June/July 2000 Column
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"Lateral Thinking for the Indian Lover"
Home / Features / Chops
    Indian Choppers Corner
   Part 5. Chopper Chiefs from Mild to Wild
   By Tim Pickering

Well, I hope that by now youíre getting my drift.  Itís okay to chop a Chief.  Really!  The sky wonít fall on your head, you can save money compared with being a slave to originality, and in many ways you can end up with a vastly improved, better-looking and better-performing Indian Chief.  Provided of course youíve no hang-ups about doing things differently from the way the little elves and pixies in The Wigwam used to do things.

Mind you, I will probably win only a few converts among the VI community, or else will be preaching to the already-converted.  Just remember, I donít necessarily advocate that you take an already-stock Chief and butcher it, though if thatís what you want to do then itís entirely your own business.  I merely want to raise chopping/bobbing as another restoration option, one thatís often overlooked by people when they start off with an incomplete basket or sorry heap of knackered old parts. 

For those of you who still think that turning out same-old-same-old catalogue-spec restorations is the only way to go, consider this!  Itís been said (by somebody a lot more famous than me) that Americaís three main contributions to western culture in the 20th Century have been (1) Jazz, (2) Musical Theatre, and (3) Choppers.  Although I speak as a jazz-playing chopper-builder, I think Iím not completely biased in saying that two out of those three ainít bad.  Ainít bad at all. 

So come on, people!  Lets get more cultural here!

As it turns out, my own personal tastes in choppers lean more toward the bobber end of the spectrum.   I guess I just like traditional-looking motorcycles.  Or maybe Iím turning into a boring old fart?  I dunno.  Iíll let you be the judge.  It will be instructive, though, if this month we take a look at just what types of things the Chief chopper spectrum can encompass!  I will present to you, for your discernment and amusement, a series of stages in Chief chopperisation.   Just like those engine hot-up manuals that present progressive stages of performance increase, from Slightly Peppy right through to Honda-saki-uki-ha-Stompiní Totally Insane Freaked Out On Drugs type performance, I will show how one can take oneís Chief frame and running gear from Mild-Mannered Reporter through to Superman (or Superperson, to be appropriately gender-neutral about it).

Stage 1: Bob the fenders

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Prior Episodes of Tim's 
Chopper Dissertation: 

Part 1 "Why Indians"

Part 2 "Why Not Choppers"

Part 3 "Form vs. Function"

Part 4 "Chief Likes & Dislikes"

Indians have massive fenders.  And Iím not just talking about post-war Chiefs.  The Briggs Weaver fenders of the Ď30s are so voluminous, they can be upturned and used as a cradle for a decent-sized infant.  Now thereís a merchandising idea for VI!  Even the fenders fitted to the military models seem capable of stopping armour-piercing bullets.  The first step in an Indian weight-loss programme, then, is to junk the stock fenders.  Except that nobody now junks anything to do with stock Indians, even if they arenít wanted.  And rightly so, too.  So, store your original fenders in the attic, or sell them to someone who will appreciate them, and then go and do what these people did.
Click on pictures below for 
full-size viewing
This is Mild-Mannered Reporter Stage One, the first step toward an improved Chief, which is to fit ďbobbedĒ fenders and slimmer chainguard.  Apart from that, everything else is stock.  I donít like the headlight, though that is a matter of personal taste.  I am uncertain about just what performance advantages are conferred by the seat tassels.  Maybe itís a modification for the Australian outback, to keep the flies away from the lunch you packed under the seat.
Another Chief which has taken the first step along the road to improvement.  All theyíve done is remove the front fender and fit a cut-down rear fender.  In days of old, the Briggs Weaver front fender would probably have been removed, sawn off to shorten it, and re-fitted the other way round as a rear fender.  The world is now a different place, so itís more probable the front fender of this bike was sold intact to an antique restorer for megabucks.  Part of the money thus earned was then spent on a cheapo fits-anything rear fender from a swapmeet, and the rest of the dough would have gone towards financing the engine rebuild.  A good strategy if youíre not an originality fetishist.
Another example of how a mainly-stock Chief can, with little effort, be made to look slimmer, lighter, and carrying less garbage.  A girder-fork example this time, but again all theyíve done is remove the front fender and a section of chainguard, and add a slimmer rear fender.

