Not your uncle’s Harley-Davidson
A guide to the world of Roc chop shops
What do you think of when you think of motorcyclists? A group of big, bearded Harley riders wearing cutoff jean vests, leather pants, and bandanas might come to mind, but that stereotype doesn’t really make sense today. As the times have changed, so have motorcycles and their riders. Motorcycle culture has evolved. There is no gang affiliation (likely); these people are your coworkers, neighbors, and friends (very likely).
New bikes sales are less than half what they were at their all-time high in 2005, according to webbikeworld.com. Motorcycles are expensive—you can’t with argue that—and many enthusiasts, instead of buying new, are transforming old clunkers into something exciting, fun, and uniquely personal.
This practice is known as “chopping,” and while bikers have been chopping their own bikes since, well, the invention of the motorcycle, it’s a trend becoming more mainstream in the motorcycle world. Chopping does not have a strict dictionary definition, but is a term for customizing bikes that has taken various forms and conditions throughout the years.
“Manufacturers now make these retro, classic-looking bikes, and they do okay, but people want something that’s unique, and they want to have their hands on something rather than buying it outright. They want to practice some craft,” says Rich Odlum of Interstellar Motors, a custom motorcycle shop.
Interstellar is run by Odlum and two brothers, Jody and Andy Wegman, who met Odlum at a motorcycle rally and offered him space in their garage four years ago so he could work on his bike. They started working semiprofessionally on customizing bikes only a year and a half ago. The three all have day jobs, but their jobs have everything to do with their passion. Odlum went to school for design and works as a detailer, as does Andy, while Jody is a chemical engineer.
The three share duties at the shop, and each does a little bit of everything. They each have their strengths when it comes to customizing and fixing up bikes and see the process as a communal project, working closely with the customer in order to produce exactly the desired results.
“People were coming to us and asking us to do pretty complex work on their bikes,” says Odlum. “It’s a new trend in motorcycles to customize. It’s not about the choppers [in this case, “chopper” refers to the classic low-rider with an exaggerated front fork] or the high-dollar stuff anymore. People got a little sick of $50,000 choppers with huge front ends and wheels and are rolling back to stuff that’s a little more grassroots. Whether that’s traditional choppers or café racers, there’s a couple different things going on. You can buy a 1970 bike for $800 and it still runs dry, and then you can transform that a lot. This is something you want to show off because you’ll be one of a couple people and you can get used bikes for less than a thousand dollars.”
In the long run, a customized bike is a better bang for your buck. A bike that is thirty years old will likely run the same as an $8,000 bike if it’s taken care of and is given the right care, according to Odlum, who bought his own motorcycle for $140 and less than a year later had it up and running.
Engineering, design, and technique are big parts of the process of creating and restoring the bikes. When creating a unique bike, mixing makes is part of the process. Part of a Harley can be paired with Suzuki, a Japanese manufacturer, or Ducati, an Italian make. Getting each combination of make to work together is part of the challenge.
Whether you’re buying clothing or kitchen cabinets, custom is better than anything that rolls off the assembly line. When it comes to motorcycles, it’s also somehow badder and cooler while actually making more economic sense.
Krista DeJulio is a (585) editorial intern.
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