The long history of choppers is a uniquely American story, akin to Rock ‘n Roll in its cultural impact and global influence. The National Motorcycle Museum is assembling the first-ever exhibit comprehensively documenting the evolution of the American Custom Motorcycle; the cut-downs, bob-jobs, show bikes and choppers, from the late 1920s to the mid-’70s. Opening in June 2015, the Allstate Motorcycle Chopper Story presented by J&P Cycles exhibit will include only period-built bikes, plus related artwork, memorabilia, film posters and photos, plus contemporary artwork commissioned for the show.
The evolution of the chopper and the history of American custom motorcycles will be the theme of a special Chopper Story display this summer at the National Motorcycle Museum in Anamosa, Iowa.
The National Motorcycle Museum has located over 20 great but typical period custom motorcycles for the show. “We put the word out to try and locate period builds, and the results have been good. Many original paint machines, some pretty outrageous, built in the ‘60s and ‘70s, were saved “as-is” and are still out there. They will be part of the show,” says Paul d’Orleans, guest curator for the exhibit.
Americans started ‘chopping’ bikes long before ‘Easy Rider.’ It all began in the late 1920s with the ‘Cut-Down’, based on the Harley JD or JDH, with shortened and lowered frames. Cut-Downs were hot, high-performance bikes and are very rare today. Next came the ‘Bob-Job’, stripped-down Harleys and Indians and even British imports from the 1930s, built to look like the new Class C dirt-track racers. From the late 1940s, a few riders began decorating their Bob-Jobs, using chrome and wild paint, adding ape hangers, upswept exhausts, and small sissy bars, which by the 1950s became the established ‘show bike’ standards at combined car/motorcycle Hot Rod shows. Drag racing motorcycles also influenced street customs using drag bars and raked forks. By the late ’50s what we’d recognize as Choppers emerged, and in the early to mid-’60s raked steering heads, extended springer forks, wild pipes, sissy bars, sculpted tanks, and molded frames were ridden by the hippest motorcyclists in America.
As a great coincidence, the first comprehensive history of American customs was recently released – ‘The Chopper: the Real Story.’ Museum staff asked author/curator Paul d’Orleans to create the new exhibit based on his research for the book. Paul is a well-known writer (‘The Ride’, ‘Café Racers’, plus TheVintagent.com) and curator (most recently at the Sturgis ‘Motorcycle as Art’ exhibits with Michael Lichter), the Custom & Style editor for Cycle World, and contributes monthly to magazines in six languages.
Make plans to see this exhibit during the National Motorcycle Museum’s June 20 Vintage Rally event or any time through May 2016 when the 12 month temporary Allstate Motorcycle Chopper Story exhibit will be dismantled. If you own an original or restored 1920s-‘70s custom motorcycle or related memorabilia, please contact the Museum as there may be room for good last minute additions. If you can help to tell this important story, or if you are a fine artist who would like to loan motorcycle artwork, please send an email to Mark Mederski: firstname.lastname@example.org or Paul d’Orleans: email@example.com.