: Sometimes they are right, but if they don’t follow our after care instructions, like staying out of the sun or water, the color comes out. Education is very important and we try to inform all our customers on proper care. We don’t care whose fault it is, if the customer don’t look good, we don’t look good.

CC: At what price do your tattoos start?

Shar: Thirty dollars and up. We are different from other studios, all of our tattoo samples have the price displayed next to them. Our most expensive is between $200 and $300. Cost is determined by size, design, detail and time.

CC: Do you do facial or permanent cosmetics?

Shar: No, the ink is totally different and so is working with the facial skin. We have a lady in Ohio who comes to Kansas City a couple times a year. We keep a list of customers who are interested or we give her number directly to them. You must understand on a nurse’s level about the body and the skin to be successful in this business.

CC: What changes have you seen over the years?

Shar: In the 70’s, we saw bikers and girls getting tattooed on their private parts. In the 80’s, we had a big boom tattooing African Americans. In the 90’s, there were more professionals, women over 40, and men getting hunting and Harley-Davidson tattoos. In 2000, everybody is getting a tattoo! Corrective tattooing has increased 50 percent in the past seven years.

CC: Are there any new procedures for tattoo removal?

Shar: Yes, it’s called Palomar Oyag5 Laser. It is the most advanced laser with no bleeding or damage. It takes approximately three to eight treatments and they can usually achieve 90 to 100 percent removal of a tattoo.

CC: What are the most popular designs?

Shar: Women started out with small roses and butterflies, but not anymore. They are getting tribal designs on their lower back, then the whole back and then sleeved out! These are girls in their 20’s & 30’s. Men are getting more testosterone pieces; bear claws, lions, wolves and rottweilers; not evil just aggressive designs. Religious designs are also getting very popular. We go to conventions all over the U.S. and design sells. Hair, clothing and tattoos all come from the West Coast and migrate to the Midwest. Tribal is still the most requested.

CC: Why the sudden popularity in religious pieces?

Shar: I think people are choosing them to celebrate spiritually. One client had his family crest put on his back. Another client had stars and banners on his chest with the wording, 'suffer not the little children who come unto me.’

CC: Wow! He must have been a big man!

Shar: Yes, 400 pounds! He and his wife had twin babies and one did not survive so he also had both names tattooed on, celebrating the blessing of life.

CC: You seem to project a strong religious philosophy in your business. Can you share how that came about?

Shar: We don’t see it as religious; it’s more of a living relationship with Jesus. It’s the ability, wisdom and energy to reach out to others. When Jack and I got married we were highly involved in chemicals, topless bars and porno and it got to the point where I just couldn’t hang anymore with that lifestyle. I needed to get straight. We faced some difficult times. We had a baby and I was alone a lot so I went to a small church where I attended Sunday school classes for a year and a half. Jack finally got straight and since it was the fourth marriage for both of us, we knew we could make it this time.

CC: What is the most satisfying aspect of this business?

Shar: Our biggest compliment is getting referrals from our customers, helping clients change their lives and the ability to share our life to help them.

CC: Why is your studio special?

Shar: The level of help, education and professionalism of our entire staff, our continued education in tattooing, our bio-hazard use and our resources for designs. There is a peace in our shop, people feel comfortable. Because we spend so much time here, cleanliness is imminent throughout. We also involve ourselves in every person who walks in our door.

CC: What forms of advertising do you do?

Shar: Word of mouth, satisfied customers and we advertise in the yellow pages. Rates have sky-rocketed over the years. Our first ads were $40, now they are $170.

I had the opportunity to meet and photograph Jennifer Angelo who is 28 years old and came to the Illustrated Man a year and a half ago. She went through the flash designs, selected one and for the next two and a half months had her entire back tattooed in all color (see photo below). At times she could sit for three hours, other times only thirty minutes. Ben Alvarez was her artist and the use of color, shading and technique are very impressive in her pixie/fair princess design. I asked Jennifer what’s next and she replied, “I will probably fill in around my shoulders, haven’t really decided yet.” When I asked her if she would come back to The Illustrated Man, she said, “Most definitely.”

Tony Myers had his first tattoo in 1986. I asked him why he chose The Illustrated Man. “I heard about them from someone else.” And what design did he choose? “Since I’m a Taurus, I chose a bull.” Since it has been so long, Tony could not remember the name of the artist, but he was happy with the outcome.

Not all tattoo artists are created equal. Tattooing is not about tracing stencils anymore, it’s about creative art and passion. There’s a lot of money that has to be invested in running a successful, safe, clean, sterile and professional tattoo business. The Illustrated Man seems to be the king of the hill. Folks, you can’t beat word of mouth and satisfied customers when choosing a place. Stop by and meet Shar, Jack and their team of artists. Their reputation stands alone and is second to none with the tattoo artists that are here today. Be sure and tell them you read their review in Cycle Connections On-Line Motorcycle Magazine!

Story and photos by Goldie Arnold
Photo of Jennifer Angelo provided by Jennifer

Congratulations to Knucklehead’s Saloon on being voted Best Bike Night location in Kansas City for 2003! Where else can you go to shop for motor clothes, buy parts, get your bike serviced, listen to blues, eat, drink, visit with other bikers and party like a rock star? Knucklehead's Saloon and F.O.G. Cycles of course. F.O.G. is no ordinary motorcycle bike shop. It may be out of the way and out of plain sight, but it is never out of your mind once you’ve been there.

It was a Friday night and there was a good crowd congregated inside the Saloon, the full-throttle zydeko tunes of Billy Ebling and His Late for Dinner band was jammin' and we were there stuffing ourselves with tacos. Cycle Connections Editor-in-Chief, Mike Schweder and V.P. of Marketing, Greg Bartley presented Frank Hicks, owner/operator, with a plaque for this special recognition. I draped a pair of motorcycle beads around Frank’s neck and asked him if he was surprised. 'Yes, this is really a surprise, and I really appreciate it.”

Frank is, humble, courteous and a successful businessman who doesn't sit still for very long. He greets his customers by name and takes pride in the customer service he offers.

CC: How did F.O.G. get started?

Frank: I owned a body shop and was working on old bikes out of a garage. It was hard to get parts for custom bikes and it was time to get the eight bikes out of my garage. I opened it as a hobby, for enthusiasts for the sport of riding.

CC: What does F.O.G. stand for?

Frank: F**king Old Guys.

CC: How did you come up with that?

Frank: Myself and some riding friends were into hot rod cars. One of the guys had a really ugly car that he entered in all the car shows. Not only was it ugly, it was a money pit and it never won anything. We got together and bought a trophy and one morning at breakfast we presented it to him, signed from F**king Old Guys.

CC: How long have you been in business?

Frank: Seven years, all at this location.

CC: How many employees do you have?

Frank: Three at F.O.G. and four at Knuckleheads.

CC: How many of them ride?

Frank: All of them.

CC: Who rides the motorcycle in your television commercials? Everyone thinks he looks like Hank Williams, Jr.

Frank: That's Rick McQuinlin, our bartender’s husband.

CC: How is F.O.G. different from other bike shops?

Frank: I think we are more personal with our customers.

CC: What steps do you take to correct problems or issues with dissatisfied customers?

Frank: First of all we talk with them to find out the whole story and then we try to reason with them and correct the problem.

CC: What type of training does your mechanic have?

Frank: He is certified with MMI, and was previously with Blue Springs Harley-Davidson for four years.

CC: Is there a lot of employee turnover in this business?

Frank: Not really, I have only had three employees since starting the business.

CC: Describe your 'perfect employee.'

Frank: There isn't one, but it's important they have a good attitude.

CC: What employee incentives do you offer to keep them motivated?

Frank: They work on salary plus commission and they are included in all the events or rides we sponsor and attend. Sometimes they do have to work the street parties.

CC: Besides bike service, what other services do you offer customers?

Frank: Body work, custom paint, frame stretching, custom build jobs, detailing and re-sale bikes.

CC: Why did you get out of the trailer rental business?

Frank: It was a hassle. They would come back damaged and abused, we would fix them and it would happen again. It just wasn't worth it. We also had customers who wanted to borrow them, versus renting. We sold most of our inventory, still have four left if anyone is looking for one.

CC: Where do you display your re-sale bikes since opening Knucklehead's?

Frank: Across the street, or we may put them next door this spring. They are also on our web site for viewing.

CC: Who does the buying for your motor clothes?

Frank: My wife, Mary and Gwen and I.

CC: What is the biggest change you have seen in the past five years in motorcycling?

Frank: Different types of people who ride. The value of bikes. The used market has become real soft because of the zero down on financing. Harley's are still holding their value, but not like they used to. As long as the supply and demand continues Harley-Davidson will stay on the upswing.

CC: How do you keep customer retention?

Frank: Just being personal and friendly to people. We listen to them and like to visit, sometimes too much!

CC: What do you ride and how often do you get out?

Frank: I have a V-Rod. We go to Sturgis, Daytona, and Las Vegas Bike Week annually. This year we are going to Myrtle Beach too.

CC: Tell me about your Members Only Club.

Frank: It was started to give the customers a sense of belonging. The fee was nominal, $15 and they would get discounts on their purchases. At our peak we had 697 members. I then went to a higher membership fee of $100 for a Gold VIP card. They still received store discounts plus the first Saturday of the month they could purchase any clothing item at regular price and get the second of equal value for 25 percent off. They also received two free admittances to all the street parties and all other events planned for that year. They could park inside the fence VIP parking. However, we are going to discontinue the club. It's been a hard year for motorcycling; part sales are down 60 percent.

CC: That's a huge percentage, what has attributed to the decline?

Frank: A lot of unemployed people selling their bikes. The toys are the first to go. It’s just the economy in general.

CC: Your street parties are packed with riders from all over Kansas and Missouri, what has changed the most since your first one?

Frank: Well, we couldn't serve beer. Then we had to charge for the food in order for anyone to get a drink. It took us a couple of years to finally get a liquor license, it was really hard. We have tried to fine tune the parties every year. We used to keep the street open and the last couple we have blocked it off. A lot of people didn't like that so we are going to open them back up again. They used to get a little crazy with the burnouts and all, but we have not had any fights or arrests. We do hire off-duty security, but all in all it's a fun time.

CC: Being in a residential neighborhood, do any of them complain about the constant roar of bikes or your parties with bands?

Frank: No, they really don't. Some even walk up for the street parties, while others sit on their front porch and watch the parade of bikes coming in. It's entertaining for them I think.

CC: You were the first to offer the lottery/raffle to win a new bike. Was that profitable or more promotional?

Frank: The first year we made a little money, the second year it was more promotional. Not sure if we are going to do it for a third time. Maybe, maybe not.

CC: How has the response been to your television ads?

Frank: It's given us a lot of exposure, but we haven't really seen it come back to us in business yet.

CC: What other avenues of advertising do you use?

Frank: Radio, flyers, e-mail, web site, magazines and mostly word of mouth.

CC: Do you participate in the bike shows?

Frank: Not as a vendor, we put our bikes in to show, but they are not entered for judging or competition.

CC: What types of specials or discounts do you give to bikers?

Frank: We have lots of sales and this year instead of doing the membership club, we are going to rebate you a percentage of cash on your purchases.

CC: What percentage of your business are with women riders?

Frank: I'd say 15 to 20 percent.

CC: Do you sponsor any charity events?

Frank: Yes. The City Union Mission, Newhouse, Biker's for Babies and several others.

CC: Do you think some of the entry fees are getting out of hand?

Frank: I think some are, $35 is high, plus when you have a passenger. I think the fees should be less, then have something at the end of the ride to generate more money. I had an idea that if local people had arts or crafts, they could donate, people could buy them, or have an auction.

CC: It seems like you own the whole block of Rochester. Do you?

Frank: No, it's the right away for the railroad. We still have to get permits from the City when we have our parties or close the street down.

CC: How did Knucklehead's Saloon get started?

Frank: Two years ago we set it up to do the catering for the street parties.

CC: Where did you get the Caboose?

Frank: It came from Victoria Street Station down in the River Quey. I knew the owner so I offered to buy it and he shot me an astronomical price and I thought that was the end to it. A couple weeks later, it closed. I called him again and he said he wouldn't sell it to me, but he would loan it. I asked him for how long and he said, 'as long as I'm alive.’ So that's how we got it. We named it, The Ronnie Ralston Music Depot, dedicated to my great friend, Ronnie, a musician and fellow riding buddy.

CC: What kind of food do you serve?

Frank: Tacos, appetizers, lucky dogs (jumbo chili dogs) and Texas tators. They are like blooming onions, but are thinly spiraled potatoes.

CC: Are you open for lunch?

Frank: No, but we are open on Saturdays from 1 to 4 p.m.

CC: When did you start having entertainment?

Frank: It started out with Karoke, then went into bands.

CC: How do you select your bands?

Frank: We go to different clubs and listen to them and also see what kind of following they have.

CC: You are quite the washboard player, any plans of running off with a band and giving up the motorcycle life?

Frank: No. But we may try and get some bluegrass jams going in here.

CC: Who comes up with all the ideas? Do you have an event planner?

Frank: I'm it!

CC: What fun events do you have planned for 2004?

Frank: Fat Tuesday, February 24th at 8 p.m. we are on the downtown route for the Kansas City Blues Society Club Crawl. Levee Town and Lee McBee will be the bands.

April 9th will be the kick-off to our Hot Rods and Harley cruise nights. We are going to try and combine the two this year. Everyone in town is offering a bike night regardless if any bikes ever come there. We may also make the cruise nights a two-day event and have a bike show on Saturday. We have a lot of out-of-towners who come in for the street parties and we have a 16-passenger van so we can pick them up at their hotel and bring them down for a fun weekend.

