How Choppers Evolved
Choppers came into being in the 1960's and 1970's. They were the next
step in motorcycle evolution after the "bobber". The bobber came about
after American soldiers returned home from World War II. While they
remained loyal to the Harley Davidson company, riders that had served
oversees just weren't quite satisfied with the machines the company was
producing. These riders remembered the motorcycles they had seen in
Europe that were more lightweight and more exciting. Most hade been
trained to work on motorcycles and automobiles in the service. They began
to get together and talk about improvements.
To make the bike lighter, riders began removing or shortening the
fenders. The front fender was usually removed completely, while the back
fender was made short enough to just protect the passenger from mud and
water thrown up by the rear tire. This is where the term bobber came
from. Riders continued to make changes or customizing their bikes and
eventually the "chopper" was born. Their original purpose was for dirt
The term chopper comes from the process of chopping. Riders began
chopping off any part they felt was unnecessary. This included
windshields, front fenders, big headlights, crash bars and big seats. The
standard large footrests were replaced with forward-mounted foot pegs.
The fuel tank was made smaller. This made the bike lighter.
Next, riders began raking the front end of their choppers so that the
angle of the fork to the ground decreased allowing for an increase in the
wheelbase. They also raised the handlebars and called them ape hangers.
Anything that was thought too big or unnecessary was either made smaller
or removed. The front tire was made small; the rear tire was made fat.
Each rider created the bike he wanted to ride.
As always, as soon as this rage caught on, enterprising individuals began
designing and creating custom bikes to sell to other riders so they
didn't have to do the work themselves. Choppers began to be built, not
just chopped. While this trend slowed for a few years, it seems to have
made a comeback. Custom built choppers created by top designers are
greatly prized and sought after.
The Shovelhead FX Super Glide was one such Harley Davidson model to come
out of the chopper evolution. Choppers became especially popular after
the film Easy Rider, starring Peter Fonda, was released in 1969.