what's the advantage of a "chopper" motorcycle

Other than appearance, what is the difference between a standard motorcycle and a chopper?

Is the chopper somehow easier to ride over long distances? Presumably you give up some maneuverability and cornering ability right?

I don’t know about the popular choppers that are being built today (Jesse James, “American Chopper”, etc) but the Hell’s Angels originally rode choppers because they were uncomfortable. I guess it was to prove you were “tough” by their standards.

They had small gas tanks (not really sure why on this one…), no suspension (to make it a rough ride) and those big “ape-hanger” handlebars to wear your arms out.

I imagine they’re probably just for looks these days.

Generally they sacrifice comfort for looks/expression.

Most have no rear suspension of which to speak. The laid back riding position can be more confortable that a pocket rocket bike, but the overall effect of the chopper frame is that the chopper is style first, with sacrifices in comfort.

Cisco, cite? :dubious:
During the years preceding and following World War II, motorcyclists in Southern Californian raced on Muroc, El Mirage and the other dry lakebeds (around what is now Edwards AFB.) After the war, the trend was to build a bike by taking a stock Indian or Harley-Davidson and stripping all the garbage off of it; removing the saddle bags, gauges, front fender and half of the rear fender, along with all the brackets that held the stuff in place helped reduce wind resistance and could reduce the bikes weight by two hundred pounds or more.

American bikes of the time used floorboards that were placed so that the rider’s lower leg was vertical from knee to heel. The rear brake and either shifter or foot clutch controls (depending on the model; motorcycles were originally shifted by hand) were already in a forward position compared to modern bikes or the British bikes of the time.

Harley used a springer front end until 1949, when the Hydra-Glide was introduced, and used a hardtail frame (no rear suspension) until 1958’s Duo-Glide. Indian didn’t introduce front or rear suspension until the late '40s (I’m not sure of the dates for telescoping front and plunger rear suspension.) The upshot of this is that the dry lakes racers were built on hardtail frames and with girder (for Indian) and springer front ends (for Harley.) The heavy stock seat that basically sat on a pogo stick to give the rider some suspension was removed in the previously mentioned quest to remove weight.

Taking their cue from WWII fighter and bomber pilots, riders painted pinup girls or other artwork on their tanks. At this point, the bikes were basically choppers. They didn’t look like something out of American Chopper (which isn’t a bad thing, IMHO), but if you look at pictures of the Hell’s Angels from the earlier 1960s, their bikes look a lot like what I’ve described.

I would assume that extended forks were originally a way to increase ground clearance. The lower pipe on most Harleys tends to rub in right turns, and it’s fairly easy to cut off the legs of a springer fork and replace them with sections of the wishbone front end pulled out of a junk prewar Ford (I’m not saying that it was originally or always done that way, but that’s the method I’m familiar with. FWIW, I think a leaf spring was usually used as a …“tenon”?, but I’m not welder, so don’t hold me to any of this.) In any case, a long bike also looks cool (to some, and remember, this was also the era of custom cars), so people started using the whole wishbone or building a springer from scratch and stretching the bike out to have a longer wheelbase than most cars. For what it’s worth, the longer wheelbase and greater rake of a springer make it harder to turn (I once had a bike that couldn’t turn around in a suburban street), but the added rake and trail smooth out the bike’s turning, which works well for highway riding. All the same, extended forks are mainly for looks and don’t improve performance in any form of modern or sanctioned competition.

I’m pretty sure that “Ape hanger” handlebars have only been used for looks. I’ve never ridden a bike with apes, but most sane people like to lean into a seventy mile per hour wind so it has to be a RPITA to lean back or expose so much frontal area to the wind. I have also heard that they make it hard to turn at low speeds.

I assume that cherry bomb, coffin and other smaller than stock gas tanks began being used mainly to aesthetically bring the gas tank into proportion with the rest of the stripped-down bike. There is a history of using small gas tanks for drag racing, but my hunch is that the tanks are mainly for looks.

These motifs(?) continue to this day because they define what a chopper is. Also, while I can’t speak for Orange County Choppers (or whoever/whatever), bikers have traditionally been very… er, traditional. Apes and extended forks have been used for almost a half decade. Motorcycles have been hardtails since the steam velocipede.
-A bunch of Harley-dogs and other ne’er-do-wells whose names I can’t recall :wink:
-Countless Easyriders, Rider, Hot Bike (I know, ehhh…) and other magazines
-Guggenheim Museum’s The Art of the Motorcycle (about as accurate as the curator of a fine arts museum could get it.) p99; “Bob-Job”, pp196-199
-I think the Southern California Timing Association has some stuff
-Google is your friend

Cost to home build.
Tools available.
No performance gained by the style.
When you live under the 10 minute rule, every cover or useless thing between you and the problem is silly to have on the bile.
Older bikes always broke down sooner or later. 160° asphalt is not the place to spend more time fixing than necessary.
Can’t leave your bike and go for help, won’t be there when you get back so you got to fix it now with what you brung.

What you see on TV is not for riding, they go next to the coffee table. In all my running around, I saw my first solo, non-parade, $50,000. bike being ridden in the dirt and grime of a state highway with no rally or show at the end of the jaunt.

Don’t forget, it is about people, it does not have to make sense.

Oooohhh…5 whole years!
Just bein’ a creep. Nifty post!

[QUOTE=Inigo Montoya]
Oooohhh…5 whole years!

Gargh! :smack: Half a century! That whole post could have used another two or three edits (and my sister is an editor; I should know better!)

Thanks for the compliment.

Gargh! Half a century! :smack: That whole post could have used another two or three edits (and my sister is an editor; I should know better!)

Thanks for the compliment.

I agree with **GusNSpot ** that most road bikes are built for the road, but when I was riding back in the Eighties I saw a lot of nicely built bikes that were the owner’s main bike (along with a bunch of chopped up rat bikes like mine.)

I once asked a friend how he could bear to go on a long ride on his hardtail Harley. He said, “There’s a little give in the tire and the seat, but mainly, your butt goes to sleep after about fifty miles.”

According to the editors of Motorcyclist magazine, choppers are notoriously “foul-handling” and unsafe (especially the homemade varieties). So I would guess there’s not much advantage other than looks.

Come to think of it, extended forks may have come out of drag racing. Just as automotive drag racers extended the front ends on their roadsters, turning them into rail dragsters, motorcycle drag racers may have extended the front ends on their bikes. The bike would get more traction since the longer front end would shift the center of gravity towards the rear tire, and the increased rake and caster would stabilize steering and would also keep the steering from wobbling at high speeds (How’s that for an educated WAG?)

Most drag bikes use about a 45 degree rake (the angle of the forks from vertical), with the front of the frame extended to further transfer weight to the rear and with dampers to handle steering wobble. I could see how someone could have extended the forks on an early drag bike and someone else could have seen it and thought that it looked cool.