Also we plan on doing a lot more rides this year.

CC: Where do you see F.O.G. in three to five years?

Frank: I want to put a deck on top of the building that looks down over the patio, create more coverage from the sun. I think we will have a bigger service department, smaller motor clothes area and I would like to add an on-line order center for parts where the customer will come in, find the part they need, pay for it and have it delivered to their home. I'd also like to put a museum upstairs about motorcycling. We would also like to start offering Motorcycle Safety classes for beginners and advanced riders.

CC: What is the hardest part to not only running F.O.G, but the three other businesses, Mid City Body Shop, Express Channels Sign Shop, and Knucklhead’s Saloon?

Frank: Being in four places at one time.

CC: Is it hard for you to delegate the work load?

Frank: Yes. Mary helps me a lot and all the employees are great. I just end up doing too much myself.

CC: If you had it to do over again, what would you do different?

Frank: Have more people running the business so I have more time to ride. I would run it more like a business from the start versus a hobby. My New Years Resolution is to make a profit with F.O.G. from now on. No more doing this as a hobby, it's a business and if we can't make it, we won't be here. We may have to raise some prices. Our beer just went to $2.50 and we may charge a cover for the bands.

CC: You are getting more into choppers, what's the latest you have done?

Frank: We designed a chopper trike for one of our customers. It's really something to see. And we are working on a custom bike for a girl in Florida who is part of the National Biker Roundup.

CC: What do you want the biking community to know about F.O.G.?

Frank: It's hard to find, but it's worth it. We want them to be happy they came here, for whatever reason that brought them here, whether its parts, service or Knucklehead's. We want you to know us.

Their television ad says it all, 'F.O.G. is a destination, where the search begins for adventure.’ So saddle up all you dudes and divas and head on down to the playground for bikers; a truly unique experience in motorcycles. It is also the most diversified bike shop in the Midwest, and be sure and tell them you read their review in Cycle Connections On-Line Motorcycle Magazine!

Here’s what voices from the streets of Rochester are saying about F.O.G. Cycles and Knucklehead’s Saloon:

Biker Bud: I've been coming down here for seven years two to three times a week to have a beer and because I love Frank! I like it because it's out of the way.

Ronnie Ralston: I come here because it's fun, totally different crowd all the time, a lot of nice people and because Frank is a great guy. My band has played down here a lot and we also played for Frank's New Years Eve party this year.

Diane Moore: Last week it was wall to wall people, dancing on the tables and then this week it's more of a laid back crowd. Maybe people are still getting over the holidays. It's a fun place and everyone is so nice.

Charlie Atkins: I'm a retired Kansas City, Missouri fireman and we started out cooking barbeque for Frank's street parties. Been coming here since he opened and I buy most of my parts from here.

Story by Goldie Arnold

Photos by Goldie Arnold & Mike Schweder

When you walk down the steps into Kingpin Tattoos you know you’re in a top notch shop. To the right is a comfortable waiting area, and straight ahead is a room filled with rack after rack of tattoos that are neatly arranged in swinging poster frames so you can easily flip through the endless selection to find the perfect one.

In yet another room is the main tattooing area, which reminds me of a quaint old-fashioned barber shop with a row of chairs facing a huge mirror that runs the entire length of the room. Each work station is spotless, awaiting the next customer to walk through the door. You can tell this area is setup to do business, and with seven tattoo artists on staff, they do a lot of business! Owner, John Monk says, “Weekends around here are crazy. We often have every chair filled and customers in the waiting area.” John is the tattooing kingpin and his brother Josh handles the body piercing side of the business.

While I was talking with John and Josh, a first time customer popped in while on his lunch hour for three quick piercings. Just like you’d stop by a convenience store for a soda, chips and candy bar, before I’d finished my conversation with John, the customer was on his way back to work with three new holes in his head. I asked Josh what body part was the most popular area to get pierced these days, and he said, “The tongue is real popular, as well as the eyebrows and naval.”

Before the next customer could arrive, I figured I’d better get my questions asked before it got busy.

CC: How long have you been in business?

John: I’ve been in the tattoo business about 11 years.

CC: Have you always been at this location?

John: We’ve been here almost 10 years, and before that, I worked at another tattoo shop.

CC: How did you get started in the tattoo business?

John: My dad was a tattoo artist and he got me interested.

CC: What makes Kingpin Tattooing & Piercing stand out from your competition?

John: I don’t feel we really have any direct competition because the majority of our clients are loyal repeat customers and referrals. I submitted a photo of my work to Tattoo magazine a while back and they put it on the cover of their magazine. Since then, I’ve had customers fly in from Arizona, California, Illinois, Nebraska, and even Alaska!

CC: Wow! That’s impressive. Is there any one customer you’ve spent the most hours tattooing?

John: Yes. I have one client who is working on a complete body suit and I also have several clients who have a full sleeve (see photo below).

CC: What should someone look for when choosing a tattoo artist?

John: Check out the artist’s portfolio and ask to see some of their work.

CC: Are the majority of your customers men or women?

John: I’d say about 70% are women.

CC: Really? On what part of their bodies are all these women getting tattooed?

John: Their “girlie area” is the most popular spot.

CC: Their girlie area? And where would that be…do tell?

John: It’s their lower back.

CC: Damn! I was hoping for something a little more erotic. Oh well…so what type of tattoos are they getting on their girlie area?

John: Tribal designs are real popular, and so are bugs and flowers.

CC: Do you tattoo many bikers?

John: Yes, quite a few. I have tattooed several members of the club I belong to, as well as members of other motorcycle clubs.

CC: What do you ride?

John: I ride a custom built chopper with a 113 cubic inch S&S engine. Possum, who’s now building bikes at Black Diamond Choppers in Shawnee, Kansas built it from the frame up, and Scott Thomas with KC Creations did the painting (see photo below).

Awesome! A beautiful bike, a successful business, what more could you ask for? If you’re looking for a great tattoo by a well respected and nationally recognized tattoo artist, drop by Kingpin Tattooing & Piercing at 3618 S. Noland Road in Independence, Missouri and tell John and his crew that Mike with Cycle Connections sent you.

Story & Photos by Mike Schweder

Alter Ego Cycle is not a new name in Kansas City for motorcycle parts, accessories and motorclothes. They have been in business since 1973, and in 1999 they expanded to Shawnee Mission, Kansas. Brothers, Steven (“Buddha”) and Duane (“Drano”) Heiman, are the owners of this successful biker friendly motorcycle shop.

When asked how they got started in the business, Buddha said he always liked motorcycles, so he started working on friends' bikes out of his dad’s shed until the city put a stop to it. He was in high school at the time, so he found a building to rent in Smithville, MO and started his own business. They built custom bikes and did routine maintenance on all types of bikes.

