How To Build A Bobber Motorcycle On A Budget
With more folks getting into restorations and revitalizations of all things retro these days, a new trend that’s rising in popularity is converting older motorcycles into a “bobber.” These streamlined versions of previously boring bikes transform motorcycles from the 80’s and 90’s into retro-modern rides with custom leather seats and stripped-down details. Essentially, a bobber motorcycle is one that has undergone a ‘bob-job,’ which entails removing extraneous parts for both simplicity and weight-reduction. This trend started back in the 40’s when people would race motorcycles on flat tracks. Racers would strip away everything but the bare necessities to reduce weight for greater performance. For those seeking to build their own bobber motorcycle on a budget today, we’ve put together this quick guide.
What Details Do All Bobber Motorcycles Share?
When you’re planning to convert a motorcycle into a bobber, you’ll want to pay attention to a series of identifying characteristics that all bobbers share. Aside from the vintage motorcycles that pioneered the style, today the bobber aesthetic can be applied to a wide range of motorcycles. So what are the characteristics needed to craft your own bobber?
The original bobber motorcycles of the 40’s usually had larger solo seats mounted to a stock seat post. The seatposts were typically mounted within the frame using springs and bushings to provide the rider with a smoother ride. You can find these seats on vintage Harleys such as the Knucklehead and Panhead, along with Shovelheads.
Later, smaller sprung seats started to appear on customized motorcycles and early choppers, which gave riders a lower, more race-inspired position on the bike. Today, these types of seats are usually fitted when building a bobber motorcycle. In addition to the seat, a pivot must be installed along with a set of spring mounts and springs.
Another key trait of bobber motorcycles is a rigid frame, which creates a whole new aesthetic for the bike that stands out from more modern swingarm designs. To save on build costs, the rigid rear frame configuration can be welded in place of a swingarm on an existing frame. The sprung seat setup is then installed to finish off the far more horizontal profile that bobber bikes are known for.
When it comes to the wheels of a bobber motorcycle build, spoked wheels are the number one way to achieve a rounded-out appearance. For those on a budget, one alternative to getting custom spoked wheels laced up is a set of bike-specific replacement wheels that are becoming more available at reasonable prices.
The mag wheels that many of the late 70’s through early 90’s motorcycles like the Honda CB750 or Kawasaki XS650 were usually made of cast aluminum, which creates an entirely different appearance. While it’s possible to build a cool motorcycle with mag wheels, these won’t match up with what was found on bikes of the early years of bobbers.
Another consideration when it comes to wheels for your bobber build is sizing. A classic size combo on many of the vintage bobbers was an 18” rear wheel with a 19” front wheel, which is still a solid performance option on today’s bobbers. You could also opt for a 21” front wheel and 18” rear wheel when you’re seeking a more squatted stance.
Once you’ve chosen the wheels and tires for your budget bobber build, the next consideration is the front and rear fenders, which can have a huge impact on the final style of the bike. Be sure the fender you choose is paired appropriately with the tires for your bike to nail the perfect look.
Many bobbers actually have no front fender at all, but otherwise they’re usually minimal in size. Small smooth or ribbed front fenders hold true to the bobber style and are definitely handy if you get caught in the rain.
Ways To Save When Building A Bobber Motorcycle
Once you’ve decided on the total budget you have to work with for your bobber build, you can start to weigh your options when it comes to getting the help from a professional. Many DIY bobber builders choose to get help with the paint job and chrome plating, which require expensive equipment to do properly. Depending on whether you’re after a worn vintage appearance or highly polished one, you can allocate funds to other areas of the build such as welding a rigid rear frame in place of the swingarm.
Start With A Running Bike
The easiest way to come in under budget on your bobber build starting with a motorcycle that already has many of the required features like spoked wheels and a rigid rear frame. If you’re thinking of buying an engine and frame separately to piece the bike together, you’ll find it often results in higher overall costs along with time to completion. At the very least, find yourself a project bike that’s already running and rideable to prevent most of the potentially expensive pitfalls to finish your build.
Opt for Paint over Polished Chrome
Consider high temp painting or ceramic coatings on the exhaust rather than chrome plating it. If you can learn to paint yourself, you’ll be able to use those skills for the tank and fenders as well, saving you significant sums on the build.
Hire a Pro or DIY?
Budget builds often dictate whether you’ll need to do all the work yourself or be able to hire a professional for mechanical or fabrication aspects of the build. While finishing work like painting and plating are a major expense, converting the frame to a rigid design is another significant cost that can blow a budget.
Keeping it Simple Yet Safe
One drawback to riding a bobber is that the lack of a windshield and fairings makes it hard to hide navigation systems. To keep things looking simple while still enjoying the safety and convenience of navigation, try one of Rokform’s motorcycle mounts. Both the Pro Series Bar Mount and Stem Mount are solid options for bobber motorcycles, offering secure mounting of your phone for easy viewing.
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