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After soldiers returned home from World War II, they seemed dissatisfied with the motorcycles that were available to them from Harley-Davidson and Indian. They remembered the machines they had seen in Europe that were lighter in weight and seemed to have more excitement. The soldiers started to hang out with their motorcycle buddies to regain some of the camaraderie they had felt in the service. These groups of buddies soon decided that their motorcycles needed changes.

First, they either removed or shortened (bobbed) the fenders on their bikes. This reduced the weight and made the bikes look better in their eyes. These bikes began to be called bobbers. Changes kept occurring but it wasn't until the late 60's and early 70's that the bobbers gave way to the choppers. After release of the seminal movie Easy Rider in 1969, a whole new movement began. Riders wanted a bike like the one ridden by Peter Fonda in the movie. They wanted a chopper.

Just what is a chopper? Like the bobber, the chopper is created by removing or chopping off unnecessary components from the bike. Who needs a windshield, front fenders, big headlights, crash bars, big seats, etc? Chop them off and make the bike lighter. Bikers started raking the front end so the angle of the fork to the ground began decreasing allowing for a greatly increased wheelbase. Handlebars were raised high and called ape hangers. The front tire was made small and the rear tire was made fat. Some bikers even removed the battery and used a magneto to reduce weight. The gas tank became small, as was the headlight. Anything deemed to be unnecessary was removed. This made for a bike style that was unique and tailored to the rider since each rider decided just what needed to be done to his bike to create the chopper he desired.

As always occurs, this rise of the chopper created by individual backyard mechanics, soon was followed by talented designers whose choppers were sought after. An individual didn't need to actually do the work, just express what he wanted to a chopper designer. Arlen Ness was one of the first such designers.

Chopper creation slowed a little as many motorcyclists started customizing their bikes instead of chopping them. Then in the 1990's the chopper seemed to become more popular. Choppers are not just indigenous to Harley-Davidson. Numerous choppers have been built from British and Japanese bikes.

 

Choppers started because riders were dissatisfied with what Harley-Davidson was producing. Rather than abandon H-D, riders streamlined the H-D bikes by removing excess equipment and then modifying the engines, rake, and suspension. The result was a personalized bike much like the bike in Easy Rider.

The steady evolution of the motorcycle continues. New bikes are more and more technically sophisticated with plenty of accessories, yet the chopper continues to survive as riders seek that minimalist simplicity that only the chopper can supply.

 

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