Bobber motorcycles can be an incredibly unique and enjoyable way to experience the joys of motorcycling. With their stripped-down minimalistic design, Bobbers have become a popular option among riders who enjoy the old-school look.
Bobbers also make good beginner bikes due to the low seat height instilling confidence in the rider as they are able to plant both feet firmly on the ground when at a standstill.
So, whether you are considering buying an Indian Scout Bobber, Honda Rebel 500, Harley Street Bob or any of the others currently being produced, it is important to weigh the pros and cons of a Bobber motorcycle before making your decision.
As a Triumph Bobber owner for the last 6 years I’m going to cover the good and bad of having a factory made Bobber and I’m writing this specifically for those new to motorcycling to help them ensure they’re purchasing the right motorcycle for their particular requirements.
What is a Bobber Motorcycle?
The original Bobbers emerged around the time of World War II. They were big, heavy Harley Davidson and Indian bikes that the owners had removed everything they could to make them lighter bikes.
Dump the passenger seat, cut down (bob) the fenders, basically remove anything you could to reduce the weight and improve performance.
Today the best Bobber motorcycles are all about minimalism and style – they’re built to look cool, be agile and hopefully come with enough low end torque to give them a quick getaway when the lights turn green.
However, while these bikes may look cool and many offer an exciting riding experience, they do come with a few drawbacks.
Cons of owning a Bobber
First I’ll cover the cons of owning a Bobber motorcycle and after reading, if you’re still considering one then read on for the pros.
On the cons side of owning a factory bobber motorcycle, one of the most significant drawbacks is its cost. Factory-built bobbers are expensive compared to regular motorcycles. Due to their customized design and unique features, their price tag can be significantly higher than that of other bikes in the same category.
Example: In 2023 the Triumph Bobber costs $13,795 and that’s $1100 dearer than the Bonneville T120 and $900 more than the Speed Twin 1200 despite all 3 having the same engine.
The Bonnie and the Speed Twin are traditionally styled bikes with twin shocks at the rear while the Triumph R&D team came up with a brand new rear suspension system to give the Bobber its pre-war hardtail look.
Motorcycles like the Triumph Bobber have huge research and development budgets because they aren’t traditionally styled motorcycles. That cost has to be recouped, hence these high end Bobbers tend to be more expensive than there more traditional counterparts.
Another downside of owning a factory bobber motorcycle is its limited speed. Bobbers are designed for style over function. You’re sat upright with feet slightly forward so most Bobbers on sale today – even those with big engines – will be restricting the top end to around 110mph.
I’ve gone over the TT mountain course and I can tell you that once you go past the ton you are struggling to hold on with the wind resistance blasting you in the chest.
Bobbers aren’t built for long rides. They usually have a small fuel tank, which means they need frequent refuel stops. Moreover, Bobber seats are for one (or should be) which means there’s nowhere to strap your tent and other essentials for a motorcycle camping trip.
Hence the nickname – Bar hoppers.
Another risk is reduced visibility when riding around town due to its low profile which can increase the chances of being overlooked by other drivers. I once parked up behind a car and after dismounting the driver who was sat waiting to pick someone up mentioned that he could not see the bike in his rear view mirror.
Ever since then I’ve been conscious a car could easily reverse into my bike if he needed to manoeuvre backwards to get around a parked vehicle in front of him.
Pros of Owning a Bobber
Its not all bad news though.
One of the primary advantages of owning a factory bobber is its accessibility. Its low seat height and center of gravity make it easy for riders to mount, dismount, and maneuvre in tight spaces.
This is what makes Bobber motorcycles so popular with new riders who love the confidence inspiring low seat as well as old returning bikers like me who still want to ride but require something that comes without the aches and pains of other types of bike.
Additionally, the minimalist design means that the rider can reach all controls comfortably.
Versatility is another advantage of owning a factory bobber. It’s an excellent bike for both short city commutes as well as a Sunday blast out of town and onto the twisties.
Customisability is another factor that sets factory bobbers apart from other motorcycles. Riders can personalize their bikes by adding or removing parts to suit their preferences or needs.
Almost all the Bobber motorcycles available today have tons of custom parts available and you can design your bike as you want it.
Many experienced riders buy the standard bike and modify everything from the handlebars, turn signals, rear and front fender etc. in their garage with after market accessories and create their idea of what a Bobber motorcycle should be.
Read what I did to mine in my long term Bobber review.
Without a doubt this was the big one for me. I’d always loved the look of the old original Bobber style. Even as a 70’s kid it was Dennis Hoppers bike I dreamt of owning whilst staring at the Easy Rider poster I had on my bedroom wall.
I built a chopper in the very early 80’s (see image below) using a pre-unit engine, hardtail frame, King and Queen seat, the whole works and despite all the blood, sweat and tears, I always regretted not building a Bobber instead.
I purchased my Triumph Bobber after seeing it at the 2016 motorcycle show in Birmingham, England. As soon as I got back to the Isle of Man I went to the dealers and pre-ordered it. They weren’t in stock at that time so I ordered it without a test ride.
Not because I didn’t care how it rode but because I knew that if I had the time to build another custom bike it would look very much like the bike I saw at the show so I had to have it. The fact it rips your arms off, handles way better than I thought it would and has enough torque at the low end to keep up with an R1 from the lights was all just a very nice added bonus.
And that’s about what it boils down to. If you think the pre-war design is the definition of a stylish motorcycle and you love the original Bobbers stripped down style then you’ll put up with the lack of luggage space, the hard seat, having to fill up the gas tank every other hour and even not being able to get much past 110mph before the restrictor kicks in.
If you don’t love the looks though then the cons will niggle at you and in the end you’ll trade it in for something a bit more practical. Think long and hard, then choose wisely.