Choppers. Bobbers. You’d think we are talking about kitchenware or swimming aids. But this a website about everything on wheels, so what we are talking about are motorcycles and specialized motorcycles at that. And face it, choppers have never been cooler since Captain America became a big hit again, with the Marvel enterprise reaching Box Office heights.
But do we truly know what choppers are, or are we using the term a little too loosely? Here are 10 facts about choppers that you may not have known. For even we did not know them all.
10 Before Choppers, There Was The Bobber
The bobber was a motorcycle that had been bobbed, meaning actively stripped of anything that made the motorcycle heavier and was not essential to its functioning. This meant fenders, turn indicators and sometimes even front brakes.
The spring-supported seats were also removed in favor of something even lower – a trick bobbers used to truly be one with the machine. The idea was to make motorcycles lighter and faster and far more dirt-track savvy than they were in stock form. In cars, this was the time of the hotrods and a similar stripping on was going on for them too.
9 Cash-Strapped Post-War Era
Much like the Hotrod craze, the Bobber craze also began when hordes of soldiers began to return from the postings after the end of WWII. Money was tight and boredom was high – and there were a lot of young and disillusioned men around who had nothing to do for a while but wait for benefits and hope for a better job.
This is the reason many turned to bobbers; they would strip down the bikes and make them lighter and faster, reducing the weight made them more powerful without any additional cost. And then they raced them on streets and desolate stretches, channeling that pent-up energy into whatever they could.
8 Choppers Began With Harley Davidson Engines
While there were many surplus youths on the street in war-ravaged but recovering America, there was an equal surplus of military and police motorcycles in junkyards. Soon, Bobbers began turning into Choppers – the main difference being that while Bobbers were merely stripped-down motorcycles, Choppers were more modified. From junked Harley Davidson bikes, the Flathead, Knucklehead and Panhead engines began to be used to build more refined Choppers.
Then, interest began to spike in the British Triumph motorcycles and finally the Japanese motorcycles that began to float about with money not being so much of an issue anymore. The Honda 750-4 was a Chopper favorite.
7 Soon, It Became More About Aesthetics
After a point, the American economy perked up. The hordes of soldiers now had jobs and were family men in their own right, and most of them left their bobbing / hot-rodding days behind in favor of being family men. Now the Bobbers and the Choppers were left to the truly passionate of the lot, who may have had a life outside of their Choppers but did not have a life without them.
Since there was enough money to go around, Choppers began to get aesthetically pleasing and moved in a certain direction. The front-wheel got bigger but narrower and the handlebars began to get higher. Paint began to get artistic and individualistic.
6 The Early Choppers and Factory Customs
The Road Regents MC was a motorcycle club in LA, and they began to make the first custom choppers for people who wanted them but did not have the knowledge to make one for themselves. Obviously, trends like these don’t go unnoticed by motorcycle makers, and so influenced by the popularity of the choppers, changes began to be made in production motorcycles as well.
Of course, these motorcycles were still not radical enough to be considered choppers. For instance removing the front brakes or the rear suspension was not something a production bike would have done. So these were known as factory customs, but they were not choppers.
5 The Chopper Was All American, Not European
America may have borrowed many a thing from Europe, like the Statue of Liberty, but Choppers were all American muscle. And America can be rightly proud. Not to say Europeans were sitting and twiddling thumbs while the Americans were stripping their bikes and elongating them to Chopper level.
Europeans were reinventing their bikes like the Triumph, BSA, and Norton into lighter variants that were perfect for dirt tracks and street races. These bikes were not as styled as the Choppers were, but their lightness made them speedier. These were then called Café Racers.
4 Choppers in Movies
Nothing said Chopper more than the 1969 movie, Easy Rider where Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper ride their “Captain America” motorcycles all through the movie. Before that, the Captain America comics also portrayed the hero riding choppers, as does the new Marvel franchise.
Of course, things only built up after Easy Rider – with many movies being made showing the protagonists riding Choppers to raise their character’s cool factor. Think Michael Madsen and Mickey Rourke. Of course, Choppers were pretty all over the place when it came to designs – so people can look at a Chopper and figure out who and what time was behind its making.
3 The Rise Of The Digger
With Choppers getting more and more stylized, they began branching off into different spin-offs. Much like the San Frisco Choppers, there came a style called the Digger. Diggers were made to be much longer than the stock motorcycles they were based upon, with very long fronts, often going a foot over stock models.
Girder forks with springer or telescopic suspension became the norm, as did gorilla handlebars that may have made riding a pain in the shoulders. A sissy seat was also added for the passenger's safety lest they fall off the motorcycle that was already slung pretty low at the back. Fluorescent paints became the norm.
2 The Chopper Became Tech And Easy
With the advent of the 90s, you could now turn any bike into a chopper with plenty of aftermarket kits designed for specific motorcycles in mind. So you could buy a Chopper-favorite in stock, and then get the whole after-market shebang needed to convert it into a Chopper. By the start of the 2000s, the Chopper looked far meaner than it did before and then reality TV stepped in to do the rest.
By 2010, the trend had reversed back to the Chopper being less of a mean machine, and moving back to the original Bobber format. The trend has died down a bit with only the really bike passionate going for their brand of poison when it comes to Choppers for now but who knows what the future will bring.
1 One Expensive Custom Build
The Yamaha Roadstar BMS Chopper costs a crazy $500,000. And despite it being incredibly low slung, this thing can go when it wants to, though remember that this is a cruiser, not a racer. This is a gold-plated piece so built around a 1.7-liter Yamaha Roadstar engine.
And in case you are looking for the kickstand, don’t bother, it doesn’t have one. Instead, the swing arm of the rear suspension lowers some 25cm to hit the ground, letting the rider step off to leave the motorcycle standing on its side in style. That said, half a million is some cool money to spend on a Chopper, however, custom-built it may be.