We took a risk and attempted to make something vaguely resembling a short vocabulary of terms used in customizing. We apologize, if there is something you couldn’t find. First, it’s impossible to seize the unseizable. Second, all is in a state of flux, nothing is constant. And third, time is money.
Since customizing appeared in the USA, all terms have English roots.
Aftermarket. The industry of motorcycle “aftersale personalization” appeared in 1950-s, when semi-handicraft workshops at that time (f.e. famous company S&S Cycle) started producing short runs of production for sale to a third party. The aftermarket became popular at the beginning of 1970-s.
Alternative manufacturer. In the middle of 1990-s, in the USA short-run moto manufacturers occurred in the forefront of customizing boom. Their production meant to become alternative to Halrey-Davidson, which was controlling American market of motorbikes. The common term “Harley-clones” was quite insulting for small, but proud companies, so, it disappeared from pages of moto-press. The “alternatives” is far more pleasant name. And recently, the companies staying afloat prefer naming themselves “licensed manufacturers”.
Apehanger, ape-hanger or ape hanger is one of the very classic forms of chopper handlebar. Very high and not the most ergonomic apehangers were connected with chopper concept in mass consciousness for a long time, especially in Europe.
Baby seat. This is a label-seat on the rear fender (dismountable or on suction cups) for carrying squeaky excited damsels.
Bagger. Originally, this is a cruiser bedangled with bags (that’s where its name comes from) and meant for long trips. The distinctive features of modern bagger are side bags and windscreen.
Bar hopper, bar-hopper or barhopper. This is a chopper, the main purpose of which is carrying biker from bar to bar. You know, high speed, effective brakes, convenient suspenders etc. are not the priority for such bar jumper. It just has to look astonishing at parking in front of bar.
Beach bar or sweeping wide. Despite of “beach-alcohol” name, the beach bar is just a low and very wide hemispheric handlebar inherited by modern customizing from pre-war American cruisers (though, such handlebar was typical for motorcycles at the beginning of 20-th century).
Beach cruiser. This is a heavy hiking cruiser with beach bar. Similar term “boulevard cruiser” occurred in 1930-s and had almost the same meaning as cruiser. And its purpose was rather showing-off than touring.
Bikini fairing. The café-racer style mini-fairing, named after atoll reef in the Pacific Ocean, often appeared on custom-bikes in the beginning of 1980-s. Well, bikini fairing is rather element of décor hinting at sporting type of motorbike.
Board tracker or boardtracker. Custom bike performed in a style of motorcycles used for racing on board tracks, popular in America at the beginning of 20-th century. This is a modern stream of today customizing. If you see a motorcycle looking like bicycle, then you should know that this is more likely a board tracker.
Bobber, bob or earlier bob-job. This is the earliest and most popular sort of custom bikes. The style formed simultaneously with biker movement on the south of US West Coast at 1940-50s.
Bobtail or bob fender. First customizers tailed their bobbers as habitual veterinary. At the beginning of 1950s there were three classic methods of “tailing”: 1) cut off a piece of rear fender with angle grinder; 2) install front fender on the back (at that time, wheels of different width were not common, so, the fenders were of the same width too); 3) to make a bobtail. No doubt that the last method is witty and elegant: in this case, front part of rear fender is cut off instead of rear, after that it moved deeper into frame forming a “duck tail”.
Body bike, originally full-bodied bike. This is maximum covered, nosed over motorcycle. Often design of body-bikes has something in common with design of cars.
Body kit is a set of finishing tools, often made of plastic. With these tools you can reshape serial motorcycle beyond recognition.
Chopper is a motorcycle based on classic bike, but with altered frame geometry, lesser weight, lowered center of gravity and removed or reduced in weight parts and mechanisms, which don’t affect the motorbike suspension system.
This motorcycle is equipped with more powerful engine, high handlebar and prolonged fork. This reduces cross wind resistance at high speed (the wind line matches long arms line). The words “bobber” and “chopper” seem to be similar, but they are not: the bobbers are made by cutting off the undue, and building of choppers requires a more serious approach.
Clipons, clip-ons. This term came from sporting moto-building. The handlebar is split in two. Its halves are attached to the fork (often above upper traverse, but it can also be installed between upper and lower or even under lower). But it is an optional attribute for café-racers or sportbikes.
