Friday, January 23, 2009

Bobber, not a Bobber Part 1

Bobber! From the Wingnuts M/C blog

If it's in a book it must be right. It's crap like this that's fueling the problem. Not a Bobber!

With all the new blood that has come on board there has been a fairly recent phenomenon to call all kinds of custom bikes bobbers. New blood doesn't just mean young, there are plenty of older guys that are new to this sport. It has gotten to the point that the term is now so over used that it has lost all meaning.

Where it started. After seeing racers like this, guys went home and bobbed their bikes.

To me, it's really important that the history of the sport doesn't get so distorted. I've been meaning to do a post about it because it's out of hand. It was also brought up recently on the Wingnuts M/C blog. I'm going to try to keep it simple without going into every detail of the history of cut downs, bob jobs, or choppers. There's just too much to get into for one post and I wanted to start the discussion.

So a white wall makes it a Bobber? I found this bike and others like it being marketed as a such. Stretched frame, extended forks,... too many things to even list. Not a Bobber!

Today, it seems if the front end is short, or the wheels are black, or it has a fat front tire, it's a bobber. Then, I see so called bobbers advertised like the bike above with none of those features. Now days if a bike exhibits an early or somewhat conservative form of a chopper they are wrongly being called bobbers.


The name bobber is a derivative of the term bob job. At one time It was clear what that meant. A bob job was a bike were you cut or "bobbed" the fenders or dumped the front one altogether. It was done by Class "C" racers and those who copied them. Many guys did it after the fenders or the tips were damaged. Instead of fixing that long fender (it was just going bang into something again), toss it or cut it off.

Side note: The practice of cutting off damaged fender tips continued during the chopper craze of the 60's and 70's. At that time Sportsters and early Superglides had front fenders that were much larger and whose front portion was always getting scraped or damaged. This eventually led Harley to just install smaller fenders on XL's and FX's.

So a Sporster tank, white wall, ape hangers, and black springer makes a bobber?... Not a Bobber!

A lot of guys think the term best pertains to post WWII bikes (sort of the golden years of bob jobs), and I for the most part agree with them. What's interesting is that during the later part of the 50's, the term chopper was starting to be used to describe to what many would call a bobber. Keep in mind that things were evolving and they were both terms for cutting.

I guess black wheels, forks, and bars does it... or chrome them and it's a chopper. Wrong again. Not a Bobber. Can a completely custom ground up after market bike really be called a chopper or bobber? How can you bob or chop something that never existed? Today I guess the word "style" has to be automatically inferred to the description.

Oh I get it now... red wheels white walls and flat black. Some guys call this old school. I got news for them, this lame subject was never taught. Not a Bobber!

Probably the best way to clarify what I think is a bobber and what isn't is with examples so, I'm going to do an ongoing post on the topic. The bikes I post and say are not a bobber will only be ones that I find inappropriately labeled as one.

Here's one to fight over . A nicely done new bike, with old style parts.


I know there are some gray areas. I also think you can "bob" newer bikes. Does that make it a bobber? Some call the old style "period bobbers", or "period correct". Maybe we need a new term for in-between, new, or questionable bikes. Chobber?


drsprocket said...

Chris, Thanks for posting that photo of Paul Albrecht #12. He passed on a couple years ago and didn't live to far from me. That's a 1940 WR or WRTT. Check the 3 pillon pads. 1 for his chin (tank), 1 for his chest (tank), and one to throw his wait on the rear fender for traction. He's in the Sports Hall of Fame here in Sacramento. he kick ass in the late 30's and 40's and quit in the early 50's. He won alot and raced at Daytona also. you know how I feel about bobjob's already. great post.

Chris K said...

Thanks for the info.I don't know where I stole the photo, probably wingnuts m/c blog. I thought it was a nice shot for my point. I know the bikes pretty well but I'm not up as I should be on the riders. I need to review my Harley Racers book.

Anonymous said...

