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Harley Sporty Sportster Bobbers

Before Choppers, there was Bobbers...

This Harley Davidson motorcycle website is all about those very Sporty Harley Sportster Bobbers, Choppers, Oldschool Bikes, Low Riders, Ratbikes, Naked Bikes, Cafe Racers and other motorcycle conversions powered by the Harley Sportster® Evolution or Blockhead engine which was introduced by the Harley Davidson Motor Company in 1986. For the pre-1986 Sportster Ironhead Bobbers please check out the Harley Ironhead Bobbers website.

Photo of 1999 883C Harley Sportster Bobber Oldschool Motorcycle by Tony.

What Defines a Bobber?

There seems to be a lot of confusion regarding what exactly is a Bobber and what is not. The same goes for Choppers. We have our opinion, which we state here below. We emphasize that it is an opinion, and we don't claim it's the only truth. If you have a different opinion, or if you claim to know the truth, respect.

Technically speaking, a Bobber can de defined as a motorbike of which those components which do not contribute to speed and accelleration have been removed. This is how it all started in the 1930's, 1940's and 1950's, for classic Dirt Track Racing, Road Racing and Hill Climbing events. It is important to note that in those days there was no big after sales market like we have right now. People could not buy too many special parts to increase the power and speed of their flathead or knucklehead bikes, and the most effective way to increase performance was to shed as much weight as possible.

So, people started to ditch ballast like saddle bags, buddy seat, fenders, rear stand (yes, flatheads and knuckleheads had a rear stand), front brake (who needs the bloody thing?), chain guard, turn signals, and so on. To avoid trouble with the law, headlights and rear lights were usually retained.


Later on, some guys started to chop the frame and to modify the rake of the front fork. The Choppers was born. Mind you, if a bike has both fenders, a buddy seat, saddle bags and turn signals, it wouldn't classify as a Bobber, but it can still very well be a Chopper.

This chopping started to happen somewhere in the 1950's, which might explain why so many of the classic Choppers are Panheads. (And could it be that at some point in time in the 1950's steel cutting and welding equipment finally came into reach of the ordinary man?)

Cafe Racers?

If we take the above technical definition strictly, most Cafe Racers or Pub Racers could also be referred to as a Bobber. However, just for clarity, and even if we love them just as well, we propose that we keep calling them Cafe Racers...

While - technically speaking - both Bobbers and Cafe Racers have been stripped of everything that does not contribute to speed and accelleration, there is a difference in style of course. Whereas a Cafe Racer is styled to look like a Road Racing bike, a Bobber will look more like the classic Dirt Track Racer or Hill Climber.

HD Sportster Oldschool / Chopper / Bobber Gallery

Harley Sportster Evolution Engines - In a Nutshell

In 1984 Harley Davidson introduced the 1340cc V²® Evolution® engine which replaced the 1200cc Shovelhead engine on the big twin models. Two years later, in 1986, the Sportster's 1000cc Ironhead engine was replaced by 883cc and 1100cc Evolution engines.

While the Harley Davidson Motor Company named her the "Evolution" engine, the name was soon abbreviated to "Evo". In line with the tradition of giving each type of Harley engine a nickname that reflects the shape of her cylinder head covers, people also refer to the Evo as the Harley "Blockhead" engine.

In 1988, the 1100cc Sportster Evo engine was upgraded to 1200cc, and in 2004 the Sportsters got rubber engine mountings to reduce the transfer of vibrations to the frame.

Nowadays, Harley Sportsters are still sold both with the 883cc and 1200cc Evolution engines (whereas since 1999 the Evo engine on the Harley Big Twins were replaced by the Twin Cam 88® engine). Over the years, many Sportster 883cc engines have been converted to 1200cc which is found neither too difficult nor too expensive.