Coffin tank, koffin tank. By the end of 1960s the coffin-like tanks cought a fancy of chopper-builders. First, because of simplicity in making (there is no curved surfaces by definition). Second, coffin-like tank was not just outrageous, but also very stylish for a long time. Coffins brought forth many other varieties, like, for example, tombstone. And also diamond tanks refer to this category (see below).
Contour seat is another option of classic chopper dual seat. Thin bolster contours part of frame, rear fender and sometimes a sissybar. Such seat is less comfortable for passenger, than king&queen, but undoubtedly more elegant, because there is no step of passenger seat, which ruins the looks of motorcycle.
Convertible. Construction of this type considers not just quick transforming into something, but also reverse transformation (like cabriolet). One of the most well-known “transformers” is project The Sled/The Roadster Convertible implemented by Arlen Ness in 1997.
Custom is a key word for term of “customizing”, “customizer”, “custom bike” etc. Well, its meaning is clear. This refers to something made custom-built, not serial production.
Diamond tank is a faceted diamond-like chopper tank. The peak of its popularity came at the end of 1960s. There is also a term “prism tank”.
Digger. Some resources claim that this variety of chopper is typical for the end of 1970s or even beginning of 1980s. In fact, this style, as the term itself, occurred in the end of 1960s. Though, it is not quite clear, what the diggers are. Some think, that these are bikes with prolonged frame (like gooseneck), wide slope angle of front fork, with pullback or dragbar, uprated engine, intimidating bristle turbochargers, and often rear wheels with dragster slicks (sort of ancestor of today’s street/lowriders). And some call diggers light choppers based on Harley-Davidson Sportster with low handlebar and rod close to standard. Such bikes were called low boy at first. Interesting thing, both statements are correct, both streams occurred almost at the same time were called diggers.
As for origin of the term “digger”, here are also two versions. According to first, they are called that due to their dragster features they can literally “dig” the ground with rear wheel. The second version considers that rider bending over low handlebar looks like digger.
Drag bar is a low straight handlebar with slightly back handles. The form is efficient and came from drag-racing.
Dragster. By this term is meant sport bike for drag-racing or squatty “charged” sporting chopper (see also pro-street).
Drag style. This is a long low frame with a neck for seat. German HPU Drag Style were the bestseller in Europe for several years through. Now the new generation of drag-style frames Walz Hardcore Cycles took the leadership.
Dresser. At the beginning of 1950s Harley-Davidson and Indian started offering more and more accessories for their cruisers for additional payment: windscreens, side bags, front and rear chrome plated “bumpers” of most intricate forms. Such “fully packed” motorcycle was called full dresser or just dresser. In California bikers called dresser any serial cruiser, because unlike “naked” bobbers “weared” deep massive fenders, nacells around headlights etc.
Fat bob, fatbob. Such were called classic Harley-tanks with two fillers and massive control panel between them. On choppers there are traditionally used tight fatbobs with “axed” middle and newly welded halves (axed tank, axed fat bob. Also used a term pork-ster)
Fishtail, fish tail is an exhaust system with end resembling a fishtail. The trend for such fish takes a long way back and it was installed on motorcycles for several decades. In customizing all fishtales can be divided in two types:
1) classic in the form of straight duals. Usually installed on baggers and some old-school motorcbikes;
2) chopper, which are usually one-sided with broke up, or more likely swept up end (up-sweep fishtail).There are several forms of this “tail”: aside of classic “fish”, there also a shark fin and fan-tail. There can be up to 3 of such fins and tails on one exhaust pipe.
Flame job or flames is one of the most well-known painting schemes. It came into customizing from Hot-Rod, where, in its turn, it came from aviation nose art.
Friction drive or rolling drive type transfers a torque to rear wheel through direct contact of tyre with drive wheel.
1) Chopper with short base, moderate angle of fork slope, high T-bar or apehanger and specific “hump” – a modified sportster tank. The stream occurred in 1960s in San Francisco.
2) Sporting tank with low tunnel and higher filler. As a result of such alteration, the tank is installed above tube. Frisco Style chopper frame considers significant lift of tank front part. So, it’s not possible to fully fill a small enough tank, because its upper end point doesn’t match the filler now. So, that’s why the filler is moved up.
