Roadside Marty Explains Why For Us It’s Still ‘Till I Die…
Originally Published In The February 2018 Issue Of Cycle Source Magazine
Choppers, the word stirs so many feelings and ideas when I hear it, I instantly relive my childhood. The only other words that come close for me are Harley-Davidson because for me and many others those words are synonymous with one another. I was fortunate to grow up with a father and a few uncles who built, bought, sold and traded Choppers, paint, parts, and other pieces as far back as the mid-sixties, in fact, they still do.
As a kid, I remember my cousin Danny and I shooting BB guns at an old Duo Glide frame that had the tanks, fenders, shocks, swingarm and complete front end on it that was chained up to an oak tree in our yard. My Dad and my Uncle Rabbit bought it for some ridiculously low price and pulled the motor and transmission out to put in a Jammer rigid frame with springer frontend. They were done with the carcass and left it out in the yard uncovered. I can hear the groans and moans as I’m typing this, for not only leaving it outside in the elements but us shooting up original paint sheet metal haha! I remember how excited I would be when I saw whatever paint job my uncle had done for whatever bike they were building at the time. We would go the Greyhound bus station to pick up, or ship extended Harley springer front-ends and C other parts like sissy bars and exhaust pipes, etc. as out to Brown’s Plating in Kentucky. I’m sure most of you greybeards reading this gave Brown’s Plating more than a few of your hard-earned bucks back in the 70’s! I remember how excited I got watching them crank up a new Chopper build for the first time and how much I loved it when my Dad would take me for a ride. I always thought my dad’s customers were so interesting and fun, and they always treated me like I was there own kid. They would give me cool things like sunglasses, knives, rings, patches, and hats and even throw a football with me out in the front yard of our place while my Dad worked on their chop. My mom always made enough food for everyone, customers included, whenever she was cooking. Man, those are some of my best memories growing up.
I guess I’ve always loved Choppers and the people who built and rode them. Now, Choppers aren’t for everyone, and this isn’t a knock on the Motor Co, but I’ve always felt that most people that ride a Harley were influenced to do so because they saw someone riding a chopper… not a stock dresser. Notice I said “dresser” not “bagger” as most people call them today. A “dresser” meant a full dress Harley, i.e., saddlebags, floorboards, a windshield and a large seat for both and this was usually the platform from which a chopper was created. The word “bagger” was coined in the mid to late 90’s by newer Harley riders when describing their Road King or Heritage. Originally, if you wanted a Chopper, you had to build it.
It was never a turnkey affair, you went and found a stock Harley and proceeded to tear it down and then you made it your own! Some people may argue this point, but it’s widely accepted that Choppers, as we know them, originated in the land of sun and sand; California!! Legendary builders like Arlen Ness and Ron Simms in the Bay Area and Sugar Bear, Cliff Vaughs, Dick Allen and Big Daddy Roth in So Cal were influencing not only each other and their friends but bikers across America and the world! At that time, a man named Mil Blair teamed up with another man among men named Lou Kimzey who brought along a recent Vietnam veteran from the Navy named Keith Ball, better known to the world as “Bandit”, and proceeded to blow everyone’s minds with a little magazine called Easyriders… maybe you’ve heard of it. Ed “Big Daddy” Roth originally started a small digest magazine named “Choppers” that eventually failed due to a variety of reasons. Without a doubt Choppers were HOT! California wasn’t the only place that cool Choppers were being built. Dave Perewitz in Brockton Massachusetts, Ron Finch in Michigan, Lou Falcigno in Connecticut, Arlin Fatland in Colorado, legends of our culture, were there at the height of the Chopper movement.
This article would not be complete without mentioning some prominent longstanding clubs that still build and ride Choppers today as well. Everybody wanted one, choppers were, and I think still are synonymous with a certain level of badassery and a complete cool factor, at least in the rider’s mind. Heck, even Mattel Toys knew how cool Choppers are, they co-produced a Chopper toy for kids, who by the way, were chopping off the front forks of their bicycles with their dad’s tools… myself included. I even remember trying to rattlecan paint my “Chopper” with disastrous results. Hell, even Elvis had a Chopper! I remember a Kiss poster I won at the local fair that had a pic of all four members sitting on Choppers, man I wish I still had that!!
According to my Dad and a few of his friends that were riding Choppers back then most of them wanted the new alternator Shovelheads in their Choppers. Sure, there were diehard Knucklehead and Panhead guys but sometimes the Factory would have a run of spare engines and would sell them to dealers. A good majority of these ended up in Choppers. These were the days before the Factory adopted the assembly line practice of “on time production” meaning if you have ten frames you have ten motors, ten transmissions, etc. The practice of taking a factory motor and transmission and building a reliable Chopper was popular with my generation as well. Does the name Sucker Punch Sally’s ring a bell? My good friends Jeff Cochran and Donnie Loos, along with Super Dave produced traditional Chopper looks with modern dependability in a production type environment. Having ridden a multitude of their bikes over the years, I can still honestly say they were some of the best-built bikes I’ve ever ridden.
For me, as well as a lot of others, a Chopper will always be a bike with a modified frame and front-end. With this mindset, a rebirth of Choppers happened about twenty years ago when a guy from Long Beach California started making custom fenders and frames after his day job at Boyd Coddington’s hot rod shop, Jesse James. Between the Motorcycle Mania episodes, as well as the Biker Build Off series on Discovery Channel a whole new generation of builders and riders were exposed to guys like Indian Larry, Irish Rich, Rogue, Denver Mullins, Freddy Hernandez, Mondo and Frank Kaisler and others who were riding and building Choppers long before it was cool and the popular thing to do. I know I’ve rambled on and probably left more than a few things out, but I’ve honestly tried to touch on the reasons why I believe Choppers have had such an impact on so many people. So for me, and the rest of the guys at the magazine, it’s Choppers till we die!