Two years later he moved his shop to Liberty, MO until they opened the Vivion Road store where they remained for over 15 years. Bulging at the seams, they built a new store in 1992 on North Brighton where they are located today. And, they are bulging at the seams once again, 11 years later. Plans are in the works to expand to make room for more inventory. The Shawnee store is also growing quickly and they are looking for another location to build a larger store.

I have been a customer of Alter Ego Cycle for the past five years and every time I go in, the service has been great and their staff is very helpful and knowledgeable. The evening of this interview was no different when Mike and I walked in to meet Buddha. He is the example of why his stores have such a remarkable loyal customer base. He genuinely cares about customer service and employee training for his staff. They have a total of 16 employees, 9 male and 7 female, and 90% of them ride motorcycles.

CC: First off, how did you get the nickname, Buddha?

Buddha: When I was younger, I would sit on the floor working on bikes with my belly hanging over and someone came in and said, “You look like a Buddha sitting there.” The name stuck and the belly got a little bigger over the years.

CC: And here, I thought everyone in the motorcycle business worshiped you for all your knowledge.

Buddha: Ha!

CC: How did you pick your store locations?

Buddha: I was tired of paying rent and wanted to own my own building, and both stores are in high traffic areas.

CC: What was your biggest obstacle in starting your business?

Buddha: Money. I have other shop owners who come to me for advice and it’s all about money. Most start out under-capitalized and really struggle to make it, and some don’t.

CC: Who do you turn to for advice?

Buddha: I try to learn from my mistakes, it’s all trial and error.

CC: Where do you see your business in five years?

Buddha: Expanding both stores and hopefully opening a new store in Blue Springs, Missouri.

CC: Where do the majority of your customers come from?

Buddha: Word of mouth and drive bys. We used to have vendor booths at all the bike shows, but we have quit doing them because of the time and labor involved.

CC: I have seen your television ads on the Discovery and ESPN channels, has that paid off for you?

Buddha: Yes, it’s been great exposure for us.

CC: Do you offer any specials or promotions for bikers?

Buddha: All the time. We also have an advantage card/loyalty card/gift card we offer to select customers. It gives them 10% off their purchases and when we have our annual Father’s Day promotion they get an additional 5% off for a total of 15%.

Mike and I immediately asked, “How can we get one of those cards?' Buddha said they have 300 printed per store and when they are gone, that’s it. He thought there might be a few left at the north store, but Shawnee was sold out. They are expensive to make because they come with a memory chip so they don’t normally advertise them to the general public.

CC: Do the customers who get cards have to buy them?

Buddha: They are $25, and the next year they are only $20.

CC: Tell me about your annual Father’s Day event.

Buddha: It’s a free annual party. We set up a big tent, the Bob Harvey band plays and we smoke some BBQ for our customers. It’s an appreciation for all their support. Local motorcycle group, The Weasles, have a bike show and I donate the trophies. It’s a good time and this place is packed all day.

Get it on your calendar now folks! It’s Sunday, June 20, 2004.

CC: What is the biggest change you have seen in the past five years in regards to motorcycling?

Buddha: The type of people that are riding. There are more professionals and more women riders now.

CC: What percent of your business are with women riders?

Buddha: Probably around 20-25 %.

CC: Who is your biggest competition?

Buddha: J&P Cycles, a mail order company. Most of their items are higher in their catalog than what we sell them for. We buy from a distributor and can still sell cheaper.

CC: Do you do distribution here?

Buddha: Yes, I’ll take you upstairs and give you a tour. We sell to after market shops and we ship everything from here. Also, if customers order on-line from our website, it’s shipped from here.

CC: Will you ever expand to selling new or used bikes?

Buddha: NO! It sucks. I was the first Big Dog dealer in Kansas City and it was a real hassle. I was doing a lot of work on the bikes myself because the company didn’t want to fix anything, they always said the customer was at fault, which wasn’t the case.

CC: What is your number one priority to your customers?

Buddha: Customer service and providing a staff that is knowledgeable to all aspects of the business.

CC: How do you train your staff?

Buddha: We have monthly training meetings, go over any customer complaints and do hands on tech training. New employees are given a handful of catalogs to take home and study. We feel this helps them become more familiar with the products and with bikes in general.

CC: I see Alter Ego Cycle as a sponsor on lots of charity flyers. Do you have a special one?

Buddha: Yes, the City Union Mission. We are a corporate sponsor; the people who run it are good friends of my brother so that’s how we got involved. We also do the other rides like Toys for Tots, Bikers for Babies and Club poker runs.

CC: What clubs or organizations do you belong to?

Buddha: None. And we don’t allow our employees to join any, so we are not biased, however, they can participate in any of the rides or events they want.

CC: What kind of bike do you ride, and how often do you ride?

Buddha: I have a 1994 Ultra Classic. There’s not much time to do a lot of riding, we used to go to Sturgis every year, but with the stores we’re too busy.

CC: What do you want people to know about Alter Ego Cycle?

Buddha: When you want it, we have it. We carry OEM stuff (original equipment manufacturer) that even Harley-Davidson dealers don’t have. And, if we order something for you we can usually get it in 2-3 business days. We are also open on Mondays.

What started out as a dream for a young boy has turned into a reality for Buddha and his family. He is a respected businessman and he stays on top of all the newest and latest technology in the industry. Says a long-time customer, “He is a heck of a nice guy who treats people the way he wants to be treated and he provides great service, usually cheaper than catalogs, has a better inventory selection and doesn’t charge for shipping.”

If its motorcycle related, Alter Ego Cycle can get it for you. Personally, I keep going back because it’s a comfortable place to shop, and they recognize when someone needs help. They don’t let you wander around aimlessly for certain items, and they don’t completely ignore you like other stores. Mark Rousch, the sales tech has helped me several times, and has even steered me out so I didn’t spend more money!

If there is something you don’t like or can’t find, tell Buddha or any one of his employees. They are good listeners, and if there are things you like about the store, tell them that also. Everyone enjoys a compliment and from what I have seen and heard, Alter Ego Cycle deserves a big pat on the back for working hard to meet their customers needs. Stop by and check them out, tell them you read their review in Cycle Connections Online Motorcycle Magazine.

Story by Goldie Arnold

Photos by Mike Schweder

The beauty of tattoos is upon you as you enter the gates of Purgatory. An enthusiastic, cheerful, long blond haired beauty behind the counter, who just happens to be owner, Elizabeth Hilden, greeted me. Elizabeth was Pet of the Year for Penthouse Magazine in 1997. She rides her own bike, a Big Dog Chopper that happened to be in for a paint job at the time of this interview.

She guided me to a room and introduced me to Chris Melchert. He was working on customer, George Ketner, who was reclined in a chair. The ease that Chris displayed while performing his artistic work and talking with me at the same time is amazing. His enthusiasm and eye contact was contagious during the entire interview.

Elizabeth and Chris knew each other back when they were nine years old, when Chris was her boyfriend at the skating rink! Elizabeth started her business four years ago in Independence, Missouri after finishing her responsibilities with Penthouse Magazine. She called Chris to see if he would come to work for her and told him he wouldn’t have a boss standing around all day looking over his shoulder and he could do 'his own thing.’ Well the rest is history, although Chris said, “I still have a boss!” while looking at Elizabeth with a grin.