Girder is a front parallelogram fork or trapeze. In 1960s were installed on choppers as often as springers. And it might be considered as extinct, but for old-school.
Gooseneck is a motorcycle frame with stretched out headset. One of custom perks of 1960s. Thanks to Japanese customizers, it is very popular again among old schoolers all around the world.
Hardtail is a frame with hard rear suspension. For some time the hardtail was a reserve of an extinctive tribe of radical choppers. And it seemed to fall into oblivion soon. But skies took pity on hardtail construction and brought down the old school epidemic on our heads.
Heat wrap is another old school perk. This is a heat wrap for exhaust system. This is an extremely stylish thing, despite it looks like foot wrap. Though, you can order the wrap of any color, the most popular are white or grey.
Highneck, high-neck is a chopper with a high headset, and the higher, the better. The “necks” became really popular in 1960s. Strange as it may seem, but there are many elegant machines even in this grotesque style.
Hubless wheels or orbital wheels or osmos wheels. Franco Sbarro, a well-known Swiss designer, was the first to install hubless wheels on his motorcycle in 1989. But customizers got their hands on hubless far more later. The first to install somos wheel was chief of famous company Choppers Inc. Billy Lane installed an “empty” wheel on his PsychoBilly Cadillac in 2002.
Jockey Shift is a lever of manual gear shift. In classic case it considers presence of clutch pedal – the so-called suicidal clutch.
King&queen, king-and-queen, king/queen or stepped seat is a whole two-level double seat. Note, that “queen” sits higher than “king”. At the beginning of 1970s, such constructions started gaining fanciful and grotesque forms: often the seat backs reached 1m high sissybars, or even higher.
Kit bike is a motorcycle sold as set “do-it-yourself”. Such sets are known as bike kit or bike-in-box and attract many bikers.
Leaf spring fork. Such forks were installed on classic Indians earlier. That’s why they’re called “Indian forks”. Few years later, only rare customizers dared to use this archaic construction. Except “Indian forks”, to this category also refer exotic constructions installed on some choppers of 1960-70s – with real car springs.
Lettering is one of many Hot Rod terms that came from 1950s. It means painting on the machine its name, name of biker, motto or any aphorism. Technically, the lettering is any inscription of any style and font. But real old-school lettering is a print made with brush and of canonical or “vintage” font.
Longfork chopper is another term of Hot Rod vocabulary. At the beginning of 1970s long and narrow street dragsters and other diggers were often called long&low. Step by step, this statement was replaced by automobile term “lowrider”.
Maltese cross is one of graphic symbol of custom culture. This form is often used in optics, mirror and other accessories design. In most cases, that, which is usually called a “maltese cross” is not Maltese, not even Teutonic, but a real “Eisene Kreuz” – the Iron Cross of 1813.
1. Title (in this case it is written as Master Builder) is given to the best of the best customizers by American specialized press (in different years these were different publishers SuperCycle, Easyriders, VQ, V-Twin).
2. Chief specialist in workshop building custom bikes. It is chief mechanic with functions of operational director.
Metric or metric cruiser (MС) is a custom bike with non-American engine, due to using metric instead of inch size in their construction.
Mini-chopper, mini chopper, minichopper. This concept is so loose, that it strains from small Asian chopper style pocket bikes to solid 750 ccm 3/4 motorcycles produced by American company Ridley (at the beginning of 1970s the mini-chopper were called even diggers based on Harley-Davidson Sportster).
Muscle bike, musclebike. The term appeared as motorcycle tracing of “muscle car” concept. But unlike automobile analogue, there is no distinct definition. Many motorbikes are called “muscle bikes” by manufacturers and motor-press: from avant-garde hi-tech machines produced by American company Confederate to Australian Barbarian.
Nacelle is a headlight streamlined housing type installed since 1965 on Harley-Davidson Electra Glide.
Peanut tank is one of classic style of chopper tank. Nowadays they are produced by most companies specialize in tanks. But originally, in 1950s, they were borrowed by pioneers of customizing from speedway motorcycles or Mustang minibikes. Some claim that real speedway “peanut” is smaller and more roundish than Mustang, but if there is a difference, it’s not that big.
