Old School Bobber Motorcycles Guide

What is a bobber motorcycle?

xvs650 bobberCustomized motorcycles that have had a front fender taken off and the rear fender shortened are known as a bobber motorcycle. To bob is to remove or shorten. Bobbing a chopper requires the fender to be removed or ‘shortened’.

Many bobber and chopper owners have a bobber style to their bikes without bobbing or removing the rear fender. It just has the ‘look’, like this one:

To look at the nostalgia of the bobber motorcycle we need to go back to the days shortly after World War II when in the United States returning soldiers would speak of light weight and speedy bikes used across Europe during the 1930s and throughout the war.

The bobber motorcycle was the earliest customized bike that was popular among biker clubs before choppers came along. Bobber motorcycles were made in garages and sometimes the style would reflect that of the builder. Harley-Davidson motorcycles were so impressed by the various designs of bobber motorcycles and choppers they decided to market and manufacture many variations of bobber motorcycles.

bobber styel chopperThe idea of the bobber was to remove as much weight from the bike as possible so as to increase speed and performance. Most of the parts of a bike that have no contributory factors towards speed are taken away. The fender being the first and the idea of bobbing also involved no major modifications to be made on the bike.

There are some bobber examples that were mass manufactured and could be called phantom bobbers, for instance the Harley Davidson Sportster made in the late 1980’s and the majority of the parts failed to be speed modifications. Basically what they had done was to replace the handlebars and the seats with streamlined replacements so the modifications were made into more of a racing bike than a bobber motorcycle.

Prior to 1950 the only way to increase the speed of a motorcycle was to remove all the parts that did not contribute to speed. Bobber examples can be found in popular media.

the wild one movieThe 1953 film The Wild One which starred Marlon Brando and Lee Marvin featured original bobber motorcycles. Chino, played by Lee Marvin sits astride a Harley Davidson Panhead which clearly is a bobber motorcycle.

In the famous film Easyrider, which starred Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper and Jack Nicholson they rode Harley-Davidson old police bikes and customized them to a bobber standard. The badges were removed because the manufacturer did not want any association with an outlaw image.

There are a number of items that are removed to customize a motorcycle to a bobber motorbike. Any wind shields, often used on police bikes and crash bars as well as the sissy bar at the back is taken off.

Ground Clearance

In terms of height, Bobber motorcycles are usually taller than regular stock models. This is why these motorcycles need to ride lower than normal models as it helps improve their balance and stability.

The ground clearance is an important point to consider when building a Bobber but it also depends on a number of other factors as well. The overall weight of the motorcycle and the frame design and style will obviously determine the ground clearance required.

For taller frames, the ground clearance is reduced for better traction and handling. The length of the frame is also incorporated into the calculation because longer frames need a lower center of balance.

bobber frame ground clearanceGas Tank Styles

When it comes to gas tanks, there is a wide variety of tank styles available in the market. Some people prefer to design their own gas tanks depending on their preferences.

An important point to note here is that these gas tanks have to be designed and crafted while keeping the weight factor in mind. Because the main focus of a Bobber motorcycle is to keep it as light-weight as possible, the gas tank has to follow the same guidelines.

bobber gas tank

This bobber gas tank was made by harley-45-wl on Ebay.

Gas tanks are usually customized which means that they are available in many different styles. They are usually lighter but bulkier than the gas tanks used on stock motorcycle models.

They have more fuel capacity in general and their exterior is given a customized paint job for a unique and distinct appearance. The gas tank styles in Bobber motorcycles are kept as simple as possible and the main focus is kept on its weight.

Seat Styles

The type and style of the seat being used for building a Bobber depends on the frame design too. Because the seat is mounted directly onto the frame, the dimensions determine the overall size of the seat.

As compared to the seats used in regular motorcycle models, Bobber seats are wider and longer. The seating position is lower and the rider sits towards the rear end of the frame, close to the rear fender and wheel.

bobber style seat

This bobber style seat is offered by fuz.2007on Ebay.

The seats can also be fabricated individually and given a unique style and design. In most cases, these seats are quite similar to those used in Chopper customizations.

Wheels and Tires

The wheels and tires for a Bobber motorcycle need to be selected very carefully. The frame design will again have a role to play in what type of wheels and tires are used.

Although the wheels and tires in Bobbers are not as wide as those installed in Choppers, they are still larger and wider than those used in regular motorcycles. Custom rims are readily available in the market as well so the choice is not limited.

