Kayle Leogrande is covered from neck to toe with skin artistry-or tattoos. Ninety-five percent of his body, including his arms, legs, and torso, is covered with ink illustrations-an elephant’s head peeks around the side of his neck. Many of them he did himself-appropriately so, since he is the proprietor of two Southland area tattoo and piercing shops, one of them in Malibu.
“People tend to think of tattoo parlors as havens for grungy biker types with long hair,” Kayle Leogrande, a father of three, said. “But I’m very normal.”
Except that Leogrande, 29, is also the 2006 United States Elite National Cycling Champion.
It all started, the tattoos and the racing, when he was still a lad growing up in Grand Terrace near Riverside, Calif.
“My dad had me racing motorcycles when I was four years old,” Leogrande said. “I was a speed freak even then. I got into cycling and BMX tracks [racing on specially designed bikes over outdoor dirt tracks filled with hills, bumps and freak curves] and was winning national championships when I was only 13.”
By 17, however, he was bored or burnt out, and decided to learn how to tattoo.
“Which is weird,” Leogrande said, “because I didn’t even like tattoos.”
However, he had a friend with a tattoo parlor in Riverside, a short 30-mile ride away, and found himself hanging out there.
“I just liked the sound and smell of a tattoo shop,” he said. “I lied about my age to get my first tattoo, and then I was hooked.”
As a budding star on the junior national cycling team, his parents thought he had perhaps suffered a serious bump on the head when he told them he wanted to quit cycling to learn the art of tattooing.
“So, I did it all on my own,” Leogrande said. “There was a lot of trial and error.”
With permanent ink?
“Well, my friend Billy’s best advice was to never do anything you don’t know that you can do.”
Leogrande said that when he ran out of people to tattoo in his shop, he inked himself.
“Yeah, I did my own legs, mostly tribal tattoos.”
His crowning glory is a traditional Japanese piece that covers his entire back and nether regions.
“It took two years and about $15,000,” he said. “It shows a golden dragon who has ripped off the head of the Hindu Goddess Shishi and is holding another Samurai’s head as well. It’s pretty powerful.”
Several successful years with a tattoo shop in the Upland area allowed Leogrande to open another one in Malibu, called Classic Tattoo Parlor, where on display are his U.S. stars and stripes racing jersey from his 2006 championship victory.
Leogrande talked about his return to cycling after delving into the world of tattoos.
“Well, I started training again about three years ago when I was bouncing with my daughter on the trampoline and I got winded,” he said laughing.
“I figured it wouldn’t take me long to get back in shape.”
The sight of winter cyclists on local roadways spurred him on and, after a few 30-hour training weeks, he was racing again. Top finishes in regional races led him to the Elite track at the national championships last summer, a tough, 60-mile track in a field of almost 200 seasoned athletes.
“When I showed up at Downer’s Grove last August, my legs felt flat,” Leogrande said. “There was a lot of pressure, so I just walked the course to learn it.”
He didn’t count on the speed of the rest of the field, though, nor the heat, and said, “Thirty miles into the race, I was almost out of water.”
Leogrande’s legs started to seize up, but he knew he wouldn’t have a chance if he wasn’t one of the first three going into the last turn.
“My son sent me a cell phone message just before the race,” Leogrande said. “So, I started pumping, ‘Do it for Dryden.'”
He surged ahead, with the last lap “feeling like I was in slow motion.”
And he won.
Leogrande wants to live up to the team image fashioned by his new sponsor, Michael Ball’s Rock and Republic Cycling Team.
“Yeah, I’m pretty full,” Leogrande said of his body art. “I’m gonna laser off some of the stuff I had done when I was 17 and 18 to give me a clean canvas for some things I’d like to do now.”
“Michael [his sponsor] wants to change how people see cyclists,” Leogrande explained. “He wanted to chose riders who look different and stand out. Who are confident.”
A full body illustration was apparently as significant as Leogrande’s killer break away at the turns in his last race and he says he is looking to successfully defend his victory at the National Criterium Championship in August at Downer’s Grove, Ill.
Leogrande now divides his time between his tattoo emporiums, training and his wife, Cathy, and children. As a walking graphic novel, he attracts a great deal of attention on the racing circuit, but says he is ready to defend his championship.
“Yeah, there are other guys out there, younger and everything,” he said. “But I’m not too worried about them.”