Upon returning from World War II, soldiers seemed dissatisfied with the motorcycles that were being built by Harley-Davidson and Indian. The bikes they had rode in Europe were lighter, sleeker, and were much more fun to ride.
These vets started to hang out with other ex-soldiers to relive some of the camaraderie they had felt in the service. These groups of buddies realized that their motorcycles needed changes that Harley was not providing.
These new "bikers" (another new term at the time) started their "chopping" by removing or shortening (bobbing) the fenders on their bikes. This made the bikes look cool and uncluttered. They originally called the new chopped bikes "Bobbers". The bikes kept evolving through the 60's and in the 70's and they started to call them "Choppers". In 1969 the movie "Easy Rider" was released which brought the Chopper into the public eye. That movie set into motion the wave of cool Choppers and Chopper builders that we see today. People wanted a Chopper and nobody was building them so they had to go build them themselves.
Just what is a Chopper? The Chopper is created by removing or "chopping" off unnecessary parts from the bike. Who needs a windshield, front fenders, big headlights, clumsy blinkers, crash bars, big seats, etc? Chop them off and make the bike sleeker and lighter. Bikers started raking the front end so the tire was further from the bike, it gave the bike a cool look, which goes a long way with a biker. Handlebars were raised high and called ape hangers. The front tire was made thinner and the rear tire was made fatter. Some bikers even removed the battery and used a magneto to reduce weight. The gas tank, headlight, and blinkers were all made smaller. Anything deemed to be unnecessary was removed. This made for a bike style that was unique and tailored to each rider since each rider decided just what needed to be done to his bike to create the Chopper he desired.
As individual backyard mechanics started to get noticed, more talented designers started building Choppers and their work became highly sought after. An individual now no longer needed to actually do the Chopper work, just express what he wanted to a Chopper designer and the designer would do the rest. Arlen Ness was one of the first and most recognized such designers.
In the 1990's, the Chopper movement was revitalized. Although Harley Davidson is best known in the biker world, there are many other brands that people use to build Choppers. To many chopper riders, it's the end product that matters, not the name brand, but there will always be a segment of bikers that only want Harley.
Choppers started because riders were dissatisfied with what Harley-Davidson was producing. Rather than abandon H-D, riders streamlined the H-D bikes by removing excess equipment and then modifying the engines, rake, and suspension. The result was a personalized bike much like the bike in Easy Rider.
The steady evolution of the motorcycle continues. New factory bikes are more and more technically sophisticated with plenty of accessories, yet the Chopper continues to thrive as riders seek that minimalist simplicity that only the Chopper can supply. Are Choppers here to stay? Absolutely! No machine looks as good and none are more fun to ride.