Motorcycles are all about freedom and individuality. Obviously this isn’t entirely true, otherwise there wouldn’t be any clubs but ask any biker and they will tell you it is one of the reasons that they ride. Stamping your identity onto your bike is partly why people have been customizing their motorcycles pretty much since they were invented.
One of the earliest custom motorcycles we know about was built by Harold “Oily” Karslake. In 1902 he built a motorcycle, the Dreadnought, which combined the frame and engine from different machines and many home made parts. Whether or not it was the first custom bike built is impossible to say for sure, but it’s one of them. Amazingly the Dreadnought is still around, it is now owned by the Vintage Motorcycle Club
Maybe where it all started
World War 2 had a huge effect on the evolution of biker culture. Many American soldiers had grown to love bikes they had used during the war, and this, along with loads of cheap ex-military motorcycles, saw a huge increase in the number of people customizing their rides. Soon looks were just as important as performance, with crazy paint jobs becoming more and more popular.
During the fifties, to stand out from the crowd, American customizers began to develop more radical modifications. Most of this style was based around Harleys; they drew inspiration from dragster motorcycles, adding in raked forks, wider wheels and smaller fuel tanks and of course loads and loads of chrome. The same sort of rebellious energy that helped rock and roll pushed along the custom scene and nothing was going to stop it. As the forks got longer and longer, work had to be done on the frames to get the bikes geometry right. Instead of minor cuts and welds the donor bike to be completely dismantled, before chopping and reassembling the frame so it could handle the extended forks….. and so the chopper was born.
So why am I telling you all this? Well a couple of my mates recently watched Easy Rider. That film has probably been the cause of many bad ideas and this time it influenced the guys to go all old school and build their own chops. Of course being English they were never going to go with a Harley engine, but they didn’t want anything modern either. One got his hands on a lovely BSA and the other an old Triumph. They did it the proper way, no paying someone else to do the work, and no buying anything that they could make themselves. Many skinned knuckles and beers later they were finished and as you can see for yourselves from the photos, they did a bloody good job of it. So good in fact that one has been featured in a custom bike mag, the other is soon to be featured and they have won prizes shows all over the country.
Pretty aren't they!
Chops are not my thing, but customizing comes in all flavors. I prefer Bobbers and Café racers, Streetfighters but I also love my Survival bikes and Rats. Just owning a bike is not always enough, making that bike yours, even if it is just a paint job, stickers or some trick after market bolt on bling, can make all the difference to how you feel when you are out on the road. So why not be an individual in this group of individuals we belong to…you know it makes sense!