TheKneeslider.com – Most of you have seen those little mini choppers running around and if not, you know what they are, they’re little versions of a real chopper built on a child’s scale. These days you don’t see them quite as often as you used to and one reason is the fad has peaked but there is another reason, too.
A couple of years ago there were a load of small companies turning out these little guys, but now, most of those companies are gone or going away. Some of them were building amazing little machines of very high quality. On a mini scale of our larger economy, domestic mini choppers were swept away by a wave of cheap imported mini choppers from the far east, primarily China. Those mini choppers can be had for less, sometimes far less, than a couple of hundred dollars, far less than a hand built and much higher quality version manufactured in the U.S. Oddly enough, choppers are a very American style of motorcycle and the mini choppers modeled after them started here, too, but once you build something and it becomes a market success, competition from overseas is inevitable. One lesson you might take away is there is no real market for high quality and somewhat pricey, non street legal mini choppers.
But, so what? Choppers are not the best handling motorcycles ever built and appearance is a matter of taste. Custom mini choppers have all of the same characteristics but on a smaller scale. Why does any of this matter?
Custom mini choppers are a great starting point when learning to build motorcycles. Whether choppers or sportbikes are your ultimate goal, mini choppers are a great beginning. You certainly don’t have to spend huge sums of money to buy the tubing and parts, the Briggs and Stratton engine, the golf cart tire in the back and the Torq-a-Verter transmission. You can learn all of the essential skills from designing the frame, building a jig, cutting, notching and welding tubing, bending and shaping metal, painting or powder coating, assembling and testing and getting the satisfaction of seeing your thoughts become real. There’s also this added bonus: designing and building a mini chopper builds skill, self confidence and self esteem by the bucket full every step of the way.
Where those now out of business mini chopper companies may have miscalculated is in hoping to make this a viable long term operation. That flood of cheap and amazingly low quality imports displaces the high quality product and that’s too bad. The reason it’s bad isn’t the competition, it’s seeing people accept this low quality junk. It’s cheap. It looks cheap. It is cheap. If HAVING a mini chopper no matter the quality is what’s important, then I guess cheap is OK, but if LEARNING and BUILDING and ACCOMPLISHMENT and APPRECIATION OF HIGH QUALITY are values worth pursuing then cheap misses by a mile.
Those high quality minis sold for thousands of dollars, enough money to buy a small motorcycle but you can build a mini for far less and that’s the sweet spot, they may not sell well but they offer great value for the home builder.
One home built mini chopper provides more value than a whole container load of imports down on the dock. One hands-on, home built mini chopper is worth more in knowledge and skill gained than every episode of American Chopper and Build or Bust added together. Sitting in front of what’s almost a cartoon leaves you nothing of value. If their chopper is perfect, what have you done or learned? If chopper building is your interest, do a little research instead, find out what you need, gather your tools together, buy some supplies and get going. Expect to make mistakes but learn from them and keep moving.
Even on a mini chopper scale, with your own project you’ll learn most of the important lessons without sacrificing your bankbook or needing a second mortgage. If you’re looking for a father-son project, this is a great one. Don’t buy him a cheap toy, build something. If you’re just trying to learn how to build a motorcycle and get some new skill in the process, this is perfect.
Will you win prizes in the chopper build off? Nope, at least not yet. Will you have a race bike when you’re done? Certainly not. Will you have more skill, knowledge, self confidence and pride? You betcha.
Now, don’t get me wrong, imported products in no way mean cheap or low quality. The reason imported mini choppers can get away with being such junk is they don’t have to be road legal, so the only standards that apply are those the customer feels are important. If he or she will accept abysmal quality then that is what they pay for and that is what they’ll get.
In the overall scheme of things, mini choppers fall off the scale of concern on the low side but wouldn’t it be nice for once to see the really cheap imports fall flat by some unexpected resurgence of sanity among potential customers who take one look and turn up their noses? Wouldn’t it be nice to see quality win one?
Budding motorcycle builders should revisit the idea of mini choppers as a first project, a way to get their feet wet and find out if their skills and interests really lie in this direction. The risk is low, the potential payoff high, … seems like a no brainer to me.