Let's call them motorcycles or bikes or rides. Old-, New-, or NO-school I don't care. Ride the fuck out of them and have fun. That's what it's all about.

Irish Rich said...

When you walk into a restaurant, order a cheesburger with ketchup, and when they bring you a fishwich with lettuce and tarter sauce, do you say to your waitress:

"Let's call them sandwiches...."??

Anonymous said...

Don't get me wrong Irish R.. But finding the right description for a ride is a waste of time. Better use it for riding or wrenchin'. Because the industry will abuse it for their profit anyway. A motorcycle old stager like you should know that a shut mouth catches no flies. By the way I hate fish anyhow...

Chris K said...

Wrenchin and riding IS most important but consistency of language and names are vital to any communication. If a guy goes to a shop and wants them to build him a Bobber it was once pretty clear what he meant. I also think it's important to get it right for historical reasons. Since you posted anonymously, I guess it's more proof that names are not important to you. Ha!

Unknown said...

This is a great article, and I'm glad no body has the brains to understand it. Just the fact that you guy's commented on this article, I give you respect.
Though it's true that corporate world, and all the little minions that listen to them, will be able to cash in on the term "bobber".

What really burns my rear end is that these people swear that they understand. I'm going to a motorcycle school with a shitton of squirrels try to tell me what the differences are in motorcycle design.
Trust me, and just let the lemmings be...when you pull up in a bike that you have made they will appreciate it. Thing is you may not want to sell it!

Chris K said...

I may not be able to reach the lemmings, but it's nice to know that there are some folks out there on the same page.

Mean while, I just can't stop rattling the cage.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the information ! ! !

Though bobbers were "small retro like choppers" I agree that a term needs to be found for those "not bobber" you posted.

I think that the retro look finally got to the new choppers & custom bikes, & people wrongly named them bobbers.

I think Retro o retro look sounds fair enough for those non bobber. After all that is what they make you think, they look like old bikes which never really existed before.

Please correct me if I'm wrong !

& thanks for the data.

Greetings from Argentina.

Jason Mitchell said...

Bobbers are stock proportioned bikes with all the extra stuff taken off. Choppers are stock bikes that have been cut up and structurally altered. Custom bikes are those built either from ordered parts or built from the ground up.

The problem here is that a stock CB750 with the fenders cut off and the turn signals removed is technically a 'bobber' but not a postwar 'period' bobber. But it is more of a bobber than red rims and wide whitewalls.

Really though, its really not that complicated.

Anonymous said...

one of my bikes had flat paint, chopped fenders, red rims and white walls, you know what I call it? my commuter bike. my other one is bone stock, and I call it "the wife hauler".

I used to care enough to get upset about the things people say incorrectly about period bikes, retro and "old school" but after a while a noticed that I couldn't competed with the corporations and TV teaching the wrong things, so I said fuck it and I just ride and let them be ignorant.

-Big Al

Chris K said...

I really don't get upset. I'm just using the blog as a place to entertain, be a forum to vent, and maybe educate a few.

We all won't always like the same styles and if we did, it would be boring. When it comes to bikes the bottom line truly is, "to each their own".

Danny B said...

I actually love the flat balck with white wall and red wheels look, and I think it does look "old school", but to call something old school when there wasnt a version of it in the past is asinine. I dont know if there is a true definition of a bobber but I do agree with most of what you have said about the "true" meaning.
I do however think that getting worked up about what other people think or dont think their bikes are called is dumb. Why cant you just be happy knowing what you know and enjoying your bike? I dont think being underinformed is being intentionally disrespectful to the bikes of the past.

Anonymous said...

I say get upset, I like that you took the time to post this. When you love and obsess over something you tend to defend it when people get things wrong, More so when they get things wrong and don't care. I love motorcycles and the history behind them, I'm completely obsessed. So when people start throwing terms around to be "cool" and muddy the history of something I love this much it pisses me off! So I say good on ya and keep posting things like this to educate people and keep the history and terminological of what we love correct and unadulterated by ididots.