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About Bobbers

Life's a Bitch, Thank God There's Bobbers...

Ever since the classic movie "Easy Rider" was launched in 1969, everybody seems to know what a Chopper should look like. It's easy. The general idea is that Choppers have long front forks and lots of chrome, and prefereably they are ridden by outcasts.

Check out this 1946 Harley UL Flathead Period Modified Bobber by Steve Barber of the 74 Shop However, when it comes to Bobbers it would seem that many people are a bit less secure...

Ever since November 2007, when we started working on our Harley Davidson and Indian Bobber websites, we have many times received that one particular question from our visitors:

What Exactly is a Bobber?

Eats asphalt, spits fire, sound makes children cry...

While the answer to the question may seem quite simple, in reality there's more to it than you might think.

We've heard people say that certain bikes that everybody thought were Bobbers were in fact not Bobbers at all. Or that a Bobber can only be a Bobber if it is a dirt track racing bike.

We've also heard people say that Choppers and Bobbers are all one and the same thing. Or that on the West Coast USA a certain bike would be called a Chopper, while on the East Coast that very same bike would be called a Bobber. And then - to complicate matters even more - there's the people talking about their "Chopper Bobbers"...

So on this page we will try to shed some light on the Bobber question, and we will try to put some definitions in place. If only for our own use.

Chopping versus Bobbing - A Matter of Language

The rear fender of this 1948 Panhead was bobbed at the hinge. This rear fender was bobbed, the picture was chopped...

Maybe people who say that Choppers and Bobbers are the same thing could have a point. After all, in a way the verbs "chopping" and "bobbing" could both be explained as "taking something off". Still, we feel there is a profound difference in meaning between the words "chopping" and "bobbing".

Whereas the verb "bobbing" refers to an action where a part is removed, cropped or shortened (like a hairdresser would create a "bobline"), the verb "chopping" usually refers to more drastic action. Like chopping a whole barbecue pork shoulder into bite-size chunks. Or like chopping a motorcycle frame into pieces whereafter those pieces can be reassembled with a different geometry.

General Definition of a Bobber

So what is a Bobber?

In general terms, we would define a Bobber as follows:

A "Bobber" is a stock motorcycle without major modifications, except that most or all of the parts which do not contribute to speed and/or performance have been removed or shortened (i.e. "bobbed").

As you can see from the definition, in our perception a Bobber is bound to be minimalistic. Actually, if you start with the proper stock motorcycle, building a Bobber shouldn't cost you anything...

By the way, there's also this other specific feature about Bobbers which is quite noteworthy:

A Bobber is NOT created in a factory. Bobbers are typically created in a shed or garage behind the house, by ordinary people like you and me.

And How About Choppers?

Since Bobbers are often confused with Choppers, we thought it would be good to clarify the difference between them.

Photo of 1947 Harley Davidson Knucklehead Chopper.

The way we see it, for better or for worse, the difference between a Bobber and a Chopper is in the length and/or rake of the front fork. A Bobber is a stock bike with all excess parts removed and with the stock length and rake of the front fork still intact, while a Chopper is a bike with an increased rake and length of the front fork.

In general terms, we would define a Chopper as follows:

A "Chopper" is a motorcycle of which the rake of the front fork has been increased to a rake which is considerably larger than the rake of the original stock motorcycle.

By "rake" we mean the angle with the vertical. While the rake of the front fork is important from a styling point of view, the cornering and stability characteristics of a bike are governed by the rake of the centerline of the steering neck of the frame in combination with the trail of the front wheel.

The rake of the front fork can be increased by either lengthening the front fork, or by increasing the rake of the frame by chopping it and rearranging its geometry, or by playing a trick in the triple trees, or through any combination of the foregoing.

So, in our mind, as soon as a stock bike or a Bobber has her rake increased, that bike may be cooler than Albert Collins and ZZ Top together on the North Pole, but she's not a stock bike or a Bobber anymore. From then on she's a Chopper.

Chopper or Bobber? - How Serious Are We?

Of course there will always be lots of grey area and we should not take the definitions on these pages too strictly. If the 29.9 degrees stock rake of a 2010 Sportster is increased to like 33 degrees, you will hardly see the difference, and we shouldn't call that bike a Chopper just because it complies with the above definition.

While we are serious about what we wrote here, the definitions on these pages should be seen as guidelines. It's not the law.

So, if in your opinion your Chopper is a Bobber, respect. We just hope you don't mind us calling her a Chopper...

(January 2010)

The Experts' Views on Bobbers and Choppers has invited a number of motorcycle experts and Bobber artists to give their opinions and personal views on Bobbers, Choppers and other custom bikes. Not with the intent to find alignment (nothing lost if we do or if we don't) but rather to deepen the subject.

Discover what these guys have to say: