Bobber motorcycles are considered the epitome of customized bikes. Characterized by being loud and minimalistic, bobber motorcycles are an ideal choice for any enthusiast who doesn’t have the cash for the top-of-the-line brands. Rooted in history, bobber motorcycles and the creation of them is practically an American tradition. Imagine, just you, the open road, and a motorcycle made exactly the way you want it.
A bobber motorcycle is a term used to refer to a motorcycle that has been stripped of all excess or unnecessary parts. Typically, this means anything that is not necessary for safety or functionality. The parts are removed because they are considered to “slow down” a motorcycle’s speed.
The process of creating a bobber is characterized by removing, or “bobbing,” the fenders. Often, the muffler, seat, lights, color, and other more aesthetic elements are replaced or altered as well, giving it a look specific to what the individual desires. The change in muffler, in particular, is another major characteristic of bobber bikes; this makes them louder and increases the horsepower for a very fast and showy performance.
Bobber motorcycles will often vary in style and design. This is due to individual variation in-home jobs, the adoption of bobbers by major manufacturers, and the long-seeded history. So, what exactly is a bobber motorcycle?
What is a Bobber Motorcycle?
As discussed, at a bare minimum, a motorcycle must be stripped of all unnecessary parts to qualify as a “bobber.” However, some builder-enthusiasts will only consider a motorcycle a bobber if the frame is also modified. This, of course, requires much more detailed knowledge of structure than available to most people and is not a requirement of the bobber style.
Typical Modifications for Bobber Motorcycles
Ignoring the fanatical frame modification of builder-enthusiasts, there are a handful of typical modifications that you can expect to see on a bobber motorcycle. Regardless, the idea is to create something unique with vintage style, and simplicity at the heart of the design.
Fenders: A defining characteristic of bobber motorcycles is a shortened front and rear fender. There are two ways to get a shortened fender: either buy an already bobbed fender, probably from a bobber kit, or do it yourself. The job is relatively simple, regardless of whether you bob your own or buy an already bobbed fender. If you do it yourself, just remember to remove any sharp edges and also apply paint after the cut to avoid rust.
Keep in mind, whether you bob your own or buy one to install, this will require some machining and related knowledge to get it done right and the way you like it. You will need the proper tools as well, so if you don’t have the knowledge or equipment a mechanic or builder can do it for you. Also, consider the bike you are working on; if you have an expensive, rare, or vintage motorcycle, it may not be worth it to risk doing it yourself unless you have the right experience.
Seat: The seat of a bobber is one of the many customizable changes that owners like to use to express personal preference and individual style. There are many available designs and colors to choose from but, typically, the seat will emphasize the bare bones characteristics that epitomize bobber motorcycles. Traditionally, these seats would resemble early 1900s track racers, though more modern versions will have a cushion for the rider. Almost all bobbers use single, bucket seats, though double seats aren’t necessarily uncommon in recent years.
Mufflers: Early bobbers wouldn’t simply have replaced mufflers, they would remove them entirely. Unfortunately for the bobbers of today, increasing the sound levels of a motorcycle by removing the muffler is illegal in most U.S. states and even some other countries. This is because removing your muffler may also negatively impact your engine’s functionality by leaning out the air/fuel mixture; basically, your engine will eventually start overheating regularly and cause significant internal damage.
Instead, it is now common to buy a replacement for the stock muffler that will give your bobber the trademark thunderous rumble, without the negative consequences of muffler removal. If, or rather when, you change the muffler, it’s important to have a professional check the carburetor mixture settings to ensure safe driving.
Handlebars: Handlebar replacements are another way to express individuality through your bobber. There are no set rules as to what handlebars a bobber should have, but some of the common choices include low-rise drag, clubman, and ape. Of course, there are many other types, styles, and designs to choose from as well. The handlebars are an important part of riding position, so it will depend entirely on how you like to sit and your personal design taste.
Just remember to check the wiring and cables to make sure everything works and runs smoothly.
Lights: Another aesthetic change meant to suit the tastes of the rider are light changes. There is an abundance of custom lights available from a wide variety of sources, such as online, motorcycle accessory shops, auto shops, etc. A popular choice recently, though for obvious reasons not historically, are LED lights. LED lights come in a plethora of colors and have a lower power requirement, making them ideal as replacements.
Whatever lights you choose, check the amperage. You wouldn’t want to short your battery.
Color: Some owners like to change the color scheme of their bobber. This is done through painting or spraying the tank, fenders, and side panels. The process is relatively simple, but you will need the space to apply the paint and let it dry. If you don’t, most custom shops will be happy to do it for you.
The History of Bobber Motorcycles
The first motorcycles were long, high, and very similar in appearance to a regular old bicycle, just minus the pedals and add the engine (hence being called “bikes”). In the 1920s, the clunky original style bikes weren’t cutting it anymore.
People wanted something fresh. So, motorcycle owners started customizing their bikes, replacing, chopping down, and removing the unnecessary parts. This led to smaller wheel diameters, a cut-down frame, and a shortened rear, combining to provide a more aerodynamic design for much better performance.
It’s unclear whether the bob-job originated in Britain or the United States, perhaps they even evolved simultaneously. Regardless, by the 1930s, bobber motorcycles exploded across the U.S. Not only had the trend exploded, but it strayed away from the raw functionality of it, i.e. faster and better performance, into a full-blown aesthetic style. And, within the “bobber style” came personalized touches that made the bikes unique and individual.
