Bobber kits make the job easier when it comes to building your own custom motorcycle – just follow the directions.
There can be little argument bobbers are cool these day. The elemental style, the avoidance of chrome and unnecessary adornments, the classic wrapped pipes. There are several other criteria that define the bobber style: the stripped down appearance, the removal or drastic trimming of the fenders, a sweeping diagonal body line from the bars down to the rear fender that mimics the line of the original bobber’s rigid frame and, perhaps most importantly, a solo seat. Occasionally, and only occasionally, a passenger is an unnecessary adornment.
Among the first models to be subject to the bobber trend were Harley-Davidson WLAs from World War Two. Soldiers rode lighter, faster and more maneuverable bikes in the European field and upon their return home wanted to emulate the feel of those machines. And the abundant American WLAs were the bike to do the job. As illustrated here, the WLA models in field trim required a lot of equipment — most of which would not be necessary in civilian life. The bike could be stripped of military gear and made even lighter by creating a bobber.
The classic bobber represents one of the first waves of motorcycle customization to find a broad audience in North America. These attempts to individualize a motorcycle to the owner’s tastes were for the most part cost effective requiring little more than a few basic tools, a saw, and a can of matte grey paint.
At some level, most of us wouldn’t mind owning a bobber. Cruiser riders because a cruiser is the origin of a bobber and sportbike riders because one of the original purposes of the bobber was to increase performance and in doing so create those early sportbikes. And after the war, bobbers were king. It was only through the late 1960s that bikes like the Captain America (see issue # 354) flooded the motorcycle scene with choppers which would in turn would push the bobber into the background for the next 40 years as flash and style became the go-to elements. But what goes around comes around and bobbers have again moved to the forefront.
There are a couple of ways to go about getting a bobber. Option Number One is probably the easiest. You could buy a brand new bobber off the showroom floor. Triumph has a bobber in the Bonneville family, Indian has one in the new Chief family and Harley has a bobber in the Softail family (opposite). There are pluses and minuses to this choice. It’s a plus if you have the coin—a brand new bike that comes with a warranty backed up by a manufacturer and a certainty nobody has ridden your bobber before you. The Triumph bobber will set you back $14,950, the Indian Chief bobber $18,999, and Harley’s most basic of bobbers, the Softail Standard, $15,699. There is another option if you squint your eyes, tilt your head and overlook a major handicap, the Honda Rebel 1100 at $12,999. The minus side of the equation is that these bobbers are brand new bikes and if you don’t have the coin, well it’s a shame. And the other point, depending on your perspective, just how flashy do you want your bobber to be? All the preceding can get quite flashy.
Option Number Two is take advantage of the bobber trend and buy a bike that someone has already turned into a bobber. Again the pluses and minuses are going to be relevant. The pluses being there are some extraordinary builders creating beautiful bobbers. The minuses are there are others who are not. The basic idea of a bobber is that you saw and chop pieces off until what’s left is, well … bobbed. It doesn’t take much skill to wield a saw so that part is easy. Getting the perfect result is often a different matter. In the latter case, the not so skilled, did the builder start with a basket case, a ratty old bike with more patina than providence? In the former case, a bobber from a good builder will likely cost much more than that brand new Softail Standard.
Option Number Three is to build your own bobber, although that might just lead you into the latter category of Option Two if the build begins without a plan. Where do you cut, what do you cut, heck, going back even further, what bike do you start with? To recreate the true spirit of the original bobber trend the build should be affordable and accessible. Which means finding an inexpensive donor bike. Fortunately, those are plentiful if you look in the right direction and expand your horizons. With the bike in hand more questions must be answered as once you begin there is little opportunity to go back and uncut the pieces you removed. The questions keep coming. Which parts do you need and where do you get them? Will they fit when they arrive? How long is all this going to take and how much is it going to cost?
There is a simple solution to all those questions around Option #3. Based in Utah, Blue Collar Bobbers builds bobber kits to turn a stock bike into a bobber and the best news of all, should you run into one of the minuses above, the bobbers are based on bikes that can be found dirt cheap and often with very low mileage and less than 15 years old. That’s right, metric cruisers. In stripping a bobber to the basics, it might be aesthetically pleasing to use an air-cooled motor simply for the clean lines but the benefits and advantages of liquid cooled outweigh the negatives. Although most of the bobber kits from BCC are based on liquid-cooled motors, there are a few based on air-cooled metrics. Another plus to the water-cooled engine is the additional power you are often going to get and the fact that many of the bikes come with clean, dependable shaft drives.
