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'Choppers' are sixties, right? Right?

Choppers from the early fifties? Damn right.

Like many of you I am fascinated by chopper history; where the 'cutdown', 'bob-job' and chopper' terminology was first used, what the regional variations in customising were, and why and how machines were first modified.

I always believed that the word 'chopper' was associated with the sixties, when metal was cut and geometry altered on custom bikes. But these little photos, which a guy called Chopper Gary recently posted on the FB 'Classic Panheads' page, blow that theory out of the water. These images are from a (yet unidentified) magazine published in 1954... and clearly describe both builders and modified machines as 'choppers'. That's bang in the middle of the 'bobber' era: to me, this is fascinating stuff!

Perhaps the definitive history of the American custom motorcycle is yet to be properly written...

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  • Just because he used the word "chop" doesn't mean it is. O.K you chopped off the front fender. you could have used the word saw. Does that make it a" sawer." Sure looks like a bobjob to me. There's that word again, bob, to shorten, chop, saw. What came first the chicken or the egg?

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    • Rich, I was referring to the first use of the word 'chopper' in relation to a motorcycle rather than the date a 'chopper' as we know it first appeared.

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  • Again I say does the word "chop" take on the same meaning as "chopper" from what I see posted or was there the actual use of the word "chopper" in the article that we're not privy to?

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    • Unfortunately these are the only clippings I've seen, but I am surprised even the word 'chopper' is used to describe the guys making these modifications. It's a word/description I associate with the sixties... just interested to see it used this early. Will have to find the rest of the article to see whether the bikes were described as such, but it's a short leap to imagine they might have been...

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  • Guy, one of the holy guidance on custom motorcycle related terminology (at least this is what i believed in) is the article Irish Rich wrote on Issue #8 of GKM.. the "bobbed" thing kinda make sense with the description of that 40s - 50s era, and yes, "chopper" are a sixties thing..

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  • As interessting as the fact that this ad is from the 50s´s is to me, that there were instructions made back in the days - how to build your chopper/bobber (what ever).
    Just to give the people an idea, how they could do it.
    If there were things like this today, a lot of people would say it is an instruction for hipsters, dentists (...) to follow the "vintage lifestyle"

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  • chopper (n.) Look up chopper at Dictionary.com
    1550s, "one who chops," agent noun from chop (v.1). Meaning "meat cleaver" is by 1818. Meaning "helicopter" is from 1951, Korean War military slang (compare egg-beater); as a type of stripped-down motorcycle (originally preferred by Hells Angels) from 1965.

    The fact the word choppers is mentioned blows the above 1965 date out of the water! #I'mananorak

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  • Perhaps the term chopper came about from the saying "chop and change" in the earliest days, and then the association to neck cutting was just a coincidence and was then adopted as the style. I too am fascinated by this history. Recently having seen a film by Titus Moede, it seems that the term "chopper" was in full use in 1959 at least as he himself claimed to be the pioneer of the first "chrome chopper" in 1959. It's not just the frame, you can cut up a tank or a set of handlebars and still be "chopping". I think it just evolved and by the 60's it was associated to cutting frames

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  • Perhaps the term chopper came about from the saying "chop and change" in the earliest days, and then the association to neck cutting was just a coincidence and was then adopted as the style. I too am fascinated by this history. Recently having seen a film by Titus Moede, it seems that the term "chopper" was in full use in 1959 at least as he himself claimed to be the pioneer of the first "chrome chopper" in 1959. It's not just the frame, you can cut up a tank or a set of handlebars and still be "chopping". I think it just evolved and by the 60's it was associated to cutting frames.

    Reply
  • the fact is those guys back in the 50's were calling their bikes choppers, so that's what a chopper is. Just because many folks these days have the iconic 60's style as an association, doesn't mean it's right.

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