The upgraded wheels and tires help in providing better road grip and handling. This is why they are very important in the Bobber customization process.

bobber tire

This whitewall bobber tire is offered by Panic Cycles on Ebay.

Some factors which are kept in mind when installing the wheels and tires into a Bobber include the type and extensiveness of usage. Some Bobbers are built for extreme performance purposes like racing which is why their wheels and tires have to be more efficient.

Handle Bar Styles

The most common types of handle bars being used for Bobbers these days include the drag bars and the ape hangers. The handle bar styles have evolved over the years and there have been several new additions to the variety.

Drag bars were part of the initial Bobber customizations while ape hangers are relatively new to this segment. Ape hangers were introduced with the Chopper customizations and were later adopted by Bobber builders.

drag bars

These drag bars are offered by Crowes Custom Cycles on Ebay.

Even drag bars have changed over the years with different versions now being highly demanded. The size of the handle bars is adjusted in accordance to the overall design of the frame.


With the passage of time, the trends in Bobber customizations have been constantly changing. Add-ons are now available for Bobber motorcycles which help in building a one-off motorcycle.

Custom side-view mirrors mounted on the handle bars have been introduced along with chromed and individually styled exhaust pipes. Chrome was rarely used for Bobber customizations in the past but with changing preferences, it has been adopted.

Add-ons are also available for boosting the performance of the engine. Some customizations and modifications are done in order to enable these motorcycles to handle better and for improved safety.
What Makes Them Unique?

Bobbers Vs Choppers: Similarities and Differences

The Bobber and Chopper style motorcycles have their own unique features but there are some key similarities between the two. They are both customized motorcycle designs created by stripping down stock models and then upgrading and modifying them.

bobber chopper motorcycle

The frame is extended and stretched while the major components like gas tanks, handle bars and seats are changed. There could be a need to chop the frames of Bobber motorcycles as well which is an important aspect in Chopper customizations.

The only way to differentiate a Chopper from a Bobber is on the basis of the overall design. The differences in styling and modification help bring out two completely unique styles of motorcycles.

Bobbers tend to be lighter than Choppers with more focus on simplicity and elegance. Choppers on the other hand, are flashier with extensive use of chrome and attractive paint jobs.

Bobbers are well-established in the market and they have never been as popular as they are now. Choppers however, are relatively new in the market but have still managed to create their own impression.

Custom add-ons are available for both designs and ready-to-customize frames have also been introduced. It is said that building a Bobber is in fact, easier than building a Chopper. The use of recycled parts can be made during Bobber customizations which is a huge advantage associated with this design.

Ideas on Customizing a Bobber

Customizing a Bobber motorcycle is a very simple and easy process. It is made easier by the availability of ready-to-customize parts in the market. Bobber motorcycle kits and manuals are also quite readily available.

Bobber motorcycles have a lot to offer in terms of creativity and this is why they had become so popular in the first place. Some people still believe that Choppers provide more options for modifications.

This is not true however, as Bobbers are equally good options for customization. It is even possible to experiment with these motorcycles and try new styles and design which might not have been an option in the past.

home sportster bobber project

Some aspects of Chopper customizations have been incorporated in Bobber customizations as well. This change in trends has opened new horizons for Bobber owners.

The can now explore new options and try different styles depending n their personal preferences. The only point which needs to be considered here is that the basic elements of design and specifications need to be followed.

A Bobber should always remain the same in its true sense even if some adaptations or changes do occur.

What Do Bobber Enthusiasts Have To Say?

Bobber enthusiasts all over the world have been inspired by these designs for the longest time. These people have realized what these motorcycles have to offer and respect their history and legacy.

Some people have started shifting from the original Bobber styles while others still prefer to stick to it. They follow the same guidelines and specifications which were followed during the 1950s and enjoy the vintage looks of their own motorcycles.

Choppers have been able to penetrate the market quite successfully and have given a lot of competition to Bobbers. This had created a perception that Bobbers might fade out with time and be replaced completely by Choppers.

ground up bobber build

This obviously did not happen because there is a strong fan base which has been developed by Bobbers over the years. These enthusiasts believe that Bobbers are not just motorcycles, rather a form of self-expression.

For Bobber enthusiasts there can never be another form of customization that could replace them. They will always remain the pioneers in the motorcycle customization industry and have set the benchmarks for all others to follow.

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