What was birthed out of stripping Harley-Davidson’s J-Series V-twin is still the world’s most renowned custom bike build, the bobber. In the 1920s, riders began to seek higher performance, and speed out of their bikes. What’s the cheapest way to go faster? Get lighter. Give your bike a “Bob-job”. Stripping off front fenders, mirrors, shorter rear fenders, no headlights, smaller and a lighter seat, and removing any unnecessary chrome is what gave old bikes their “cut-down” which became the “bobber” look.
In 1933, the AMA sanctioned class C racing in which only cataloged bikes were allowed to be used. These bikes included the Indian Daytona Scout and the Harley Davidson WLDR and WR, and they were the foundation of inspiration for the bobbers we see today. Class C racing is what prompted racers to remove extra chrome, eliminate colored upholstery, and metal-flake paint jobs for a more minimal look.
It wasn’t until the 40s that bobbing became a mainstream look. Motorcycles were always popular, but following WWII there was a significant jump in popularity due to the motorcycle’s function in the war. Post-war is also when we see biker gangs form and become a force of influence to be reckoned with.
As servicemen returned, they wanted to continue the stripped-down and customized look. With military aesthetic being fashion, style, and mantra to follow at the time – bobbing became the cool thing to do. This eventually led Harley and Honda to begin designing their stock bike designs based on popular bob trends.
The bobber trend continued into the 60s until it took a bit of a backseat from the 70s to the 90s. This was the chopper era which sacrificed functionality for style. Bobbers were still around, but this was really when the chopper came into its own, some would say when chopper culture started.
Bobbers surged in popularity in the 2010s, and are arguably the most popular bike build on the market right now. The Triumph Bonneville Bobber is a textbook example of the modern bobber. While the build very much reflects the classic bobber, the style has evolved into coloring as well; the shading of black has become a popular trend such as matte, and semigloss.
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