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Rants & Raves Index
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Too Short or Too Long...?
Bob WHO?

What’s With the Bob Job?

Seems we’re in a trendy time for motorcycles. When I started damn near ten years ago, there just weren’t a lot of folks who gave a damn about long, stripped out bikes. I remembered them from my childhood and decided that a site dedicated to the art of the Chopper would just be a very cool place to have on the web. So I started pasting together HTML and snapping photos and gathering materials where and when I could. Keep in mind – mine is a labor of love: no corporate backing, no print magazine, no ad sales force and (more recently) no show on cable.

Well, the rest seems to be some kinda bizarre history lesson. I was contacted many years ago to help promote a new show featuring the then-unknown Jesse James by the good promotions folks at the Discovery channel. They didn’t offer me any money, they just wanted me to run an ad for a show called Motorcycle Mania (I think) because they thought it would be something I was interested in – and I was. I ran the ad, the first show hit the air (Remember? This was the one where Jesse goes to the meeting with the local business leaders and cops and then heads off to Sturgis or something). Long story even longer – “choppers” became the buzzword in an otherwise sedated motorcycle world.

I really shouldn’t say “sedated” – bikes were big business at that time as America seems to have just re-discovered the Harley Davidson. All of a sudden, bike sales were through the roof and dealers were getting way more than list price as demand outpaced supply. This was the era of the year-long wait for your Softail and showrooms with no bikes. I remember guys putting down deposits on bikes and then selling the bike at a profit BEFORE it arrived at the dealer – of course, these were guys with more money than sense. Ok, fast forward to the Discovery Channel’s discovery of the motorcycle culture and all of a sudden we’re in the middle of a chopper revolution.

People just couldn’t get enough. There were follow on shows, build-offs, magazine launches, shops opening left and right – the rebel culture of the Chopper became big, BIG business. All of a sudden every mouth-breather with a MasterCard had a pre-fab chopper and a West Coast Choppers T-Shirt from the local mall. And don’t even get me started on the merchandising mayhem started by those loud-mouth, window-dressers from upstate New York.

But here’s where it gets interesting. The chopper was now mainstream – no longer was a long, radically chopped bike the sole province of the backstreet outlaw. It had come the same cycle (forgive the pun) as Harley itself. It was now completely socially acceptable to have a bike with a 50-plus degree rake and 12-over forks powered by an explosive, fire breathing powerplant unsuitable for anything except short blasts of speed from bar to bar. In fact, manufacturers of pre-fab choppers were lining up to serve up and every increasing demand for long, radical choppers. Now you don’t need any mechanical skill to own a chopper – just a Gold Amex card. I’m sure the original chopper builders of the 60’s and 70’s are just completely non-plussed by concept of a $50,000 chopper. I know I am.

Enter the Bobber. All of sudden everyone is building Bobbers. What’s the difference between a Bobber and a Chopper you ask (I mean, this really is a fair question) – it boils down to front end. Choppers got the long look, Bobbers got the short look. Why are people building Bobbers? Simple – because bikers are basically rebels and they’re rebelling against the bloated, corporate culture created by the Chopper Industry.

Track with me here: Harley becomes popular with every Doctor and Lawyer in America so bike builders rebel and focus on Choppers. Choppers become a big industry (almost as big as the stock bike world) and bikers rebel – and begin building Bobbers. I picked up a recent copy of Street Chopper and half the featured bikes were shovelhead bobbers. (Note: for those of you who haven’t figured it out – shovel is the new panhead), this is pretty interesting for a magazine whose name has the word “Chopper” on the masthead. It boils down to this – whenever a customizing trend becomes an industry, some people will say “enough is enough” and move on to the next phase. These are the folks to keep an eye on, because they are truly insane and fearless.

Oh, don’t soil your knickers worrying that I’m gonna change the name of the website to (though I do own the name…) because to me the difference is almost inconsequential. A stripped out custom bike is cool no matter if it’s front end is 18 inches over or 2 inches under – it’s a custom bike and that is cool. But (and this is a big but) it’s only cool if you built it (or had a pretty heavy hand in building it).

Chopper or Bobber – it takes no talent to walk into a pre-fab showroom and open your wallet for surgery or to go to a shop and throw a bunch or magazine photos at the real bike builders and say “make it look kinda like this”. It just takes money, and money changes everything (there’s a song in there someplace) The true heart and soul of the customized motorcycle still lies in the hands of the working customizer, the guy with a sawz-all in his hand and an evil gleam in his eye. He’s the guy who doesn’t care if it’s chromed billet as long as it holds that funky thing in place as you’re sailing down the road. And that’s what Choppersrule (er, uh, and Bobbersrule I guess) is really all about.

Look, I’m not putting down shops – I use ‘em all the time. Generally after I’ve given it my best shot and screwed it up. But there’s the rub, there’s that shot and be it Chop or Bob – it’s a shot straight from the heart of motorcycling. Stay true to your school – it doesn’t matter if it’s 12 over or 4 under, and if you don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s time to get back to class. Or maybe just get some class to begin with.

The adage rings true “build it yourself or the bitch will always belong to someone else”.