Chopper (motorcycle)

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Chopper was originally the name in California for motorcycles (mostly of the Harley-Davidson and Indian brands ), which were heavily modified. The English verb to chop means “ to chop ”. One of the sources of this subculture, which author Paul D'Orléans calls American Folk Art , was the cutdown practice , which was used to make old motorcycles more manageable and visually spiced up. Cutdowns were originally a matter of individual screwdriver skills. The owners turned old, inexpensive vehicles into handsome, more maneuverable one-offs.


Harley bobber with ape hangers

The term bobber refers to the "bob", the small outer curve at the lower end of the front fender on old Harley-Davidson models. In addition to engine tuning, one of the first modifications that a motorcycle enthusiast made in the 1940s and 50s, if he wanted to make his vehicle lighter and therefore faster, was to mount the original front fender turned backwards over the rear wheel. The original rear fender was left out, the front wheel ran without a fender. Such vehicles had the "bob" at the rear and were therefore called bobbers .

The modifications were originally made to reduce weight on the one hand and thus improve driving performance. On the other hand, the appearance, which is often perceived as clumsy or bulky, should be improved. It was the first adaptation of street motorcycles to typical American racing machines; In this case, Board Track Racer and Hill Climber . These motorcycles were initially called bobbers or bobchops . The process of making such a bobber out of a motorcycle was soon known colloquially as Bob Job .

"They had no front fender, a shortened ('bobbed') rear fender and a small seat ..."

- Paul D'Orléans

The bob job meant in sum: Tear away everything superfluous, dismantle, make the machine lighter and more manoeuvrable and, if possible, give it a gain in style with an unconventional handwriting in the design.

Bobbers usually differ from choppers in that they have a smaller front wheel (mostly identical to the rear wheel) and less prebending / rake of the fork. The tires from Bobbern have a larger cross-section and therefore have more of a balloon character. Old-fashioned profiles such as those from Firestone or whitewall flanks are also popular. As with choppers, spoked wheels are traditionally used - but more modern interpretations with milled wheels can also be found. As with many retro conversions, hardtail frames without rear suspension are also very popular with Bobbern.

Classic chopper

Harley-Davidson Captain America (replica from 1987)
James Dean Tribute Chopper from Walz Hardcore Cycles

Since the film Easy Rider from 1969 at the latest , motorcycles have generally been referred to as choppers if they are equipped with a long, comparatively flat front fork. This design feature, too, was originally based on racing machines - in this case on drag bikes , where the aim is to achieve more stable straight-line stability at high speeds by means of a long wheelbase and large caster . Since no corners are driven in such drag races , the associated unwieldiness of the sports motorcycles was of no consequence. With the chopper, on the other hand, this poor driving behavior is accepted in favor of the desired appearance.

Other classic chopper style features include high handlebars (“Buckhorn”, “Apehanger”) and forward-positioned footrests. These characteristics also worsen the driving behavior and the controllability, nevertheless such modifications are very common.

Another style is called Drag Styler , Digger or Low Rider . The aim here is to achieve a flat, elongated look ( long 'n low ) that is even closer to the look of drag bikes. Accordingly, instead of high handlebars, flat drag bars are used here, often on handlebar clamps ( risers ) pulled backwards .

X-Rod: Low rider in drag bike style

A Swedish chopper is used for certain radical, purist conversions. In this genre, add-on parts such as headlights, speedometers or front wheel brakes are often dispensed with or, alternatively, at least the associated cables, shafts and lines are laid within the handlebar or frame in order to minimize the unadorned look of those parts that actually have an essential function for driving affect. The approval of such vehicles for public road traffic poses considerable problems in Germany.

Even if some fans today prefer the assumption that “real choppers” can only be based on Harley or Indian, European and Japanese motorcycles were also involved when this subculture emerged in America.

Experienced screwdrivers found solid starting points for modification in BSA, Triumph or Norton. Yamaha and Honda proved themselves just as ultimately everything that could be bought cheaply and redesigned in an interesting way. Compared to the expensive high-gloss products, some enthusiasts also go back to the roots and build choppers that an average earner can afford. Then the engine is maybe a British classic or something inexpensive from Japan, from Germany.

