The chopper, perhaps the most iconic style of motorcycle in the world has its roots way back in the in the late 40s. Back then, US service men returning home from the war found the need of the camaraderie that kept them together when fighting in the front lines. Many of them chose to ride and race motorcycles in order to keep their minds busy and their spirit alive.
The term chopper comes from the verb ,, to chop’’. Basically many bickers started to chop their bikes in order to make them faster and lighter. Also a wind o change regarding the look of the bike was starting to blow. Over the years choppers became more and more radical looking as the performance side was left behind.
By the late 60s choppers were the most distinguishable type of motorcycle that ever existed and with the launch of the Easy Rider movie, the chopper was presented to the main audience all over the world.
From the chopper culture the biggest winner them all of all was Harley Davidson. Harley managed to sell tens of thousands of motorcycles to people that wanted to be a part of the Easy Rider culture.
Benefiting from long wide highways, many American bickers came with the most unusual designs and with the most impracticable ways of building a bike. Basically you would get your hands on you pap’s old Pan Head and you would start chopping and modifying until no one could recognized it.
The late 60s and early 70s were characterized by long forks, tall sissy bars and outrageous ape hangers.
The ape hanger term comes from the fact that many of them were so tall that you would simply hang like a monkey. Also features back then included flashy flake paint jobs, custom chromed pipes and hand made narrow gas tanks. Also the Sportster peanut tanks were preferred over the wide classic ones.
Many old school choppers were pretty unsafe too as front end brakes were completely eliminated. Add this to a rigid frame and a front springer suspension and you could easily shake hands with Mr. Reaper himself.
It was the time of drifters and rock music and with the Vietnam conflict at is peak, the current had no problem with attracting new followers. It did not matter if the Harleys were 2 years old or twenty years old. Shovel Heads, Pan Heads, Knuckle Heads and Flat Heads were standing together.
And as every Icon deserves and Iconic road, Route 66 soon became the Mecca of riders. Crossing the United States with over 2000 miles, and having big parts of empty desert roads, Route 66 was the symbol of the loner. But often portrayed in the media as bad boys, many chopper riders were associated with gangs, fights, booze and drugs. With long hair and dusty leather clothes, many American bickers were quite a site to look at. Either feared or admired by the public, the bicker and the chopper remained in the pop culture as one of America’s biggest cultural exports. One person that helped build this image was the famous bicker and painter David Man. Man painted hundreds of artworks showing the chopper culture and the bicker lifestyle.
New School vs Old School
But with the passing of the years the design of the chopper changed more and more. In the early 2000s fat back tires and curved lines along with massive amounts of chrome were the way to go. With bike builders like Orange County Choppers, many new school bikes were slowly invading the market. But not all builders adopted the new look.
Indian Larry was one of the people who stood against this change and true work of arts come out of his hands. Indian Larry said that a chopper is built like a watch. You just want to see the moving parts inside. This is why Larry many times left many parts of the engine exposed.
Many builders also started to prefer a more blackened look over the chrome. Others went for the rusty old approach to give their bikes a more rat bike feel.
Nowadays there are thousand of bike builders around the world and the chopper phenomenon is no longer a US only thing. In Japan there are several builders that pay tribute to the classic American chopper from the 60s.
Many purists still want that old rusted Pan Head bar find to express their ideas and talking of a Twin Cam is like working on a Sunday afternoon. In fact we can see a big return to the roots of the American Chopper.