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Every generation has their fads. Some fade away as fast as they arrived and some withstand the test of time to become traditions, cultural icons, social norms or whatever you choose to call them. The ones that withstand the test of time do so because they have a strong appeal that reaches beyond a single generation or a brief moment in time. They touch people’s emotions in a deeper way and become part of a culture.
The 1960’s and 1970’s were a period of time in America that generated a lot of new ideas, new ways of looking at the world and a lot of experimentation. Boundaries that existed before the mid 1960’s were being torn down and people began to think freely and pursue their own individual interests rather than adhere to the social norms that “society” had placed on them. Suddenly it was ok to do your own thing.
So much of or current culture has been influenced by the freedom of creativity that came out of the 1960’s and 1970’s. Everything changed during this period of time; lifestyle, music, art, fashion, politics. Everything changed, including motorcycles.
The American bobber style motorcycle, a distant cousin of the English café racer was made popular by the hot rod generation of the 1950’s. Teenagers were stripping their cars (and motorcycles) of any and all unnecessary parts in order to make them lighter and faster. Fenders were cut off, hoods were removed, tops were chopped and engines were modified to increase performance.
When the next generation came of age in the 1960’s, they were more open-minded to new ideas and less bound by conventional ways of doing things than the previous generation. Maybe it was partially due to the mind altering substances that were freely flowing at the time, but everything became an outlet for artistic expression. With no restrictions, cars and motorcycles included.
When hippy meets motorcyclist strange stuff is bound to happen. Custom bike builders started thinking more artistically and introduced more radical design concepts into their builds. The chopper style motorcycle was born from this new way of thinking. The chopper definitely wasn’t designed for practical purposes like the bobber style motorcycle that came before. It had to be artistically inspired. Bobbers made sense and still do. Cut the unnecessary crap off, reduce weight, increase performance and haul ass. Choppers were inspired more by emotion and freedom of expression and made little sense from a design standpoint. But like true art, they touched us on a deeper emotional level and have endured the test of time to become a huge part of our culture, crossing multiple generations in the process.
With the exception of the dirt track motorcycle, no other style of motorcycle is as American as the bobber and chopper. The chopper especially is a symbol of America that is as identifiable as apple pie, hotdogs, baseball and Harley Davidson.
Easy Rider was instrumental in establishing the symbolism of the chopper as part of American culture. Captain America and Billy as well as their Harley’s became counter-culture heroes that inspired a whole movement of custom bike builders to pursue the art of building choppers and a whole generation of freedom seekers to get on a motorcycle and hit the open roads.
When the chopper craze first started, Harley Davidson motorcycles were the most popular choice to start the build with, but people were using a variety of motorcycles as the foundation for their custom bike builds. It was not uncommon to see Triumph, BSA, BMW or Honda CB models as well as other European and Japanese powered creations. Harley Davidson is still the brand most chosen and associated with choppers, but there are a lot more motorcycle choices available to use as a starting point today, than there was in the 60’s.
The large selection of metric cruisers on the market now, has given custom bike builders a lot more choices and the ability to create some very unique and innovative designs. The builders of modern custom bobbers and choppers have pushed the design envelope to the extreme and are able to combine mind blowing design and style with performance and handling that make the modern day chopper a much more practical ride than many of the old school choppers of the 60’s and 70’s.
Because choppers are artistic creations, there are no rules to building one. You are only limited by your own imagination, budget and mechanical skills. There are however, certain characteristics that define a chopper and certain components that are needed to achieve the basic chopper look. For the purpose of this discussion, we will assume that we are working with a Harley Davidson Sportster, Softail or Dyna model since they tend to be the most popular platforms for chopper and bobber building. The following links will lead primarily to Harley products, even though many of these same items can be found for metric cruisers by searching the Cruiser Customizing website.
The main identifier of a chopper is the raked out front forks. Kicking out the front end an additional 5 degrees or so by chopping the frame or with a set of raked triple trees is crucial. Installing a set of extended fork tubes or a springer front end will also reinforce that your bike is indeed a chopper. Rolling a narrow width 21 inch front wheel and tire between those forks is a step in the right direction and there is a current trend of running a 23 or 26 inch diameter front wheel among many custom builders. However big or small you go, the desired look for the front wheel is narrow.
Sticking with the front end, a set of ape hanger bars, T-bars or even drag bars with risers will set your bike apart. Extended bars and risers require extended control cables and brake lines. Custom levers and mirrors also make nice addition towards customizing the front end.
A stylish and appropriately loud exhaust system is another huge identifier. Anything from long fishtail mufflers to straight pipes will do. The important thing is that the style and performance meet with the builders’ vision of what they want their bike to look and sound like.
A passenger sissybar isn’t necessary, but if you want to go old-school with your chopper build, you should have one. Especially if you plan to run a cool tuck and roll king and queen style seat. When it comes to seats, anything from a solo seat with a passenger pillion to the luxurious king and queen style seat is acceptable. A performance air intake system is a must and custom paint and a lot of chrome are always welcome additions that help make your bike stand out in a crowd. If you plan on going old school, you may want to look the part by wearing a Biltwell Bonanza Helmet.
The chopper and bobber styles have somewhat morphed together over recent years and the distinctions between the two are not as clear, but there are a few identifying differences that set a bobber apart from a chopper. Bobbers typically utilize the stock un-cut frame and do not have raked front ends. If they do, the forks tubes or springer front end are typically much shorter. Sometimes shorter than what would come stock. Springer front ends are popular on bobbers and front wheels tend to be stout with more normal diameter rims and wider front tires than what you find on choppers. The name bobber came about because most early bobber builders shortened the rear fender and cut other unnecessary stuff off of their bikes. Bobbers are usually less cluttered and more stripped down than choppers and chrome is optional. Bobbers can typically be built for less money and are usually easier for the average person to build then choppers are.
Whether you choose to build your motorcycle into a bobber, a chopper or some other custom creation, there are no rules. Your motorcycle is your canvas and you should express yourself with it. Your motorcycle should touch you and those around you on a deep emotional level and make a statement about who you are. That is what the core of motorcycling is all about. Cruiser Customizing shares this passion for individual style and we have the parts, accessories and advice that you need in order to make your vision of the ultimate motorcycle a reality. Visit us today for all of your custom parts and accessory needs.