Factory Custom: Chopper ex works

Harley-Davidson XL1200 Custom Anniversary Edition 2003

The Harley-Davidson company initially rejected such radical modifications - not least because this type of motorcycle was associated with criminal and violent rocker gangs such as the Hells Angels . As the chopper design soon became popular with the masses and demand increased, Harley-Davidson also began to incorporate chopper style features into some production models. From 1984 onwards, the Softail rear suspension was used to imitate the appearance of an unsprung rigid frame , and from 1988 onwards , the so-called springer fork , a front wheel guide with a pushed short swing arm , which had been replaced by the telescopic fork since 1948 , was offered again.

The term “Factory Custom” coined by Harley-Davidson in this context was basically a contradiction in terms. In addition to the intended design, the original chopper concept was also essentially shaped by the idea of ​​changing the uniform appearance of a mass-produced model to design your own motorcycle individually.

New interpretation: V-Rod

The style-defining significance of Harley-Davidson is beyond discussion. In terms of style history, Harley-Davidson's US design dictionary lists the introduction of the teardrop tank in 1926; the first V-twin model was launched in 1909.

For motorcycles in general, the authors note: "As early as the 1930s, models like the 74 Big Twin were given the traditional teardrop shape, the result of a dominant stem with a solid fork." They emphasize the drop tank as one of the style features; "Deep seat wedged between the tank and the rear tire".

In this design lexicon, “the new, technoid V-Rod”, an “integrated design with an exposed frame construction”, is interpreted as a break in a 70-year tradition of forms, “but without giving up the classic chopper line”. The V-Rod from model years 2002 to 2006 is rated as "the original V-Rod", which was followed by a number of variations.

Soft chopper

In the 1980s, Japanese manufacturers also began to respond to the demand for choppers. Initially they tried "normal" road motorcycles chopper typical add-on parts, such as higher handlebars, forward controls, chrome parts and some standard pillion backrest ( Sissybar to make interesting) for the intended target audience. These motorcycles, which were rather half-heartedly redesigned at the factory, are still today, often contemptuously, referred to as soft choppers . A typical example of this is the Yamaha Virago as one of the Japanese reactions to the American subculture in its own large-scale production.

Later large-scale models soon also had the classic V2 engine design of Harley-Davidson and the entire design approached the American models. These Japanese chopper-style motorcycles were also comparable to the US competing models in terms of their outdated handling - the chassis were often underdamped, mostly had an uncomfortably hard suspension at the rear due to the desired flat appearance with little spring travel, were due to their chassis geometry unwieldy and equipped with inefficient brakes at the limit of what is legally permissible.

In the 1990s, Japanese soft choppers and cruisers were standard on European roads, and America's style-defining role in this genre was widely recognized. For example, in the encyclopedia of the motorcycle on page 253 of the Honda VT 1100 C2 from 1996 it says: “The largest Honda chopper in the US style”, on page 410 the ( VS 1400 Intruder ) from the same year is called “Chopper -Suzuki ”demonstrated.


Kawasaki Indian Drifter
Caused a sensation with James Bond: the BMW Cruiser (R1200C)

Cruiser has been the name for motorcycles since the 1990s, the design features of which can be traced back to American series machines from Harley-Davidson, Indian or Henderson , as they were built around the 1930s. Style-defining features are the long wheelbase, wide tires, large-volume engine, large fenders, wide handlebars and running boards that are comparatively far forward and the resulting upright seating position. By converting such series machines, the first bobbers and choppers were created from around 1948.

Chopper in Austria

Austria's Factory Custom: The KTM Comet Chopper from the Puch Club magazine session

In Austria in the 1970s there was practically no chance of seeing a chopper outside of the center, as shown in the movies. Mopeds were modified in this style, but this was mostly limited to trimmed mudguards, high handlebars, offset headlights and sissy bars, plus special paintwork.

American magazines were offered in train station bookstores, newspaper shops and army shops, through which one could get to know this subculture with the variety of vehicles and lifestyles. The advertisement sections of these magazines showed what the accessories trade in America was offering for conversion.

The radical AME choppers, whose prices were usually far too high for young people, could be admired in the annual motorcycle magazine catalog . Anyone who wanted to buy a chopper off the shelf and had to watch out for their money had to rely on vehicles like the Fantic Chopper.