From the time Chris got his first tattoo, he knew he could do this himself. He has worked at three other tattoo shops over the years and occasionally helps his brother who owns a shop. Chris specializes in cover-ups, no matter how bad it is, he can fix an existing tattoo to make it look better. He has received numerous awards for his work, most recently, Best Black/Gray at the Shane Hart Tattoo Convention. At an Easy Rider Bike Show, Chris’ tattoo on customer, George Ketner, won second place. Chris has 60-70% of his body tattooed and even has one on the inside of his lip. Ouch! On the other hand, Elizabeth doesn’t have any tattoos. When I asked her why, she said, “I really haven’t found anything I want to wear for life.”

Purgatory employs a crew of six artists, three are piercing specialists. Elizabeth boasts highly about her team, “It’s the best crew we have ever had. Everyone gets along, we invite them to our home, we enjoy being with them and they like coming to work.” I bet the guys love having a gorgeous boss too, especially with the care and concern she shows toward them.

CC: How do you price your tattoos?

Chris: Each artist sets their own price, but we have the best prices in town. There is a minimum of $30.00. We also give great deals to repeat customers and friends.

CC: Where do your clients come from?

Chris: Mostly referrals and from others who see our work. We work on all types; upper class, professionals, preachers, college students, you name it. Just today we had a repeat customer who is a preacher come in with his wife and son. They had been thinking about having a tattoo for a long time and just decided to do it. It just seems a little ironic that a preacher gets a tattoo at Purgatory. (everyone laughs)

CC: Are you seeing more women getting tattoos?

Elizabeth: Oh yeah. When they turn 18 they think they need to rush out and get one. I have tried to talk girls out of getting one, I tell them to go home and think about it for 4-5 months and then if they decide they still want one, come back in and we will do it for free!

CC: That’s generous, how many return?

Elizabeth: There have been a few over the years. It’s just when they get one, it becomes addictive and they keep getting more.

George (the customer in the chair) had his own theory, “I think the manufacturer puts something in the ink to make you crave more tattoos!” He is speaking from experience!

Chris: Oh man, women are a lot easier to work on, they can sit still for hours, while a biker comes in, gets a few dots and starts getting antsy to get done and out.

Elizabeth: Yeah, and the guys are always the first to pass out!

CC: Have you ever put on a tattoo you didn’t want to?

Chris: Yes, today someone came in and we didn’t like what they wanted to do so we gave them our input and advice. Sometimes the customers don’t always know how it’s going to look and we want to try and explain so they understand. If the request is too outrageous, we will refer them to someone else.

CC: What do you feel has been the biggest impact in the industry?

Chris: The greatest thing that has happened, and your going to laugh at this, but
Dennis Rodman! When he steps into his hi-tops and hits the court with all his tattoos, it’s just awesome. In addition, there are extremely talented new kids who are kickin’ butt. They are doing great things in tattooing that guys who have been in the business for 20 years still can’t do. There are a lot of great artists in Kansas City, it’s really great to see so many.

CC: Are there any rules you enforce?

Elizabeth: No food, no drinks, no smoking, no pets, no kids, no loitering.

Chris: We won’t tolerate any of those. I was in a shop in Florida and the guy tattooing was eating a Twinkie, barefoot and smoking!

CC: What do you do for cleanliness and to keep the equipment sterile?

Chris: All of our equipment is disposable, we wear gloves, the City of Independence requires an annual blood test, and you can’t work until the results come back. We do use an autoclave and with the new needles, we solder them down to a flat, round or pointed shape then put them in the autoclave to sterilize again as extra protection. We also lay all the new sealed packages of equipment we are using on a piece of plastic. When the job is done, we roll everything up in the plastic and place it in a biohazard container.

CC: Why not use standard needles?

Chris: Because each artist has a different style and being able to use various shapes of needles allows them to be more creative.

CC: Do you do tattoo removals?

Chris: It depends on the tattoo, you can laser them off, but it's expensive, I use a white ink procedure that takes several applications over a period of several months. I then use a flesh tone ink to fill in. It doesn’t make it go away, but it makes way for a new tattoo to be put on.

CC: What should a person look for in a tattoo artist?

Chris: Look for smooth flowing line work, bold colors. We ask customers to look through all the artists’ portfolio books and see what they like best. We have a portrait artist and you just bring in the picture you want done and he can duplicate it to a tee. I would also suggest they get on the Internet and do some research on what they are about to do to their body so the have a better understanding.

CC: Do you have any license requirements besides the state?

Chris: Yes, the city of Independence requires an annual license by each artist, plus the shop maintains his or her own city and state annual license.

I was also informed by Seth Owens, an employee, that the business has liability insurance, but that the artists are independent contractors and they each have customers sign a consent and waiver form.

CC: Do you do body piercing?

Elizabeth: Yes, we have three guys, but we don’t do any piercing below the waist, and no minors.

CC: Why not below the waist?

Elizabeth: The liability and women are more prone to infections so we try to do a minimum of piercing. Ears, navel, tongue, nose and eyebrows.

Chris: The tongue is the fastest healing too.

CC: Do you do facial cosmetic tattooing?

Elizabeth: As soon as we have time we want to. We have a friend who owns a salon in Mission who wants to book Chris a couple times a week to do eyebrows, eyeliner and lip color.

CC: Does skin tone make a difference when getting a tattoo?

Chris: It depends on a person’s skin on how fast they heal, how much it scabs over and some people are allergic to certain inks.

Becky Ketner, George’s wife, mentioned that she was allergic to red inks and it caused her to break out. Elizabeth said Becky has five tattoos and has to be careful in her ink selections. Becky also has a 'bad ass’ bike.

CC: What advice would you give people doing it for the first time?

Elizabeth: Take your time, don’t rush into it. Tattoos are forever, think about it.

Chris: Take vitamins, don’t drink, and maintain good hygiene.

CC: What designs seem to be the most popular?

Chris: Guys are still getting tribal (solid black), but I’m seeing more coming in for Black and Gray, no color tattoos.

CC: Do most of your customers know what they want?

Chris: Customers who want custom work usually do. We are doing more free-hand work also.

Elizabeth: Some come in and say they have this much money, so free hand whatever you want.

CC: After four years, are you facing any business obstacles?

Elizabeth: I don’t think there are any. As long as we are good we will have customers and a following. Finding the right crew is important in any business, I would rather have one guy (looking and speaking to Chris) who is phenomenal versus ten guys who do half-ass work.

CC: What is the age of the oldest customer you have tattooed?

Chris: The lady who came in from the Lake of the Ozarks, she was in her mid 70’s. She had gone to another shop and they told her she was too old. She came in here and all she wanted was a little rose. We did it and she left happy!

CC: What are the most tattoos you have put on one person?