Pinstriping, pin-striping is one of classic ornaments used in customizing. As other traditional elements of décor (flames, scallop, lettering) it came to customizing from Hot Rod. The pioneer and original classic of pinstriping is rightly considered Von Dutch.
Plough, plow is a spoiler placed low in front of frame and looking like plough. That’s why it is called such. Often hides an oil tank, filters or some other useful things.
Pro-Street, ProSfreet, prostreet. This is anoter term of Hot Rod. Aside pro-streets, which belong to professional drag-racing class, this name can be referred to “civil” custom bikes with low sporting outline.
Pullback, pull-back, pull back bar is literally pulled back low and narrow handlebar. Across 1960s and 1970s such handlebars caught on squatty diggers and on extra high highnecks. In last case the handlebars were not just pulled back, but also pulled low, because there is no other way to reach it. Nowadays pullbacks can be seen on Swedish style choppers.
Rake is a headset angle of slope. It is measured (by degrees) between fork line and vertically lowered headset. It can match or differ from front fork angle of slope. In this case the value of fork slope angle can increase by virtue of extra rake or triple tree rake (angle in traverse). The balance between rake and extra rake affects an important index (from the standpoint of motorcycle handleability) as trail.
Rat bike or just rat is an anti-customizing movement or, if you wish, “post apocalyptic customizing” with its brutality, natural rust and other “antisocial” attributes. Occurring in Great Britain by the end of 1970s (though, such motorbikes could be seen in USA earlier as low-end custom bikes), it had numerous army of admirers in 1980s.
Rigid or ridgeback is a synonym of hardtail. And the fact that there are differences between those terms is just a wild guess. And rigid more likely refers to motorcycles and ridgeback is used for roadster frame.
Rim brake or perimeter brake. Few years ago brake rotors attached to wheel rim considered as hi-tech meant for sportbikes and streetfighters. But customizers caught the idea, especially various old-schoolers and board tracker creators. It is understandeable, because the wheel with this rotor looks transparent, as if it has no brake at all. And this is no small thing, as it may seem to someone.
Rocket tanks. At the beginning of 1960s, the cylindrical form of fuel tanks was used mostly on motorcycles for races on bottom of drained salina and professional road dragsters. And there could be installed one tank or several (up to 4) At the beginning of 1970s, rocket tanks came into customizing. They were even offered by aftermarket customizing workshops.
Rolling chassis or often just a roller is a semi-product, a work piece for making a low-end custom bike. Usually, this is an undyed (or…), elementary set consisting of frame, fork, handlebar and tyred wheels. Sometimes there are rollers with installed fenders, fuel and oil tanks, and sometimes even with headlight. And the most rear option is dyed rolling-chassis.
Ramhorn, ram-horn, ram's horn is a narrow compact chopper handlebar with halves resembling ram's horns “growing” from upper traverse. Often comes with cross partition to add ruggedness to the construction. Under occurrence of Hot Rod and customizing and, when the most favorite occupation of American auto- and moto-freaks was racing on bottom of drained saline, there was a term “bump start”.
Scallop, scalloping is a scallop-like color scheme resembling a comb. Stylistically and historically it is close to flame-job. There are several types: knife tip, spike, diamond. Nowadays they are used mostly in old-school.
SCOOter, scoot this is one of American slang variations of term chopper (well, there are many things called scooter: various mini-bikes, mini-choppers, pocket bikes etc.)
Shotguns or shots are a one-sided “2-in-2” exhaust system ending with straight “guns”. Direct exhaust pipe is not required, but preferable.
SiX-gun is a name for finishing components (usually steering pillar end, grip end, jockey shift handle), stylistically deviant as revolver cylinder. Taken to the assembly line by well-known Billy Lane. By the way, even if these faked cylinders designed for 5 “bullets”, everything of this revolver style is called six-gun anyway.
Softail is a soft rear suspension resembling a hardtail. The shock absorbers can be installed under seat or horizontally under gearbox (like on Harleys), but in this case they work reverse, on stretching.
Spinner is another element of décor taken from Hot Rod or, to be more specific, from custom cars. This is a pivot on wheel disk, which creates an illusion of movement while the wheel is standing still and vice versa – “acting inadequate” while motorbike is on the move. Frankly speaking, this is just a flossing.
1) This is a name applied as to Harley-Davidson Sportster motorbikes, so to their engines. It is also applied to custom bikes based on Sportster.