Stage 2: Bob the fenders, fit a better Indian front end

The next stage of wildness is to get rid of the stock Chief leaf-spring or girder front end altogether, and fit something better from one of the other Indian models.

There was much debate on the VI Digest a while back about which Indian front end is best.  Both leaf-spring and post-war girder front ends have their devotees, and their detractors.  Personally, I donít like either.  There are other Indian front ends better suited for a bobber, namely the late-model Chief telescopics, or 741 military forks (which are 2Ē longer than Sport Scout forks). 

The owner of this bike, a member of the Dutch Indian Club, has (in my view, most sensibly) dumped the post-war Chief girder front end in favour of military 741 forks.  It looks great!   As I mentioned, my other choice of Springfield front end would be the í50 Ė í53 teles.  However these are kinda thin on the ground, and are valued way beyond their intrinsic worth by virtue of the fact that they were stock fitments to that Holiest of Grails, the at-times mythical í53 Chief.  On the other hand, 741 front ends are relatively thick on the ground, especially in Europe and Australasia.  As recently as 1994, I was able to buy a 741girder blade for US$40.  From a dealer, no less!
Other mods include different springing for the seat, slim rear fender, jockey shift, Junior Scout tanks and separate exhaust pipes.  Clearly built by a bobber purist, if thatís not too much of a contradiction in terms. 

Another bike from the Dutch Club, and in a similar vein.  741 girders, upswept rear fender, twin pipes, jockey shift, and no seat springing.  Lets hope the plunger suspension works freely!  Maybe thatís the owner in the background, restoring his aching buttocks in the plush upholstery of that conveniently-placed sofa.

This looks to me like a set of the í50 Ė í53 Chief teles, though the picture is not very clear.  Either itís a genuine Ď50-í53 Chief, or its an earlier Chief thatís been retro-fitted with the Chief teles.  Possibly the latter, as most people with genuine late-model Chiefs keep them very stock in order to maximize any return on their investment.  Either way, this bike has still got a reasonably acceptable chopper look without causing too much drama or angst among the restoration crowd.  Trimmed rear fender and twin exhausts is pretty much all that it took.  This bike looks wilder than it is.  A Mild-Mannered Reporter, with spectacles removed.
Step 3: Bob the fenders, add some chopper ďfeaturesĒ 

In this phase of development, the main elements of the bike (frame, forks) are left stock, but the chopper ďlookĒ is added to it by choosing from a range of common chopper clichés like apes, lowered seats, or fancy pipework.

This bobber Chief features a performance modification for riding in flood-prone areas.  Maybe the owner is concerned about El Nino?  Apart from that, itís very stock.  Theyíve just removed the front fender, then fitted a thicker seat, slimmer rear fender and a set of the ubiquitous babe-getting apehangers.

This bike is also very stock.  Too stock, and I donít like it much.  This was the end result of a series called Project Indian that ran in several issues of Iron Horse back in the late eighties.  The bikeís builder was a chap called Mr Hat (first-name Top), and Technical Consultant was a very youthful-looking and at that time relatively un-tattooed Indian Larry.  In 1995 Dean (one of the 6th St Specials staffers) and I were looking over Larryís shoulder at his own copies of these Iron Horse issues, and Dean, looking up from the photos of Larry in the late-Ď80s to the living specimen before us in the mid-Ď90s, exclaimed ďMan, youíve deteriorated!Ē  It was true, he looked like heíd aged about thirty years in the space of eight.  Mind you, heís probably packed about thirty years worth of living into the space of eight.  I guess thatís life in NYC for you! 
Anyway, back to the bike.  I donít like the rear fender, I donít like the 21Ē front wheel, I donít like the apehangers, and Top Hatís girlfriend went on record as not liking the tiny ďpeach perchĒ (or ďleather-covered sanitary aidĒ as she called it).  But hey, itís not my bike, so who am I to be critical? To Page 2 of 3
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