1990's: When custom became fashion
Peter Fonda was the hero of the baby boomer generation in the early seventies. In his cult movie 'Easy Rider' he as 'Captain America' on his Harley Chopper was the rebel symbol against a bourgeois and narrow minded society.
Motorcycles at that time were ridden by a minority, and jeans and black leather jackets were not likely a common sight. This has all changed, just like Blue Jeans are even accepted in the management floor of today’s companies, custom motorcycles became the fashion bike with increasing success for more than a decade.
Chop a bike
The rebel bikes were called choppers. This expression originated from 'chop your bike', cut it in pieces and weld it together in different form. Nothing had to be standard, since off the shelf was the conformist attitude of the society, the rockers wanted to rebel against. At those days, mainly Harley and British bikes like BSA, Triumph and Norton were the basis for these modifications.
It took over a decade until the Japanese manufacturers took the initiative and boosted the Chopper cult with bikes off the shelf. Existing inline four or twins were altered with higher handlebars, step seats, 16 inch rear tyres and drop tanks.
The bikes looked docile and pleased a wider taste and were very successful.
Fashion took over
Custom bikes as they were called later, proved popularity amongst beginners and re-starters. Soon more sophisticated design followed, like the YAMAHA XV 1000 Midnight Special, with a V- twin engine and a character more closer to the originals. The bikes picked up in America and Europe followed soon. The late eighties and the nineties saw a real boom of custom bikes. Next to Harley, Yamaha Virago's XV 535 and XV 1100, Suzuki Intruder series, Honda Shadow series and Kawasaki Vulcan series were the later milestones.
'Easy Rider' gained a new meaning
With its low seat height and relaxed riding position and an engine character that makes even slow cruising an excitement, the bikes appealed "easy to ride" for re-starters and newcomers and riders not interested in speed and acceleration.
European taste differs
However the appeal was always different in the various European countries. Germany took the custom fashion quite quickly already in the late eighties, were France performed sluggish. The French preferred Trail and Enduro bikes next to sporty street machines. Also the Italians seemed to prefer sport bikes unless a couple of years ago, the younger riders seemed to have changed their minds. The Honda Shadow and Yamaha Virago middle-class twins opened the market for custom machines and today Italy is the second strongest custom bike market in Europe.
Most successful models today
The most successful models today over 125 cc are the Yamaha Drag Star series.
Drag Star 650 sold almost 12.000 units in Europe in 1999, with almost half of the numbers in Germany and Italy alone. Drag Star 1100 found almost 6800 riders last year and was most successful in Germany with almost one third of the total European sales.
The model hit list 2000 year in Europe registration based over 125 cc looks as follows:
2. XVS 1100 Drag Star
3. Suzuki VZ 800 Intruder
4. Harley Davidson XLH 883
5. Honda VT 600 C Shadow
6. YAMAHA XV 1600 Wild Star
7. YAMAHA XV 535 Virago
8. Suzuki VL 1500 Intruder
9. Harley Davidson FXS 1340
10. BMW R 1200 C