2) A featured “Sportster” tank, which is compact and curved. This is one of absolute hits among chopper tanks of all time. It moved on Sportster (which was reduced in weight off-road modification of XLCH of 1958) from one-cylinder two-stroke Harley-Davidson Hummer, and before Hummer it was installed on model 125S of year 1948.
Springer is a front link fork. This is a classic option for chopper. The Harley-Davidson company ceased the production of these forks in 1949. In 1960s, replacing old Harley springer tubes with longer ones and of smaller diameter fell into the habit among chopper-builders.
Spring seat is a cushioned seat or, in other words, bicycle seat. This is an almost must-have old-school component. The nowadays specificity is use of up-to-date mountain bike’s shock absorbers instead of old-fashioned wound spring.
Sprocket brake also known as sprotor is a construction, in which sprocket acts as brake. It became popular in the USA on the tip from Russell Mitchell – a customizer, who founded Exile Cycles Company. There is a duplicate mechanism for motorbikes with belt driving, where pulley rotor used as brake rotor instead of sprocket.
Stock. A creepy thing! For some devotees of customizing, a stock (or serial) motorcycle (f.e. Harley-Davidson) is not a motorcycle at all. It is more likely a parts donor, a blank at best. At worst, this is a domain of people completely without sense of beauty.
1) Frame elongation by means of moving the T-bar forward. Traditionally measured by degrees. Sometimes it is called shift.
2) Tank rear part elongation.
3) A curious multiseat construction, made as motorcycle or trike, stretched like limousine. Such machines are called limo bikes or limo trikes.
Swedish style. At the beginning of 1980, the regulations of Sweden accommodated loyally unprecedented conditions for chopper building. In fact, all restrictions were eliminated. Since then, the so-called Swedish style has formed as separate direction, which is one of the most popular nowadays, and not only among Scandinavian craftsmen. The typical “Swedish chopper” is relatively low and narrow hardtail machine with long fork, chain drive, shotguns, developed sissybar and often without front brake and fender.
1. A Type of exhaust system with smoothly curved exhaust pipes.
2. Massive fenders with pulled back lower part, as if it sweeps asphalt.
Swingarm, swing-arm can be monotube or two-tube, following geometry of rear part of hardtail, as if it hides “tail softness”.
Thus, mono swingarm or monoarm is the same detail arranged for one-sided console attachment of rear wheel.
Т-bаг is, in fact, a dragbar or an ordinary low “stock” handlebar, installed on extremely high bars, due to which, the construction resembles a “T” letter.
Taildragger, tail dragger is a rear fender, which literally “scratches with tail” (unlike sweepster, which just “sweeps”). Usually such taildragger has a low side-face and looks deliberately heavy, which visually “loads” the motorbike aft end. But with the appearance of ultra wide rear tyres, there is a capability to reach the a “fat-bottom” in more natural ways without using bulky fenders.
Techno-chopper is an attempt to mark with one word a hi-tech stream of modern customizing – the “new school”, which is opposed to old school. The term gradually strikes roots, especially after publishing of a book “Techno-chop” by American custom-publicist Mike Sit.
1) Variation of coffin tank, popular at the beginning of 1970s.
2) Rear light of distinctive shape. It was first installed on Harley-Davidson of FL series in 1947.
3) Control panel on fatbob tank. Despite that all these things resemble a tombstone, originally this name was given to the ones installed on Harleys of 1962-67 year of manufacturing, but not because of shape, but because of speedometer face design (there was a white gave-stone as a background, which slightly pushes for sticking to speed limits).
Tractor style seat is no rare for today’s old school hard sprung (or with shock absorbers) seat without padding, which were installed on old tractors. It doesn’t have to be fullmetal (though, cases of masochism are no rare) – carbon or even wood could be used instead.
Trike conversion is a trike based on serial motorcycle. Usually these conversions are offered as set for manual reassembling of donor-motorcycle, so as complete product. These trikes are most popular and wide-spread in the USA.
Tribute bikes or theme bikes are motorcycles tribute to anything (favorite actor, brand, person or even beer :) etc.)
V-bar is a V-shaped option of dragbar.
Z-bar is a handlebar configuration, halves of which are made in the form of letter “Z”. There are low Z-bars and of apehanger size.