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The Great American Chopper

Just the sight of the long steering system, disparate tires, and high handlebars, or "ape hangers," is enough to make the hearts of people who love choppers race. Named for the practice of removing, or "chopping," unnecessary parts such as the windshield and front fender, these days it’s hard to look anywhere without seeing some reference to this bad boy of the motorcycle world, the chopper. From t-shirts and hats to decals and stickers to the actual bikes themselves, choppers are everywhere, and as they become more widespread, the need for trained motorcycle mechanics and fabricators increases.

Choppers have been popular for many years, from their original inception at the end of World War II to the Easy Rider trend of the late 60’s and 70’s, but have begun to increase their popularity of late. This is largely due to the recent spate of television programs involving the bikes. The Discovery Channel has the edge on these shows, with "American Chopper," the "Motorcycle Mania" series, "Southern Chopper," and both "The Great Biker Build-Off" and "World Biker Build-Off" under their belts, but other networks are quickly catching on to chopper fever.

"American Chopper" features the Teutul family, owners and operators of Orange County Choppers, now one of the most well-known custom bike companies in the United States. The show follows the Teutuls and their team of fabricators as they rush to build custom bikes for motorcycle events, charities or organizations, and even for themselves. "Southern Chopper" and "Motorcycle Mania" follow the same format, the stars of these shows being Randy Simpson and the Milwaukee Iron team and Jesse James and the fabricators and builders of West Coast Choppers respectively. "The Great Biker Build-Off" and "World Biker Build-Off" takes this a step further and pits two fabrication teams from different companies against each other to see who can build the best bike, both in aesthetics and performance.

More recently, the Speed Channel has taken these shows and put its own spin on them with "Build or Bust," which lets amateur builders come into professional facilities and build their own bike. They have a thirty day deadline, and if by the end of the period the bike is in good working condition and given a good rating by the professionals, the builder gets to take it home. Not only do they get the bike from the experience, but they also have the privilege of working with professionals and gaining exposure to a national audience, which may lead to several exciting prospects.

The days of small motorcycle repair shops or company jobs being the only outlet for motorcycle mechanics are coming to an end as these shows prove that if you have enough skill and talent, you can make a decent living fabricating your own custom bikes. Everyone has their own taste, and if you have the training and the vision to understand what customers and bike enthusiasts want, you can build a respectable business. There is a lot of hard work involved, and building contacts is a challenge, but if you have the determination and the drive, the opportunities are endless.

Read about schools offering programs in motorcycle technology.
Read about career opportunities as a motorcycle service technician.