Chris: That’s hard to say because I spent over 100 hours on one customer over a period of years. I mostly do large tattoos that are pieces of work that all come together in a sleeve (completely covered areas). You just keep adding to whatever is already there and it all flows together.

CC: What body part do you think is the most sensitive to tattoo?

Everyone has an opinion on this one; I’m hearing voices all around me, abs, ribs, lower back, neck, penis!

Chris: There are 80-pound girls coming in for a 3-hour tattoo on their lower back.

Elizabeth: One client had two rows of flames tattooed on his penis.

Chris: For the record, I did not do that work.

Ouch! I bet any guys reading this are grimacing. I thought of several questions to ask about that type of procedure, but I think I will let a reader who wants to share his story inform us on the details. Any takers?

CC: What follow-up advice do you give after receiving a tattoo?

Chris: The sun is not your friend, sunscreen lotion and follow the after care instructions we give you.

Elizabeth: Any touch-ups after the initial tattoo are free.

CC: Do you sponsor any charity events?

Elizabeth: Yes, we do an annual Customer Appreciation Day in June and the proceeds benefit the Dream Factory. We provide free food, free drinks, a bike show, bikini contest and I fly the Penthouse girls in to sign autographs. Our parking lot is packed with motorcycles and it’s a really fun day.

Chris: Area businesses made donations of about $5,000 in merchandise and we had a raffle. The Dream Factory little boy stayed in a hotel for the night with his family and then was picked up in a limousine the next day and chauffeured to the Chiefs game. It was really exciting to be a part of it.

Elizabeth: We also participate in Bikers for Babies, Run what you Brung, and Special Olympics.

It was quite obvious that Chris and all his talents could not do a tattoo as big as their heart is when it comes to children. I could hear it in their voices, I could see it in their eyes how touching it is to help others, especially kids. Sharing and giving back to their community is definitely part of their business.

They love to ride, they love tattooing, and they have even converted a 35’ school bus into a mobile tattoo shop. They take it to Sturgis, South Dakota every year for the bike rally and have met so many people from all over the United States. Now those customers are coming to Kansas City for Chris to do their work. You can’t ask for a bigger compliment than that folks!

The excitement, friendliness, upbeat attitudes and laid-back atmosphere are why this business is such a success. Stop by, introduce yourself, meet the staff, and get inked! Be sure to tell the crew you read their review in Cycle Connections Online Motorcycle Magazine!

I had so much fun with this interview; the questions and answers were flying right and left. I almost wanted to jump into the chair and have Chris ink me, but once again, duty calls me on to the next interview.

Story & Photos by Goldie Arnold

Rolling Thunder Motorcycle Shop has been servicing both new and old American V-Twin bikes for more than seven years. Owner and mechanic, John Small and his crew of certified technicians provide restorations, complete engine rebuilds, custom paint, collision repair, inspections, and warranty work on Harley-Davidson motorcycles. They also specialize in custom built bikes and are big in the V-Twin hot rod scene. Whether you’re looking for a fully blown bike or simple bolt-on horsepower, Rolling Thunder can make it happen!

Conveniently located next door to Alter Ego in North Kansas City, Missouri, Rolling Thunder serves a large base of satisfied customers, not only in the Kansas City area, but as far away as Columbia and St. Joseph, Missouri. I asked John why someone would bring their bike to him from out of town, and what makes his shop so unique? “Customer service and satisfaction” was his immediate response. “We work on both new and used bikes, change tires while you wait, do tune-ups in a couple of hours, and provide same day turn around on service work requiring five hours or less” says John. That, my friend, is one of the keys to Rolling Thunder’s success!

John also told me that many new customers are shocked when they find out how quickly they can have work done on their bikes. John said, “I had a guy call me the other day and asked how long he would have to leave his bike to have a tire changed. He said a local dealer told him if he brought it in on Tuesday, he should be able to pick it up by Friday. When I told him to just bring it in and we’d fix it while he waited, he couldn’t believe it!”

Another key to Rolling Thunder’s success is John’s staff of skilled mechanics and certified technicians. Don Loomis, Tom Keller, and Jim “Pup” Hatley are skilled professionals with years of experience. While I was there, John and his crew were working on a very nice custom ’52 Panhead. John told me they had previously added a belt drive and electric starter to the bike and was now doing additional work on the customer’s bike. At the other end of the shop, Don and Tom were busy working on a Sportster that had been rear-ended. In the short time I was there, I was able to see the full spectrum of what Rolling Thunder has to offer customers who own both newer and vintage bikes.

While looking at the endless collection of photos, flyers, and memorabilia that fill the walls of his small office, it was obvious that John likes to help others by sponsoring local charity rides and events. “We sponsor rides and events for organizations, such as St. Judes Children, the Salvation Army, and the Commander’s Club for disabled veterans.” I also noticed a plaque on the wall, which identified John as a Bronze leader for the Commander’s Club.

Rolling Thunder Motorcycle Shop is located at 4131 N. Brighton in Kansas City, Missouri, (next door to Alter Ego). If you’re looking for great customer service and reasonable rates, give John a call at 816-452-0157 and tell him you heard about them in Cycle Connections Online Motorcycle Magazine.

Story & Photos by Mike Schweder

When you think of custom motorcycles, many of us flash back to the latest episode of American Chopper or one of the numerous Bike Build-off specials we've seen on the Discovery Channel. Names like Jesse James, Billy Lane and Indian Larry come to mind, however, there are two other names floating around the custom motorcycle arena, and they are “Nick Kasik,” founder of Temptress Choppers and “Mike Hudson” founder of Heartland Fabrication and Machine in Lee’s Summit, Missouri.

The first time I met Nick was at a bike night at Russo’s Pizza & Pub in Lee’s Summit, Missouri. Nick and his wife Niki, were there to sponsor a wet T-shirt contest and had donated leather chaps, vests, and a jacket for the contest. After talking with Nick for just a few moments, and hearing the excitement in his voice as he showed me his custom Harley-Davidson FXR, which contained several custom parts they produce, I knew I had to find out more about this guy and see more of his work. The next day, I contacted Nick and he was excited to have me drop by so he could “Show me some really cool sh*t” as he put it. He was right! They are doing some very cool and amazing sh*t there in Lee’s Summit!

When I arrived at Temptress Choppers, Nick greeted me at the door and gave me a tour of their new 12,000 square foot facility which houses state of the art computerized equipment. During the tour, I had the unique opportunity to see a solid block of aluminum magically transformed into a custom mirror stem. Very impressive! Nick also handed me a triple tree and showed me how the rake is machined into the contour of the tree-fork tube so it’s flush with the tree to achieve higher strength and superior appearance. We also took a peek in their final assembly room where several custom mirrors were being assembled. Nick handed me a mirror they had rejected earlier that day because they didn’t like how the glass fit into the frame. It looked fine to me, but when Mike and Nick aren’t satisfied with the end result, it’s back to the scrap heap until it’s done right! Temptress mirrors and other parts are featured in several catalogs including the popular J&P Cycles catalog. This comes as no surprise after seeing the quality that goes into all Temptress Choppers products.

