Tuesday, January 31, 2012

#99 To chop… or not to chop... (June 2010)

That is the question... but should it even BE a question? I’ve mentioned before my penchant toward classic bikes. I love to see old iron out and about, and have drooled on pictures of totally stock Vincent Black Shadows enough times over the past 35 years or so. But here we are in the foremost chopper publication around, so should I not be preaching that there are no sacred cows? Whatever the bike is, should it be chopped? No mercy?

If I stumbled upon a basket case Vincent, would I chop it? Hell yes I would. It’s long been my dream to have a Vinnie chop, but if I stumbled across a basket case Vincent that had all the correct parts, matching numbers etc., I would be more inclined to pass it on to someone who would restore it, while maybe trading it for a lesser “find” to chop.

I must be getting old I guess. I’m a fan of the 1969/1970 650 Triumph Bonneville in its stock trim, and these days, my heart kinda sinks when I see a bad hack job on one. At some point, simple economics would have to come into play. These days, a matching numbers 60’s Triumph costs a fair bit more than one with a bolt on hardtail and a rusty XL gas tank. This could be the reason we are seeing a lot more small capacity Honda twins and the like being chopped. Yes, I know that restored Hondas from the 60’s are fetching more and more, but there’s so many of them around, I can’t see the supply drying up anytime soon, and they do seem to be the perfect starting point for the wannabe or just broke chopper jockey.

Case in point, I just picked up a 1982 Triumph T140ES. It has seven thousand miles on it and it is just about bog stock, turn signals and everything. This is the cool electric start 750 twin; they altered the timing cover to look like the pre unit, and added a starter motor in the old magneto position. This engine would look KICKASS in a chopper! But on the other hand, this is one of the last bikes ever produced by the “real” Triumph factory in Meriden. I’m not going to get into whether the “real” factory was in Coventry or other such boring details. Suffice to say, every Triumph I’ve owned was built there. Well, ok, maybe my Trident and my 250 single were really made at the BSA plant in Birmingham, but that’s beside the point. This bike is a true survivor and it would...well...it would be a shame to chop it up. I’m having a good time just riding it as it is, so I’ve decided to leave it alone as far as originality goes.

So, is this chopper heresy? Should I be hauled in front of the Chopper Supreme Court for judgment? Well, personally I don’t much care what anyone thinks of the decision, it’s my bike and I’ll do whatever the hell I want with it, which in this case is just ride it. Likewise, if you have a perfectly preserved Crocker in your shed and you want to slap some huge plastic bags on the back and go with a 30” front wheel, be my guest. I can’t approve of such a conversion, but that decision is not mine.

Listen, I’m never going to be one of those geeks you see at these shows, berating a bike owner because his cad plating on his restored AJS is the wrong shade or somesuch. I’m just saying I feel that some old classics deserve to be left alone and ridden as is. Of course, a beautifully done Velocette chopper will catch my eye just as quickly as a restored version, the key being a well-executed custom. Nothing is sadder than a once great classic in a bodged up hack job death trap… and fewer things cooler than someone riding a vintage, unrestored bike with original patina.

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