What are the origins of chopper motorcycles

Harley-Davidson

Traditional design since 1909

William S. Harley and Arthur Davidson designed their first motorcycle in 1901: the "Silent Gray Fellow", a gray painted bicycle with a simple combustion chamber as an auxiliary engine. In 1903 the plans were implemented.

Together with Davidson's brothers Arthur and Walter, the two designers founded the "Harley-Davidson Motor Company" in 1907 in Milwaukee, in the US state of Wisconsin, where the company's headquarters remained. In the same year the company produced the first three "Fellow" motorcycles.

But the real history of the Harley did not begin until 1909. In that year the company launched the first two-wheeled vehicle with two combustion chambers, the so-called two-cylinder engine. The Harley was born because it received a characteristic that made this motorcycle recognizable: the two cylinders were arranged at a 45-degree angle to each other.

Unlike most motorcycles, they are not hidden behind a cover, but are clearly visible and usually chrome-plated. The appearance of the construction has hardly changed since then. The original purpose of the bare combustion chambers was to cool them only with the air. A water-cooled version of the Harley has only been around since 2002; it is primarily intended to appeal to younger drivers.

From commercial vehicle to "chopper"

At the beginning of the company's history, Harley-Davidson mainly built commercial vehicles that were used for the police, armies and the post office. However, the construction of racing machines quickly followed, making the Harley-Davidson brand known to a larger group of motorcyclists. In 1910 the company's first models came to Germany.

The classic "chopper", which seems closely associated with the Harley-Davidson name, came about much later. "To chop" means "to chop off" or "to cut off" in English. The first "choppers" came about because the owners unscrewed their motorcycles and reassembled them with extended steering forks and wide leather seats with backrests.

Lots of chrome and painted flames were part of it. Everything that seemed superfluous was simply left out. This trend emerged at the end of the 1960s and led to a change of image at Harley-Davidson. The Harley was no longer the reliable commercial vehicle, but became a cult object of the '68 generation.

"Easy Rider" and the birth of a myth

With the movie "Easy Rider" from 1969, the Harley-Davidson became a cult and was dominated by the revolutionary mood of the late 1960s. The film showed the actors Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda in leather clothing and with a full beard on "chopped" Harleys.

With money from drug sales, the two protagonists set off from Los Angeles to New Orleans, across the United States: in search of freedom. Ultimately, they fail and have to realize that they will not find the freedom they are looking for.

Nevertheless, their cinematic journey on the Harley-Davidson through the USA remained for many the epitome of freedom and founded the freedom myth about the Harley. The song "Born to be Wild" by the group "Steppenwolf" from the film became the hymn of motorcyclists.

It's not just half-silly drug dealers or bearded rockers who ride a Harley-Davidson. The myth of unlimited freedom that surrounds the Harley also fascinates teachers, bankers, board chairmen and senators. The memory of the years after 1968 and "Easy Rider" resonates with the Harley-Davidson.

Route 66 - the dream of all Harley fans

A motorcyclist can fulfill his dream of freedom on any road, but the most famous of all roads among Harley fans is "Route 66". Because a "chopped" Harley-Davidson is not built to drive it on winding racetracks, but to cover long, straight stretches.

Route 66 is ideal for this. The journey on a Harley-Davidson from the northeastern United States to California allows motorcyclists to experience the historical journey of the American settlers to the west.