After touring the production facility, we made our way to Nick’s modest office located at one end of the facility where we chatted for a while. The walls of Nick’s office were covered with photos and motorcycle paraphernalia, and Nick showed me a few of his favorite photos that were taken of him with Billy Lane and Indian Larry during one of his many trips to Sturgis, South Dakota. I also noticed photos of several custom cars and trucks, which Nick had built before switching his focus to custom bikes. I asked Nick why he doesn’t build cars anymore, and his response was “I can get a lot more bikes in my garage than cars, plus they are much easier to maintain.” I also couldn’t help but notice several photos of Nick and his friends skydiving, rock climbing and whitewater rafting. Nick explained that he has always enjoyed living on the edge, but now prefers to spend any spare time he can find, hanging out at home with Niki and the kids.

Temptress Choppers has been featured in several national motorcycle magazines, including the October 2003 issue of American Iron. When I spoke with Nick, he was getting ready to head down to Daytona Beach, Florida for the annual Biketoberfest rally, where he was invited to a VIP event with Billy Lane, who was going to be in town to judge a bike competition for old school choppers. Nick could do some serious name dropping if he wanted, but that’s just not his style.

I asked Nick where this passion for building custom parts originated, and he explained that he had been building custom bikes for years, but struggled to find unique components to match his specific needs. In early 2002, he began developing ideas for his line of products. As a mechanical engineer with more than 10 years of experience, Nick had the vision and knowledge to create these parts, but lacked the capacity to actually produce them.

It just so happens, that around this same time, Mike Hudson, owner of Heartland Fabrication and Machine, a nationally recognized precision machine shop, was initiating the development of a motorcycle parts division. He also shared the desire to produce innovative motorcycle parts, but lacked the contacts in the motorcycle component industry.

As fate would have it, a fellow motorcycle rider and friend of Nick’s picked up one of Mike’s business cards at a trade show, and knowing that Nick was looking for someone to aid in the production of custom parts, a phone call was made, and the rest is history. The combined resources of Nick and Mike have enabled them to produce truly innovative motorcycle components, which has led to their own proprietary line of custom parts and accessories.

Temptress Choppers has turned the world of custom wheel making upside down by being the first company to offer production run billet aluminum three-dimensional “sculptured” wheels. Until now, “sculptured” wheels have been available only as high-cost luxuries, which are too expensive for most people to even dream about owning. Because of advanced technology and engineering know-how, Nick & Mike can bring these wheels to the market in a cost competitive manner. Nick says “For a little more than the cost of “flat” cut wheels, you can now own one of the most unique wheels available.”

In addition to custom wheels, Temptress Choppers offers a complete line of triple trees, axle covers, mirrors, fork braces, speedometer clamps, cable clamps, shifters, grab bars, derby & point covers, license and brake light brackets, oil coolers, pegs, grips and much more! They are also able to laser etch almost any design into a part for their customers. Nick told me that while Mike’s focus is on customers who want high quality billet products; Nick’s heart and soul still reside in the old school parts, such as their popular Maltese cross oil coolers.

They’ve come a long way since their original retail shop in Grain Valley, Missouri, but now Nick and Mike have combined efforts on the parts design and production operation, creating new ways to build the impossible part. Currently they are in the process of further combining their efforts to create a new company called “No Limitations.” No Limitations will take their unique parts production designs and techniques right to the builders, and become a resource for builders to create new and unusual private label products. Niki Kasik controls marketing and assembly, as well as heading the scheduling of customer relations activities, while Kristi Hudson manages the business office operations and controls the day to day activities.

Before leaving, I was also hoping to chat with Mike for a bit, but Nick told me he was currently out of town working on a deal with the folks at Paul Yaffe Originals. Wow! What’s next?

Temptress Choppers is located at 1695 SE Decker Street in Lee’s Summit, Missouri. Make sure to check them out at www.temptresschoppers.com or give Nick a call at 816-875-1040.

Story and Photos By Mike Schweder

A-1 is located in the heart of Gladstone, Missouri where the name says it all. As you walk through the doors you will find a friendly, helpful, and professional staff of seven anxiously awaiting the opportunity to ink or pierce some part of your body.

Brennan O’Rourke, owner/operator, has been a tattoo artist for 16 years. His expertise in artistic design and tattooing comes from a background in art and an invaluable apprenticeship with a biker from the old school, Wild Bill of Columbus, Georgia. Brennan said Wild Bill was unbelievable, an awesome mentor, and he learned so much from him. Brennan has received many awards and has been recognized at numerous conventions for his tattoo artistry. He was named “Best Tribal Design” artist at this year’s Am-Jam. He also was selected as one of two featured artists for a two month OzFest Tour this past summer.

Chris Hughes is A-1’s body piercing specialist and has been in the business for 11 years. He started out as a punk rock kid doing piercing on himself and his friends. Now Chris has a degree in Nursing and was named “Best Body Piercing” specialist in the Midwest by Pitch Magazine. He has traveled to Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia to visit, train and work in other studios. Chris has been riding motorcycles since he was 3 years old and also restores and races vintage British motorcycles. He presently owns four bikes and rides daily, weather permitting.

According to Brennan and Chris, when it comes to tattoos you get what you pay for. If you choose cheap, you will soon be running to a real artist to have it covered up. Their advice is to shop around, not for price, but for quality. This is not something you want to rush in to lightly. Many people decide on impulse or on a whim to get a tattoo, and then usually don’t want to wait. When you decide to get a tattoo, take the time to find the right artist. Look for an excellent artist, view their portfolio and look closely at their work. Look at their lines to see if they are smooth and not jagged. Colors should be bold and completely inked. See if they are friendly and willing to talk with you by asking questions. Ask your friends. If they had a good experience, they will share it with you. If they had a bad experience, they will warn you.

Tattoos and body piercing are safe, as long as you go to a reputable artist that goes by recommended safety pre-cautions. Both Brennan and Chris have 80% of their bodies tattooed. I asked Brennan and Chris a few questions about the tattoo and body piercing industry, their philosophy and the current trends.

CC: Is there a license or certification required to do tattoos? If so, what is the fee?

Brennan: No, there is no certification required, but the State of Missouri, Department of Economical Development does require you to be licensed. For a fee of $100, a person can operate a business anywhere, from a basement home operation to a dumpster behind a fast food restaurant. The business pays an annual $500 fee plus $100 per employee. The State comes out once a year for an inspection of your premises.

CC: How do you sterilize your equipment?

Brennan: The process for sterilization of equipment is done with steam in an autoclave. Using this process eliminates cross contamination. We perform a spore (live bacteria) test weekly, which is then sent to a lab to be analyzed. All of our tools are disposable.

CC: Who is getting tattoos these days?

Chris: Everyone! No certain groups, we have blue collar, white collar, priests, you name it.

