There probably isn’t a single red blooded male on this planet whose heart doesn’t skip a beat (or did sometime in their lives) when picturing themselves riding out towards the far horizon leisurely grabbing onto the handlebars of a gently purring hog - a purr of the V-twin that soothes the spirit but one that also whispers promises of wild adventures awaiting. Heck this fantasy might just be shared by a whole lot of women as well.
Despite the popularity of the cruisers brought about by the 1969 movie Easy Rider, there isn’t all that much known about their history by non-experts. First of all the term “Cruiser” denotes a motorbike adapted to comfortable road use. Giving up on speed and some maneuverability for the sake of a comfortable riding experience, cruisers are superior to sport bikes when it comes to covering long distances for obvious reasons.
The motorbike that is the object of most people’s fantasies though is a special breed of road-bike or cruiser, one that stands far out as image, and one that never fails to draw stares from bystanders wherever it goes. The Chopper has its origins way back in the era just after World War II. The bikers coming home from the fighting finally had both the time and the possibility to pay tribute to their passion, and they threw themselves upon it with great thirst. The euphoria of the victory coupled with their sense of infinite freedom and peace made for some pretty radical and rebellious bike designs. All the parts reckoned as not imperative for the proper functioning of the motorcycle were done away with, “chopped” off. The spring-supported seat was thrown out to give room for one that positioned the rider as low on the frame as possible thus leading to a lower point of gravity but also to a rather radical look. Fenders were dropped, and in some cases even front brakes, the large cumbersome floorboard-type footrests were also scrapped – forward mounted footpegs taking up their place. The whole array of modifications made the bike lighter and lead to better dirt-racing performances. The first modified bikes that basically removed all the parts deemed useless keeping the factory frame untouched were called Bobbers as there was nothing “chopped” off the bike itself. Choppers are bikes that have their frames modified too. During the 1960s bike modifications were taken to another level. The large front tire gave way to a much smaller and leaner one, the headlights and fuel tanks were also made smaller. Long narrowed and raked forks became the standard, complemented by long handlebars, and sissy bars were also made longer, giving the whole machine quite a formidable look.
Despite the fact that the modifications were apparently more focused on making the bike look mean, they also provided some performance benefits. The long raked front fork lends these bikes a much more stable feel at high speeds and straight lines but it also makes cornering more awkward at low speeds, due to the longer trail measurement . The rear tire used on a chopper is usually a fat one, and though all custom manufacturers have complete freedom in designing their machines this is a detail all bike-builders seem to agree upon.
The colors used on these choppers are also paradoxically quite standard these days. It’s either plain black or chrome-shiny or a tasteful combination of the two, however dark red and blue are also used by some manufacturers. Another industry standard is the powerplant used for these “Easy Riders”: the good old pushrod V-twin engine. Attempts have been made to experiment different types of engine configurations but they all seemed to be failures as large part of the chopper community considers the V-twin a must have for their machine. The Triumph Rocket III however seemed to be the exception to this rule as it had a considerable success with its 3 cylinder powerplant.
Despite the Cruiser being an American born and bred phenomenon the fact that leading motorcycle manufacturers, like Suzuki with its B-king, Kawasaki with the LTD series, Yamaha with its Venture and Royal Star series, Honda with its Valkyrie, pay heed to its heritage, and continue building cruisers, makes sure that we’ll continue to see these wonderful machines on the roads. As long as there are motorcycle enthusiasts - and there will always be plenty of those around – we can rest assured that the flashy out-of this world chopper – the symbol of utter freedom on the road - is here to stay.