• Motorcycle Television

    Customarily Minded
    April 20, 2006

    copyright owned by author

    Reality TV and the Chopper Craze

    Paul Teutul Sr. was quoted in an interview earlier this year saying "I think that the motorcycle industry peaked, and now I think it's coming back down. It's just like any other trend, everybody floods the market and everybody comes out of the woodwork" and "I see the trend going back to the earlier choppers, like the 70s-style choppers. Those are the style bikes that are coming back. You know, it's a cycle. "

    It's a cycle...pun intended?

    That '70s-style trend has never gone away, it just hasn't been in the limelight. Bikes with self modified frames, cut and rearranged in the owner's or someone else's garage. OEM parts stripped and shelved, and rarely replaced with aftermarket goodies...usually with something of a cheaper alternative. Nope, no $500 Jesse James flat fender but rather a $10 trailer fender. Even J&P Cycles offers low cost flat fenders starting around $30, but regardless of what is used after they're painted you can't tell the $10 fender from the $500 one. Sadly reality TV has made the general public believe that you need a large bankroll of at least $30,000 to own a chopper, and since the average Joe doesn't have that kind of mad money laying around he is inclined to believe he can never own one and attempt to find complacency in a stock bike.

    "Low cost choppers" have been around since before choppers were born, starting back in the pre-chopper "bobber" days. And despite what reality TV tells us, they still exist today. Don't believe me? Compare what an aftermarket frame would cost versus what a complete used bike would cost and go from there...now add the parts like front end, wheels & tires, a motor, etc and you can hit $20 grand before you know it. I've seen some aftermarket frames priced higher than what a new Sportster goes for! Now compare a parts list to what a little cutting and welding and a small budget of parts (like a new fender, longer fork tubes, etc) and you won't be hitting the five figures, even starting with the new Sportster. A true chopper starts off as a stock bike, and this is something that all the televised chopper shows are missing out on. Never mind the trend of "unlimited funding and parts fabrication equipment", I'd love to see a build off between some guys with stock bikes and a set budget. Metric Revolution looks like it might hold some promise in this regard (and for you non-chopper enthsiasts, MR will also include sportbike builders).

    Chopper Underground fired off such an event on their forum this year: take a stock bike, a $1000 budget, and a three month build time starting on January 1. And dang it if I'm just too close to finishing my $1000 Rebel conversion. I posted the finished pics up in the forum recently. If you haven't seen them yet click this link:

    Still don't believe me when I say you can own a chopper without filing for bankruptcy?

    Teutul is quoted again in the same interview saying "I built my own Senior Series, which are just old school bikes. I have about 15 or 16 of those that are early 1970s bikes." Too bad they didn't film any of those early 1970s bikes as part of the "senior series" episodes. I'd really like to see them do a bonafide chopper just once, starting with a stock bike. If anything that would expose the trend that has endured since the dawn of time. So far the closest thing I've seen was the episode of Monster Garage where they stripped a new Harley down, but they merely replaced most of it with aftermarket bling and a host of WCC "freebies". But it's a start, just needs the right finish. Hopefully as the high dollar build trend fades and the yuppies get involved with bass boats or whatever else pops up as the next trendy social thing, OCC or some other high profile builder can get back to those roots on Discovery Channel. My money's on Billy Lane doing it, but it really doesn't matter as to who does it, as long as the "what" part is fullfilled.

    But for now, that's the media for you. They have certain people that they have to appease to. Add to that what drives the market...the RUBs with the dough to shell out for the "rolling art". Let's face it, if Paul Sr took an old CB750 or a Shovel era Sportster and stripped it down to tweak the frame, slap it back together with a basic minimalist approach, get filmed picking up a $10 trailer fender and cutting the stock front fender down...well those RUBs wouldn't drop the $4000 to $8000 for the final product. But strip and reshape the frame, and then hit all the bling catalogs for billet wheels, fancy chrome doo-dads, a $5000 front end, high dollar fenders and top it off with a $10K paintjob they'll storm the gates for a $100,000 Credit-Glide. But at least it would be a start.

    Add to that, from a business outlook it simply makes more sense to do one $40K bike than five to ten low budget choppers. Labor for one job/one $40K sale versus labor for five jobs/five $8K sales. Alas, the televised builders have fallen victim to their own fame. If/when the high dollar chopper craze fades, at least they can have that to fall back on. Some of them anyways, many of the builders won't have that option. You can tell a lot about the builder based on what he rides "off duty". Guys like Indian Larry (if he were still around) would have no trouble making it. Meaning that if the builder is riding the aftermarket conglomerations they build then they most likely doen't know how to chop a bike, while the builders that are out riding the "low dough chops" are the ones that do. Keep in mind the true definition of a chopper: it starts life as a stock bike...an aftermarket frame with an aftermarket engine and aftermarket fenders, pipes, blah blah blah isn't a chopper. It's a conundrum of parts that may or may not work well together, depending on the builder's knowledge.

    Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against the high dollar builders. I watch the shows from time to time, it's just not what I'd do even if I had the cash. I'd just want to have a hand in it. More than once I've said I'd like to grab an old Shovel or Panhead and make it into a true old school bike. With unlimited funding, I'd say the farthest I'd go is grab one of those Panhead Replica kit bikes and throw it together, then chop it. "Bike in a box", shelf the fenders, engine guard, seat, and handlebars; add a trailer fender out back and a sprung solo seat or a king/queen seat with a sissy bar, staggered trumpet mufflers, and a set of apes up front. But to be realistic I'd want the real deal, and only go so far as to replace the tired motor with a rebuilt one or a replacement S&S pan or shovel.

    Some would speculate that a complete aftermarket ground up build is just as intensive if not moreso than starting with a stock bike. Yes it is intensive, and I daresay moreso with all the extra "theme stuff" thrown into the mix. The point I'm making (and that the vast majority of the viewing public is missing) is that you don't need a large bankroll to have a chopper. The bulk of the folks that watch American Chopper "reality TV" are of the mindset that at $40-200K they'll never be able to own a chopper, but the reality that isn't being depicted is not only can they afford a chopper, but they would be able to afford what really is a chopper. You would think with all the "get a real bike" baloney floating around, the elitists that can afford these high dollar builds would educate themselves as to what a chopper really is...but then they'd stop buying aforementioned high dollar bikes.

    If the chopper craze is thriving based on what the "top 10% of the money earners" are buying, imagine what the craze would be like if someone started depicting what the rest of us in the "bottom 90% bracket" can afford. But then that would put a damper on the bling catalogs that are getting all the free sponsorship on those shows when the builders drop names along the way.

    Getting back to an earlier point, I would address as to how many of these builders could take a stock frame and alter it to be safe and sane? It doesn't take much to follow a small table of formulas as to which fronts work with which frames, let alone slap an aftermarket front end onto a aftermarket frame but how many of them can actually figure out how to make that stock bike conversion stable on the road by arriving at a decent trail dimension? On that note let's look at the simplicity of slapping a front end onto a frame...does anyone recall that first three way "World Biker Buildoff" where the one group (I won't mention the name publicly) wanted to use that fabbed springer fork that curved away from the frame? That bike would have been a death trap if they had stuck with that fork, the trail would have been so horribly negative it would probably turn into a tank slapper at 35mph. They got lucky by "deciding that the hydraulic fork fit the theme better". That just scared the crap out of me when I saw it, knowing they would sell $50-100K bikes to people without having a clue about safe frame geometry. And you thought the sales folks that pushed "wet behind the ears beginners" into 600cc sportbikes were bad, at least they're selling a bike that is designed right.

    It almost might have been humorous to have seen them stick with that curved fork, if anything to see how many times they would wipe out and rebuild the bike before figuring out what the problem was..."I don't get it, it just keeps wobbling at 35mph. The $5K billet wheel must be out of balance, let's go with a different style!" The fact that they won that build off was equally revolting, almost as much as the fact they would blindly sell a bike like that to a customer. Can you visualize me rolling my eyes, or are you rolling yours as well?

    As amazed as I was about how little my Rebel chopper project has set me back (I'm $1000 into that bike at the moment, including the initial bike purchase), I became even more amazed as to how many other choppers out there can make the same claim of a small budget. Well I shouldn't use the word amazed, as that emotion is obviously under the influence by the misleading media of reality TV. The bottom line is if you really wanted a chopper, would you prefer to watch TV while only dreaming of being able to afford a $100,000 bike (bike mind you, not chopper), or would you prefer to watch how you could actually own a chopper for a tiny fraction of that price and make it a reality? Wow, now there's a spin for reality TV.

    Stay upright, and remember that chicks dig guys with longer forks.

    Discuss reality with Shadow Shack by emailing him through his profile

    Customarily Minded Machine of the Month

    Wouldja believe, a low cost chopper?

    This month's machine is the winner (by a very narrow margin at that) of the aforementioned Chopper Underground $1000/3 month build off. That contest entailed taking any stock bike and within a three month time frame, the builders could spend no more than $1000 on parts to make it into something wild, and it had to run when all was said and done. Many entered, few finished. This beast was submitted by "Builder I007" (identities were not made public during the contest) which ended up being Randy Horton of Horton Customs.

    Randy took a bike that started life as an 86 yamaha raidan. He made his own rigid frame from scratch, giving it a slight goosneck to allow for his self fabbed 8" over springer fork. The old school tank and rear fender are also self formed from sheet metal in house. The fender covers a 16x8 rim looped with a 240 series tire, all laced to a CB750 hub. Up front a 18x3 wheel sporting another inhouse piece, a mini-brake, gives it another traditional old school touch. The motor was massaged back to top form and the bike was made legal with lighting before Randy took an unbeknownst at the time victory ride. Way to go Randy, you built a fine machine that shows you really can have a full on chopper without taking out a homeowner-sized loan.

    the "before" shot of the chopper, when it was in stock guise
    This article was originally published in forum thread: Motorcycle Television started by Shadow Shack View original post
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