By the time we hit the mid-50s, bobber motorcycles had become an integral part of the American motorcycle community. This was encouraged by a population of American servicemen who returned from the war having experienced the feather-light, built for speed Harley bikes that became a tool for many during WWII. During this time the industry caught on, and mechanics made a killing installing even flashier details onto custom pikes, such as chrome plating and upholstery. The bobber community was booming, with the standard faster and lighter bikes now also having all the shiny fixups.
The rise of the bobber gave birth to other trends in custom motorcycles, such as the chopper trend in the 60s. However, the bob-job remains the king of customization. Mechanics and enthusiasts across the country are still honing their techniques and enjoying the thrill of creating completely unique, one-of-a-kind bikes.
Bobbers vs. Choppers vs. Cruisers
There are three major types of customized motorcycles. These are bobbers, choppers, and cruisers. Each one has slightly different characteristics that set them apart from the other.
- Typically made by tearing down a base motorcycle of all the unnecessary parts, though on rare occasions they are built from scratch
- Meant for speed originally, but became an aesthetic symbol
- Name comes from the “bobbing,” or shortening, of the fenders
- The earliest version of bike customization
- While there are standard characteristics of a bobber, i.e. minimalism and the fenders, the motorcycles can look quite different
- Very physically distinguishable
- A major signifier of a chopper is the large handlebars (though some have very short “drag” handlebars) and stretched out appearance
- Originated later, following the bobber, in the 1950s
- Considered very radical in its modification, with engine changes, modified steering angles, lengthened forks, stretched frames, and more
- Can be built from an existing motorcycle that is “chopped,” or from scratch
- Prioritizes comfort
- A modification style that evolved from bikers who travel long distances
- Characterized by the riding position; feet forward, hands up, spine erect or leaning slightly back
- From the 1930s-60s
- Largely a manufactured style, not a home-job or custom-job; of course, you could modify a motorcycle to have the same features rather than buying one, if you really wanted to
Frequently Asked Questions About Bobber Motorcycles
There are a lot of questions that come up with bobber motorcycles, especially related to home-jobs. Here are some of the most common ones.
Is it safe to make a bobber myself? Many people design and make bobbers themselves in a home-job. There are even “bobber kits” for this very purpose. It is perfectly safe to do so, provided you have the knowledge and equipment necessary. You will always want to check and make sure that the parts you buy are installed correctly before riding.
A key point to watch out for is the wiring and electrical switches that can sometimes run through handlebars, and the carburetor (mixture) settings when replacing the exhaust (muffler)
What bikes are best to make into bobbers? It depends on what type of base style you want. A bobber can be made from a number of bikes, including touring bikes, sport bikes, standards, and even cruisers. Some of the more popular bases seem are the Honda VLX and a Kawasaki Vulcan. One thing to consider is whether to buy a cheaper model or a more expensive one, since you will be stripping it to bare bones anyway.
Can you buy/sell bobbers? You can indeed! There is actually a decent-sized market for them and some of the better-designed custom models can catch a pretty penny. There are independent sale websites set up for individual sellers to put up their bikes, specifically due to the demand for customized and unique bikes. I’d even go so far as to say that the rare and skilled individual can make a living off it.
What makes a good base/donor bike? Since bobbers are the bare bones of a motorcycle, with all the unnecessary parts stripped, you can make one with almost any bike. However, many tend to buy on the cheaper side, as the fancier, pricier bikes tend to stray from the minimalistic approach of a bobber; you will likely just strip a lot of the add-ons anyway, so there is no point in paying the extra price.
Additionally, if you are good enough at building and modifying, the used market is also useful. You can take a used bike, spruce it up, modify and customize it, and, if you’re skilled enough, it will be just as good as new.
How Much Do Bobber Motorcycles Typically Cost? If you buy one outright rather than making a home-job, the price can range anywhere from $5000-15000 on average. There are some cheaper and more expensive options, of course. Many manufacturers make bobbers now as well and these can sometimes be cheaper or more expensive than an individual maker, depending on the base and the customized parts (handlebars, lights, etc.).
The parts for a bobber motorcycle, if you choose to make one yourself, can cost $1000 or more, depending on the model of your base and what you want to customize. If all you’re looking at is a fender job, you could of course spend as little as $500 for front and back. Add the cost of a shop or mechanic on top of that, if you think you will need one to help with the job.
Can A Bobber Motorcycle Have Two Seats? It isn’t uncommon to see a two-seater bobber. However, the more standard and typical bobbers will be a single-seater reminiscent of early 1900s board track racers. But, if you want a double seat, go for it, there is no rule against them.
A big facet of bobber motorcycles is the home-built, personalization of them. Many builders will say that the majority of the fun comes from building one yourself, with your own two hands. While building a bobber is certainly something to be proud of, make sure that you are keeping safety in mind. The last thing you want is to compromise the structural integrity of your bike, especially if it’s not noticeable without riding. Learn as much as possible beforehand, gather the right tools, and consult a mechanic if necessary. Happy bobbing!
Hi, I am Brad. Car Independent is your source for independent views on cars and car accessories. Whether you looking to buy a new car or something cool for your car, you have many options. My aim to help you make the best-informed choices.