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Sam's Picks for the Week of March 16th, 2021

CHOPPERS RULE!

By Bandit with photos from Sam Burns and
3/16/2021


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What do Choppers mean to you? I should know. I’ve worked with the greatest builders on the planet. I’ve built a few myself and I started in the industry because of Choppers.

My first rat bike Chopper in '71. It was a stroker, an 80-inch Shovelhead.
My first rat bike Chopper in '71. It was a stroker, an 80-inch Shovelhead.






Hell, I worked with the god father of the Chopper, Arlen Ness on several projects. So, what did they mean to me, when I first started to turn a wrench and built my first rat bike chopper? I was maybe 20, recently back from Vietnam, escaped the harsh family and wondered what the hell I was going to do next.

 
 

The Chopper represented mostly Freedom to me, middleclass freedom. The freedom to build something with my hands that would propel me into an alternate universe away from prying eyes and constant rules. I didn’t have money, but I could still strip a motorcycle down with simple tools and make it cool. All I needed was a set of extended tubes, a new set of handlebars and a welder.

I built this chopper in the mid '70s.
I built this chopper in the mid '70s.





I didn’t want to hangout with anyone. I just wanted to build and ride. It’s interesting, because I'm now looking at all the builders I knew and how they lived. Some of them built for attention and power, some for artistic expression and a few for money.  I looked at outlaws I’ve known and how they died or went to prison. Many builders, like Arlen and recently like the very talented Andrew Ursich are family guys who found something in the art of a chopper that moved them.



Pat Kennedy built this classic Chopper. He knew and lived by the code with this wife Brook.
Pat Kennedy built this classic Chopper. He knew and lived by the code with this wife Brook.



Some guys started as painters like Jon Kosmoski and David Perewitz and were lured into the underground of the Chopper rider.



Some guys worked only to make enough cash to pay for chrome and whiskey. We worked menial jobs during the day and flew into the night looking to get high and find love. We were lowlifes living off beer and steel. We didn’t want to be known. We didn’t want to hang with rich folks or be cool.





We just wanted to be left alone and find a wild open city freeway in the middle of the night to her apartment. When straights came around we faded into the background and disappeared on our Choppers. They were intimidated by us anyway.





That’s the way it happened during most of the ‘70s. Only a few companies made parts, but more were coming on line. Some of them started because brothers of the wind couldn’t find jobs for bikers, so fuck it, they opened a bike shop or started to make pipes like Kenny Samson.





Ron Paugh had a dad who knew how to punch out parts and coerced him into making tin primaries for his buddies. Hell, two bikers rode to California on choppers to find themselves broke and sleeping on the beach in Venice. They ultimately started D&D distributors and Easyriders magazine with Lou Kimzey.



I built a Denver Chopper in the late '70s.
I built a Denver Chopper in the late '70s.



For a while during the hippy generation, we rode from party-pad to party-pad hanging out, smoking weed and listening to music. I remember riding to a guy’s house and he had a large bowl on his coffee table filled high with hand-rolled multi-colored joints. I don’t know what he snorted the night before but it sure made him industrious.



I smoked a joint while he picked just the right tunes from Leon Russell to play to find his groove. I just wanted to ride back to my garage and make shit. My wife Laurie said I hated to sleep. I just wanted to learn and rebuild stuff.





My grandson now has like five bikes. Only two of them run. One is a mudflap girl FXR I built for my son, who then sold it to Frank Jr. The other is an FXRP originally rebuilt by Bob Tronolone. Frankie loves to ride, hates to drive and is rapidly becoming a master tattoo artist.





He basically Tattoos and rides. He’s been clean and sober for over 5 years and gets all he needs out of life with his needles and splitting lanes.

I rode to Sturgis with Dale Gorman and Mark Lonsdale. With Jesse James and one of his co-workers, I built the Touring Chopper in the center.
I rode to Sturgis with Dale Gorman and Mark Lonsdale. With Jesse James and one of his co-workers, I built the Touring Chopper in the center.



So, I knew brothers who gave it all up when they got married and started to raise kids. I know guys who turned their extended fork obsession to joining a club. I know guys who told the old lady to fuck off and rode off into the sunset.



Here's the other Mudflap Girl FXR now owned by my grandson. That's Em, the tattoo queen, Frankie's partner.
Here's the other Mudflap Girl FXR now owned by my grandson. That's Em, the tattoo queen, Frankie's partner.



I once compared chopper riders with sailors and other adventurers like mountain climbers, but they are different. Sailors don’t fight the man. They don’t build something absolutely new and innovative and risk their lives at 90 mph on a crowded freeway. Sure, there are risks in other endeavors, but the Chopper rider has an attitude.



He knows his time could be up at the next intersection. He doesn’t have a suicide-clutch moment to fuck around with disrespectful bosses, or harping ol’ ladies. He wants to ride and be loved for who he is. If you don’t get it, get out of the way. If I need to explain, sorry, I don’t have time.

About 2005 I built this classic Paughco Chopper and rode it to Sturgis.
About 2005 I built this classic Paughco Chopper and rode it to Sturgis.



I guess that’s why we scoffed at rules, helmet laws and rider etiquette enforced by the AMA. We pounded tables in front of judges and congressmen. We told cops to fuck off.




I built two Mudflap Girl FXRs with Paul Cavallo around 2014.
I built two Mudflap Girl FXRs with Paul Cavallo around 2014.



Chopper riders are a breed of outlaw, wanderer, artist, craftsman and warrior. Some are boot tough and rattlesnake mean. Some don’t ever mix with society. Most make their own path and wonder how they got there, but they know how to stay on the path. They built the choppers that got them there.



--Bandit

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Reader Comments


Another Bandit classic. I agree with "Stealth"...that Pat Kennedy chopper is an all-time great. Thanks for sharing what was and how it all transpired.

Johnny White
Humble, TX
Saturday, March 20, 2021
Editor Response See you in the Badlands.
--Bandit
Great article, Great pics. To ride a chopper you have to have that attitude! That Pat Kennedy chopper is one of my favorites!

stealth
charlotte, NC
Wednesday, March 17, 2021
Editor Response And the Pat Kennedy bike is still alive at Strokers Dallas.
--Bandit
Well said.

Rhys
Daytona Beach, FL
Tuesday, March 16, 2021
Editor Response Thanks.
--Bandit

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