CC: What designs are females getting and where on their body are they being tattooed?

Brennan: In the past couple of years, females have gone from small tattoos to larger ones and from single to multiple tattoos. The designs have been hearts, angels and butterflies. If you noticed the girl who just walked outside, I finished her entire back this time.

CC: Yes, I did notice. Wow! Impressive work!

Chris: The lower back and ankles are the most popular areas and we have noticed there are more older women getting tattoos also.

CC: What do you consider older?

Chris: Oh, 50 or so.

That hit up close and personal to me, of course, I have a son their age and he probably thinks his mom is old too!

CC: What designs are the guys getting?

Brennan: Arm bands, tribal, Japanese influence.

CC: What is tribal?

Brennan: Solid black designs, loops, points and lines. Take a look at our books they are filled with tribal designs.

CC: Is there an age requirement?

Brennan: Yes, 18 years old and they must have a state issued ID.

CC: When I hear that someone got a tattoo, invariably someone will ask if they were drunk when they got it. Is that common?

Chris: No, we absolutely will not work on someone who has alcohol content; it’s also against state law. If I found someone with alcohol on their breath, they would be asked to leave.

CC: What is the oldest client you have tattooed or pierced?

Chris: An 86-year-old man who promised his wife he would never get a tattoo. After she passed away he came in and had a poker hand tattooed on the knuckles of one hand and his wife’s name on the other.

CC: How long does a tattoo take?

Brennan: The average is approximately 45 minutes to an hour. Of course that depends on the size and design.

CC: Do you do custom designs?

Brennan: Yes, I usually draw the design on paper first go over it with the customer then make any changes. My portfolios are filled with samples of my work.

CC: Do most people know what design they want when they come in?

Brennan: Sometimes. Whatever a client wants or picks out has its own meaning to the individual and shows how it relates to them. I don’t judge others.

CC: What is the most sensitive part of the body to tattoo?

Brennan: The ribcage is usually the last place someone will get done.

CC: Even if you have excess body fat?

Brennan: Body fat and bone does not make a difference, it’s the nerves and nerves feel pain!

CC: Do you do facial tattoos?

Brennan: No, we choose not to. If done right, it looks good.

CC: What areas are the easiest to pierce?

Chris: Ears, tongue, eyebrow.

CC: What is the most piercing you have seen on one person?

Chris: I saw 100 on a guy.

CC: What is the healing time for a naval piercing?

Chris: Six to ten months to heal, must stay out of the water six to eight weeks and follow proper care instructions.

CC: What is the biggest change you have seen in the industry in the past several years?

Brennan: Technique, more and more people getting into the business are artists.

Chris: Many have art training or are degreed; they are creative, know proper color blending and are experts at custom design.

CC: Where do you get your tattoos?

Chris: Guest artists that come to town or other studios out of state.

Brennan: Or we do each other occasionally.

CC: How difficult is it to remove tattoos?

Brennan: We don’t do removals, only cover-ups. I can’t imagine any of my clients wanting to remove a tattoo I have put on them. We do great tattoos.

A-1 is in business to put on great tattoos that are pieces of art that you wear for life. Brennan does excellent work and is very proud of it.

CC: What happens when a tattoo is put on too deep?

Brennan: It really messes the person up; whoever does this has no clue about the skin.

Dustin and Jessi Wolf shared an example of this experience with me. I met them while on a ride with the Southern Cruisers – KC Chapter. From a recommendation of a friend (not always a good resource), Dustin went to a “basement operator.” The guy needed money to open a business so he was trying to help him out. Dustin looked at custom designs that had the guy’s name on them, but later found out they were not his work. The guy had five years experience; little did Dustin know how bad it would get. Because Dustin works for Ford, is proud to be a union man and an American, he wanted FORD on his upper left arm. The so-called artist went to deep in the skin, and according to Dustin, 'it blew out, so the color blurs out under the skin.' It looked like a big smudge on his arm to me, and FORD was barely visible. Dustin’s next tattoo will be a cover-up over the mistake of an unskilled, inexperienced, basement operator. Jessi also had a tattoo put on too deep and the area raised up and the ink seeped up through the skin. The same guy that did Dustin’s also did Jessi’s. Beware folks!

Dustin and Jessi were given birthday gifts by Dustin's sister, Brande Luna who has several tattoos, and just received her sixth the day before this interview, all from A-1. Because they do not wear wedding bands, they had matching wedding bands tattooed on their left arms two years ago. Jessi has two tattoos so far and is already getting psyched up for her next one, “a wolf of course,” says Jessi. Dustin has three tattoos. They highly recommend the talent and skill of A-1 Tattoo.

As the interview came to a close at the A-1 studio, several customers had come in wanting information on new tattoos, designs, cover-ups and prices. The minimum price is $50. Dustin and Jessi’s wedding bands were $150 each. I browsed through Brennan’s portfolio of tattoos and Chris’s portfolio of body piercing (wide eyed by the end)! The places people decide to get pierced were quite amazing to this “older woman!” I was impressed with the detail, color and designs of the custom work. Both Brennan and Chris are very skilled and talented artists that take their business seriously, and they want their customers to feel welcome and come back. Brennan’s parting words were, “If a tattoo looks good now, it should look good in 20 years. It’s going to age, but they can age gracefully if put on correctly.”

I enjoyed this interview so much that I seriously thought about hanging around and getting a tattoo, but duty calls, on to the next interview!

If you are contemplating getting a tattoo, stop in and visit with A-1. Be sure to tell Brennan and Chris that you read their review in Cycle Connections.

Story and Photos by Goldie Arnold

April 30, 2011

Dawg's Barter Bike

I recently met Mike “Dawg” Bradley via mutual friends at our local hangout. He’s a junk man by pedigree as his father was before him. He described a project that he had been envisioning in his sleep, and that it was going to be a personal challenge for him to complete in “30 days.” Building bikes and cars has been a passion for him his entire life, but given the timeframe and the fact he was starting with “zero;” this was a daunting task. Mike disappeared for nearly a month, and when I started getting photos of his progress, I was amazed. The complete build took him only 27 days of working alone.

Mike’s so called “Barter Bike” was quickly taking shape. He initially traded a 2001 Chevy truck bed for the custom wheels and tires, a jet ski for the frame, a 1993 mustang for the motor, transmission and tins, and sold a rigid bike frame to complete the build. What Mike created in his backyard garage was incredible, as you can see from the photos. He personally designed, built, and painted this beauty himself….no credit cards here. Mike has $1,100 invested in this bike that is conservatively valued at 30k.

I recently talked “Dawg” into allowing me to take a few photos. He’s a very talented, yet humble bike builder, who certainly fits the image that Cycle Connections may like to promote.

Build Sheet:
- 2005 Custom Softail
- S&S 110 motor
- 6-speed transmission
- Custom wheels
- 200 rear tire
- 20” ape hangers w/forward controls

By Chip Wright