The look of the Fantic Chopper was generally right, but the vehicle was very weak. Hugo Wilson aptly writes in his book “Motorräder” that one has to accept “being overtaken by scooters even at full throttle”. Wilson expressly contrasts this single chopper among the 300 motorcycles he describes with the “full, high-displacement Harley-Davidson”.

Full and large with a similar history of this subculture as in America, that also meant in Austria: What old motorcycles could be bought cheaply, offered itself as a basis for conversions and tuning.

However, Puch motorcycles made in Graz dominated the second-hand market in Austria. The Puch 500 or 800 from the war years were never cheap, but a flood of 175s and the Puch 250 from the post-war years as the largest model. With their half-shell frames made of pressed steel, these were stylistically unsuitable for conversion to a chopper. The Puch 125 M with its tubular frame did not have pleasant lines either.

Only Puch mopeds were often trimmed for choppers, the most attractive of which was the Puch MC 50, whose central tubular frame with the round tank fastened with leather straps and the easily manageable engine provided an excellent base.

The motorcycle solution for people with little money and screwdriver skills were, for example, used BMW, NSU Consul or Horex Regina. Triumph or Matchless are also well suited for retrofitting with a step bench, sissy bar, apehanger and sloping mufflers.

From the 1980s onwards, Japanese machines such as the Yamaha Virago or Honda Shadow became the key fossils of a growing wave of choppers. In this growing interest in such vehicles, more and more professionals came to the individual hobbyists and screwdrivers who built attractive choppers and custom bikes. The “soft” version of mass-produced vehicles can be customized with offers from the accessories trade, but tough counter-positions to mass-produced goods cost money.

In 1991, when Japanese soft choppers had long since established themselves on the market, the cheapest AME chopper (AME SB 700 Street-Bike) was advertised in the motorcycle catalog for 21,682 Deutschmarks, the most expensive (AME HAT 1000 Super-Hard-Tail ) with 35,377 D-Mark.

In comparison, a Yamaha XV1100 cost 12,143 D-Marks, a Suzuki VS 1400 15,030 D-Mark, the Kawasaki VN 15-SE 15,250 D-Mark, the smaller Honda VT 600 C was already available for 10,330 D-Mark.

The special case: no Austrian product ex works came as close to the American models as the KTM Comet Chopper (step seat, high handlebars, flashy paintwork and lots of chrome). In Germany, this two-wheeler with 80 cm³ was offered as a light motorcycle (StVZO in the amendment of April 1, 1980). In Austria, only 50 cm³ with a speed limit were allowed for the red number plate ("Rotblech") and therefore did not require a driving license. An 80 cm³ engine meant: motorcycle, "... which is why KTM equipped the Comet Chopper in this country with the robust, wind-cooled 4-speed motor from PUCH from 1981".

Here, too, there was a cost problem that was explosive for young people. From the Puch Club magazine you can find out: “The KTM Comet Chopper was an unattainable sensation for the majority of young people. If you pushed just under ÖS 22,000, - over the dealer counter ... ", you could have bought either two Puch Maxi " or one of the cheeky and dangerously fast 6-speed Monza " for this money .


Web links

Commons : Chopper  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Chopper  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Paul D'Orléans: The Chopper. The true story. Die Gestalten Verlag, Berlin 2014, ISBN 978-3-89955-531-8 .
  2. So what is a cutdown? ( Memento of the original from November 29, 2014 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. (Query on November 22, 2014) @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  4. ^ Polster, Bernd; Elsner, Tim: Designlexikon USA, Cologne, 2002, ISBN 3-8321-5622-4
  5. Encyclopedia of the Motorcycle. Brands, models, technology. Bechtermünz Verlag 1996, ISBN 3-86047-142-2
  6. ^ Hugo Wilson: Motorcycles. Over 300 classics, Coventgarden 2001, ISBN 978-3-8310-9051-8 , p. 120
  7. ^ Motorcycle catalog 1991, 22nd edition, 1991 year, Motor Presse Verlag, Stuttgart
  8. Puch Club Magazin No. 9/2013, page 37.
  9. Puch Club Magazin No. 9/2013, page 38