Sunday, 1 March 2015

Can You Go Touring on a Chopper?

This is a question I have heard people discussing recently, plus they were saying choppers look uncomfortable and are torture to ride.  I thought I would write about my views.

Yes, of course you can go touring on a chopper, if you build your chopper correctly. You have to think about suspension, handling, handlebar height and how to carry your gear, but it can be done.

Here is a chopper that has won a few custom bike shows. You couldn’t go touring on that show queen, could you!

This picture was taken for a magazine feature about the bike

Well, yes you can. This bike has been ridden from London in the UK, to the south of Portugal, to St Tropez in southern France and right across the Alps mountains (including Stelvio Pass and Grossglockner Pass) all the way to the Harley-Davidson Rally in Rome, and back again. I know, because I rode it to those places.

This is my custom chopper and the bike was built specifically to go touring on. This is how we did it.

Below is a picture of how the bike started out.  It was a  second-hand Harley-Davidson FXSTC softail. From this bike, we only kept part of the frame and the lower half of the engine.

How the bike looked before the modifications

We did these things…..

New springer front end forks, yokes etc
New wheels, larger, wider
Modified the frame to raise the top tubes and accommodate the longer forks
New rear fender
Stage 4 mods to the engine. It is now a 110 Cu Inch engine, or 1800cc
New exhausts
New hand made seat
New controls
New paint job
Extensive hand engraving
Plus lots more

Here are some build pictures….

This is the bike being ridden, in St Tropez...

Taken at the Harley-Davidson European Festival, St Tropez

Okay, so what makes this chopper be able to be ridden such long distances on some of the more twisty and challenging roads in Europe? Well, first of all, you need saddlebags, which have to be completely removed when the bike is being ridden locally, or put in custom bike shows. Here is the bike being ridden on tour and note the saddlebags and you can just see another bag behind me.

I think this picture was taken in Austria

The picture above shows the early saddlebags we fitted, but we soon went to the much larger stiff leather saddlebags. This video shows how we integrated fixings into the rear fender struts to allow saddlebags to to fitted….


Good suspension is vital for long-distance touring. But, it also has to look good. So, we went for DNA springers for the front-end. What is even more important to get right is the geometry of the frame right, so that the bike handles well. For this bike, we temporarily built the bike (held together with gaffer tape in places, I kid you not) so that we could check the handling before the bike was painted and engraved. Thanks to the guys at P&D, it was perfect and we didn’t need to change anything – their calculations and fabrication had been fantastic. Here is the bike in its temporary mock up form, just before we test-rode it.....

The bike ready to be test ridden

Handlebar height is crucial. If you get it too high, then your arms will ache. The rule of thumb is your hands should not be higher than your shoulders. Again, we got than just right.

So, can a chopper be used for touring? Yes, of course it can. Here is the proof…..

This is a video of the bike being ridden with a group of friends to Rome, including across the Alps. The roads get interesting from about 2:15 onwards. For most of the on-bike video shots, the camera was mounted on the chopper. From about 4:00 the video shows two of us, both riding choppers, on the 2,000 mile journey back to London. The route back included one of the highest and most twisty roads in Europe, Stelvio Pass (4:50). You will see a lot of snow next to the roads – this was in June!

This is the same bike, just before I set out to go touring in the UK, complete with a tent, sleeping bags and everything else I would need while camping…..

Well laden-down with gear

Then, when you have finished touring and camping, you can go for a ride with a few of your freinds.....  

What a great and versatile motorcycle!


Trobairitz said...

I think part of touring on a chopper would be the rider themselves. Don't you have to be a bit of a hard-ass to tour on a chopper compared to say a fully loaded BMW 1600?

There are people touring on a 49cc scooter, so one could probably tour on anything depending on comfort level and gear carried.

Amelia sure is pretty Gary. But you knew that already.

Greybeard said...

Can you?
Do you wanna?
What are other options do we have?
Is there a GoldWing or BMW we can use?

There's an account out there of a guy successfully doing the "Iron Butt" on a Honda Helix scooter.
He proved it COULD be done.
I'm glad it was him, not me.

Gary France said...

Oh yes, I do agree with you Trobairitz. It certainly is very different to ride a chopper than a fully loaded tourer. The point is though, like the people touring on 49cc bikes, is that it is fun to be different. I guess all motorcyclists are different in some way, both from each other, but especially from car drivers. That is what sets us apart and makes it fun to do what we do.

Gary France said...

LOL Greybeard. Heck, we could even do it in a car! You are right, that we have to want to do it. Of course, it isn't right for everyone, but like I said to Trobairitz, that difference is all part of the fun. I wrote this post in response to people that said it wasn't possible, as choppers were hard to ride and uncomfortable.

Canajun said...

As Dr. Seuss says, "Would you? Could you? Should you?" And the answer to all 3 seems to be "Yes!". My view is, if you have a motorcycle already, and you want to tour, then go for it. The bike may determine your pace or where you can go, but it won't be any less fun. Great video btw.

Gary France said...

Canajun - My answers would be "Hell Yes!" Thanks about the video.

GF said...

Of course you can tour and as others have said, people have gone around the world on scooters. It all depends on the mileage and what you can endure. Don't see you doing 1000 miles in one day but then again you don't need to.

Gary France said...

LOL George, I can't imagine anything worse than doing 1,000 miles in a day on any bike!

redlegsrides said...

Good write up Gary....just goes to show...know what you need, make it happen.....doing things like everyone else...not so much.

Mark said...

Wow, such amazing places. I would love to go to all of these locations. My family would love it! Very nice motorcycle, very beautifully made love the color!