Why is it called a "chopper"?

I saw a big, long motorcycle today and thought to myself “cool chopper”. Then I got to wondering why it is called that? That’s a weird thing to call a motorcycle. The only thing I can come up with is that the sound this sort of motorcycle makes sort of is a “chop chop chop” sound as it goes down the road. Is that the reason?

It is because the use to chop the front forks and extend them


OK, that makes sense. Those sorts of motorcycles do tend to have long forks. The rider is sitting way behind the front wheel. That brings up another question: What’s the motivation to want to sit way behind the front wheel?

dare to be different

1 Like

Chopper in your search engine will let you read a very good article in the Wikipedia web site and also pictures of the type of motorcycle.

I think of it as a stylistic flourish similar to stiletto heels.
Both can have serious functional issues.


I don’t see how playing that vdo is going to do ME any good … lol …

I was thinking maybe the longer wheelbase makes for a more stable ride?

Nope, it’s just for looks, to be different. I found one hard to handle at low speed the one time I tried, just takes practice I’m sure.

And before choppers there were bobbers, bikes that were stripped of excess weight.


I’m not a bike guy but chopping the fork sounds reasonable. I would have said the frame was chopped, like chopping the top of a 50 Ford.

I liked the part in the video where the pajama boy just looked back at the model falling and kept on walking. Nice guy. A warning though, the flag police are out and this is dangerously off topic.

Just don’t try to turn on a chopper. If it added stability, motorcycle manufacturers would build them at the factory. I’d hate to get a motorcycle driver’s license on one. The figure 8s I had to ride for my license would be impossible on just about any chopper.


I always just assumed it was because they chop them up when they customize them. Chop off the front fender, chop the rear fender to shorten it, chop and extend the forks, etc. I’ve never looked on Wikipedia, though…


Since I’ve been involved with bikes all my life what I heard from many guys who were older than me is that they were called choppers because the bike was generally whacked up to some extent in converting from stock to custom. I’ve never heard of bikes being called choppers because of altered forks. Not to say it did not happen; just that I’ve never heard it from anyone in the cycle community.

Front fenders were shortened, the rear section of Harley rear fenders were removed as they were of the flip up type to allow removal of the rear wheel, many frame tabs were cut off and the frames smoothed out so to speak. By tabs I mean tool box mounts, sidecar loops on the lower front, upper backbone tabs for the mounting of the stock 2 piece gas tanks, and so on. E.G.; eliminating the “dresser” garbage as it was referred to.

The long front end might look ridiculous (and some are) but most actually handle very well on the open road. I used to have a 1950 Triumph total custom with an 800 CC big bore kit on it. The frame neck was raked out and the front forks (which were from a Harley 45 C.I.) were extended 27" over stock with the use of radius rods from a Ford Model A. I allowed a friend to take it out for a ride and he was stunned at how well it handled. It was a pain to make a U turn in confined quarters but other than that it was glued to the road.
It was also major league cop bait…


Saw one today at the gas station with the high handle bars. As he drove away it just always seemed to me that your arms would get tired on those high grips. Didn’t look very comfortable.

Peter Fonda commented that the chopper he rode in Easy Rider was a real bear to ride. Choppers are just for looks.

I understand that “chopper” is short for “chop job”. Originally taking a full dress touring bike and getting rid of the huge fenders and other stuff, to convert it into a sportier bike. Even the extended forks originally had a functional purpose. It was found that extending the forks a little was the easiest way to give an old hard tail bike more cornering clearance.
Today, they have evolved into non-functional silliness. “Bobbers” or bob jobs is used to describe old school choppers.

1 Like

Those high handlebars are called ape hangers due to the resemblance of a chimp hanging from a tree limb. I’ve ridden someone’s bike with ape hangers and don’t care for them at all. Just too uncomfortable for my tastes. OK has a law (as do others) stating that the bars cannot be higher than eye level but that is a seldom enforced law. Much more leeway now than 30 years ago.

The bike Fonda rode in Easy Rider was not real practical for the most part. The frame was raked and it had an extended tube glide front end. With the rake and extension there is little hydraulic action in the front forks. Billy’s bobber Harley was much more practical.

I’ve built 3 choppers in the past, bought one already chopped, and built 2 bobbers. They all rode and handled well except for the bought chopper. Rigid frame. stiff springer fork, and 1" thick seat was sheer torture on the spine and kidneys. Handled well but there was a certain amount of pain involved; especially on rough roads.

1 Like

Good info. Just hoping you are adapting well and coping. Been a tough year all around.

Which came first, ape hangers on Schwinns or Harley’s?

1 Like

Chopper vs. sport bikes. Gentlemen, place your bets.Motorcycle racing Japan - CRAZY!!! - YouTube

I think schwinns came first, but they copied the ape hangers and seat from the choppers.