Bobber Motorcycle History

The now legendary, custom-made Bobber motorcycles, also called ‘bob-jobs’ or ‘bobber style motorcycles’ are the quintessential asphalt burners that motorcycle lovers across the world vie to own. Just as any custom-made vehicle represents the personality of its owner, the Bobber does the same; it talks about the rider’ style and needs.

For this motorcycle, the emphasis is largely on utilitarianism and it is the perfect bike for anyone who’s on a budget yet wants a unique machine to get around. The Bobber is essentially the not-so-well-known cousin of the immensely popular “chopper” motorcycle.With popular culture in view, the chopper has managed to attract a lot of attention but the Bobber too has its fans and cult following.

Looking Back in Time

The other undeniable fact is that the Bobber is more of a pure bred when compared to the Chopper and its lineage is as glamorous and interesting as that of the latter. Let’s take a peek into Bobber History:

The history of the Bobber Motorcycle goes all the way back to WWII. These soldiers had just been introduced to the much more maneuverable and lighter motorbikes that were immensely popular in Europe. Having spent a significant amount of time in the military, they had also honed their mechanical skills. It’s this which contributed to one of the 20th century’s most notable motorcycle styles. These former soldiers were intent on transferring the distinct characteristics that the European motorcycles had, to the ones on their home ground.

And so the “bobbing” of motorcycles dates’ way back to the 1940’s as well as the 1950’s. This was when Hill Climbing events, Road Racing and Dirt Track Racing were all the rage. Way back then, there really was no concept of an after sales market like the one we now have. The only way a bike lover (who had a thirst for motorcycle power), could increase the performance of his bike was to chop all the excess weight from it.

In those days, motorcycle riders would very tamely ride their motorcycles to work during the week; but once the weekend dawned, these same guys would ride their bikes to various motorsports events to participate in the races; but before that they would strip-off all the possible ballast from their bikes to make them lighter and faster. Once the race was over, the owner would simply pull out his tool kit, assemble all the parts the way they were & make the motorcycle street legal.

These motorcycles were the Original Bobbers! In effect, it’s this racing tradition that has set in very deeply into the grain of the bike and has become the foundation of the general definition & perception of what a Bobber is.

Various Modifications

The main objective of bobbing bikes was to keep them on the road at the lowest possible cost, even as the maneuverability and speed was increased. The owners of these bikes would ruthlessly remove the maximum number of components from their bikes and would almost strip the bike down to its skeleton so to say. Take a look at the modifications they would make:

  • They would start with removing the front fender
  • The rear fender would be significantly shortened
  • Mirrors would be removed
  • Headlights would be removed
  • The handlebars were altered
  • The seats would be made as light and small as possible
  • The chrome components were considered to be excessively heavy and those would be discarded too
  • If the bike’s breaking system was excessively big/heavy, the owners would either import or source componentsfrom smaller bikes or European models to use them on their own bikes

In short, the Bobber was the ultimate utilitarian bike. The fact that all its cellulose was trimmed gave it that burst of speed, and of course it cut-down the drag. You will rarely find a blue-blooded Bobber with anything apart from the most essential parts. Once the owners were satisfied that their Bobbers were as clutter-free and clean as possible, they slowly shifted their focus to more complex modifications.

Even More Unique

Now, making a bike unique wasn’t just about removing a fender or making these other modifications. Slowly but surely, the owners brought the fat back tires into the fold and began raking-in the front ends too. At this point of time, the primary intent wasn’t ever to create a completely new kind of motorcycle. Rather it was meant to be a sub-genre and as mentioned earlier, the objective was to keep these bikes in the road in the most cost-effective manner possible.

If you compare Bobbers with other bikes, on the price scale, the former is the undisputed winner; in most instances these bikes are like hybrids of other motorcycles. The style caught on like wildfire right through the 1940s & 1950s. In fact, this style made itself evident in the aesthetics of Harley-Davidson motorcycles of that time and this trend has been carried forth to this day.

Over the last decade, branched-off Bobber styles such as the “Retro Bobber” and the “Bobber- Chopper” have also gained immense popularity. The major difference between the Bobbers of the 1950s and the ones that we see on roads today is that the current day ones are about customization & very importantly, about independence- the cost factor isn’t really a consideration any longer.

Create Your Own Bobber

The term bobber is widely used today and you will now find bike builders and bobber enthusiast using the word to describe custom motorcycles. Of course, bike makers are having a heyday catering to this trend; they now make Custom Bobbers to catch the fancy of hardcore Bobber fans.

If you want to build a custom Bobber for yourself, it’s not much more than taking off all the parts that aren’t really critical to the functioning of the bike- that’s the way to axe some of those excess pounds. It’s this aspect which makes the Bobber the classic custom bike – it’s like the personality of the owner is melded into his Custom Bobber.

31st Dec 1969 Lark Begin

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