BCC builds complete bobber kits for a wide variety of metric bikes from all four of the Japanese manufacturers. Kawasaki Vulcans, Hondas from the VTX1300 to the Rebel 250, Suzukis from the C50 to the Savage and Yamahas from the Virago to the Road Star. (They also build a sweet kit to make the Suzuki TU250 into a cafe racer but that’s off topic for this discussion). The company began producing bobber kits in 2009 with a selection of only four bikes as donors. That list has expanded greatly and the options are in the works for both a Vulcan S kit and a move in American territory with a kit for older Fatboys. The upcoming Fatboy kit aside, concentrating on turning the flood of Japanese cruisers sold from the mid-’90s through 2008 seems like a true genius moment. The sales of Japanese cruisers has been shrinking ever since as styles and tastes changed but there is no getting around the huge number of bikes still out there looking for a little inspiration.
We perused our local used bike list for a theoretical example. It’s a 2008 Suzuki C50 with only 28,000 kilometres on the odometer and an asking price of $2,999 OBO. Perfect choice, although maybe a little too perfect as the bike looks in beautiful shape, comes with bags, floorboards, windscreen and a big passenger backrest. Pity to chop it up for even a theoretical project but it does have the plus of shaft drive and spoked wheels (practically a bobber must). It is also a good choice from a performance perspective as the stock 805cc motor produces 45 hp and 46 foot-pounds torque. Being a Suzuki cruiser it has some classic conservative styling that hasn’t changed in years.
The 2001 Volusia and the 2021 C50 are difficult to discern meaning you have 20 years of bikes to choose from. (If you want to start with a brand new C50 Suzuki Canada will sell you one for $9,599 and as the bobber build will not affect the mechanics of the bike you might still be under warranty.) The later bikes came with a more attractive flush mounted taillight but that improvement will be lost in the chop. The rear shock is hidden to emulate a hardtail frame and as an extra little nostalgia and authentic appeal, the C50 still comes with a drum rear brake!
To convert the touring C50 into a sleek bobber with attitude requires a seat kit, front and rear fender kit, side cover kit, licence plate bracket and vintage rear light kits including indicators and LED taillights—all of which could be purchased separately from Blue Collar Choppers. Without deciding on the matching front signals, the conversion comes in under $2,000 Canadian for the C50. Not bad considering what you might have paid for your donor C50.
If you want to go even less expensive, and make a unique and iconic statement with your build, the Suzuki Savage and its big beautiful single can be converted at not much over $1,100 Canadian. The BCC kit will get you looking like a bobber but paint is up to you and could range from matching the original paint, painting the fenders a different colour to going all out on custom paint. Other frequent add-ons include new bars, whitewall tires and a set of shotgun pipes.
We asked the owners and founders of Blue Collar Choppers Lance and Cheryl Wise what the options are for going backward from a build using the bobber kits. In other words returning the bike to stock. Serious, but with perhaps a little tongue in cheek, the answer was that the resulting bobbers are so cool that why would anyone want to? But very occasionally the request does come through—perhaps with a significant other requesting the return of the passenger seat. Like our C50, if the need for a big trip comes up, would it be feasible to get the touring rig back? The short answer is generally no. While the installation of the kits requires no welding, you do have to cut the rear fender supports. Only a few bikes including the V-Star 650, Vulcan 800 and the 1100 Hondas require no cutting otherwise this is a one-way trip to cool.
BCC makes all the parts with the exception of the lighting. Although that seems like a lot of pieces, the kits are in stock. Which is a very good thing as COVID kept backyard builders busy in the garage and the company had a hard time keeping up with demand from both North America and around the world. Because the kits are bike specific, it keeps the build time short and Lance feels that most customers finish the work in only a day or two … longer only if there is a new paint job or other options going on the bike.
The results of the bobber kits are almost universally good. It really helps when you can’t go to wrong and Lance says somewhere from beginner to middling skills are required and most of the work can be done with the bike on the kickstand. The company believes that the easier and more straightforward the installation, the more likely the job will get done and the bike back out on the road. There are some words to the wise there.
Our theoretical C50 bobber is looking good for about $5,000. Oh right, the finishing touch, the cost for paint. A rattle can of silver flake from Canadian Tire? $19. Make the total $5,019.
by John Molony Canadian Biker Issue #355
UPDATE (January 2023)
When we wrote the original story, Blue Collar Bobbers told us that a new kit would be on the way for a Harley-Davidson Fat Boy. That kit is now available and is shown on the blue bike below. The other bikes are more recent adaptations of metric cruisers – specifically a Suzuki 1500 and the big Kawasaki Vulcan.