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 track racing.

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.