Keep It Sketchy
Why the hell do people love vintage choppers so much? They’re absurd and don’t typically handle well. They’re not safe and rough on long rides. Plus, it seems that everyone that has one is constantly fixing it. For the next 385 words, I’ll attempt to provide a few reasons by using Josh Howells’ 1976 Harley-Davidson FXE chopper as an example.
First, you have to understand that it’s in our blood to seek a challenge. These groovy stripped-down machines have little to do with practicality, and the danger this creates is part of the allure. With the exception of a couple weekend trips, Josh mostly uses his shovelhead as an everyday source to get around Pittsburgh. While riding an ordinary motorcycle can often become mundane over time, trying to maneuver something so outrageous through traffic will keep things interesting. As he put it, “When it comes to choppers, you take the thrill of motorcycles and multiply it. Every ride is exciting.”
Remember how you felt when you successfully assembled that swingset for your kids? Multiply that feeling, too. Building and maintaining a chopper forms a great sense of fulfillment by being both strenuous and rewarding. Josh spent about four months last winter piecing together this loud, temperamental machine. The frame was originally an aftermarket swingarm style but was converted into a hardtail that uses a six over springer front end. The only parts he purchased new were the kicker, grips, and mirror. Everything else Josh either made himself, had laying around already, or acquired from online swap sources and friends. There’s no better way for him to know his bike, and this knowledge proves useful when something inevitably goes wrong on the road.
This leads us to the one underlying characteristic that has attracted people to custom choppers since the early 1960s. Style. We’re allowed to build them however we want, and somehow they’re still legal. For the most part, you can make it as long, skinny, and dangerous as you’d like and launch yourself onto a busy highway at great speeds. Josh explained, “You kind of want to make it more ridiculous and sketchy just because you can.” This artistic freedom fuels an individuality that cannot be easily duplicated.
Custom chopper culture is thriving because of the gratification and soul of these highly-modified machines. Everyone has their preference when it comes to motorcycles, but my hope is that you’ll at least understand what motivates people like Josh to build such a bizarre bike. All of the drawbacks mentioned at the start are precisely why we love them.