Motorcycles to Turn Into a Bobber

ATTENTION: Do you have the right coverage? Compare rates to find the best deal on motorcycle insurance.

Please enter your zip to get started:

If you’re working on a motorcycle project, you’ve likely got a picture in your head of the general style you want for the bike. 

Bobbers are a popular choice for many custom motorcycles. 

It’s a style that is fairly easy to achieve and customize for the newer builder, and a decent result doesn’t have to break the bank. 

Continue reading to learn how to start your bobber project off on the right track. 

What makes a motorcycle a bobber?

Like most “styles” of motorcycle, the bobber came into existence due to function over form. 

As motorcycles and motorcycle racing in particular gained popularity in the 1930s and following WWII, riders would often modify their stock bikes to perform better on the track. 

Bobbers, like the original cafe racers, were modified with performance and practicality in mind. 

In order to reduce weight, improve handling, and increase speed, riders would “bob” their motorcycles. This would often involve:

  • Shortening the fenders. 
  • Removing any unnecessary parts that didn’t contribute to speed and performance. 
  • Removing or minimizing suspension for flat track racing.  

The classic look of a bobber typically includes a hardtail frame without rear suspension, simple body work, and minimal accessories with an overall low and streamlined profile. 

Best Motorcycles to Turn into a Bobber

The original bobbers were typically built from Harleys, Indians, and Triumphs. 

However, you can make a successful bobber out of plenty of makes and models. 

Depending on your budget, you’ve got a variety of options for a base motorcycle to start with. 

If you’re starting to search for a used motorcycle to turn into a bobber, use some of the suggestions below to help narrow your choices. 

Some key qualities to look for when choosing a base for you bobber include:

  • Air-cooled engine. 
  • Carbs. 
  • Minimal electronics. 
  • Chain drive. 
  • Single backbone frame. 

Harley-Davidson Sportster

The Sportster is a popular choice to turn into a bobber. 

The 1957-85 Ironhead Sportsters and the modern Sportsters (1986-present) all make a good base. 

Different years may be better than others depending on parts availability and the exact style you’re going for.  

Triumph Bonneville

Triumphs, both vintage and modern, are another good choice to bob. 

The original Triumphs were another one of the classic bobber style models.

Honda CB

Honda CBs can be found for relatively cheap, and have a huge availability of parts. 

The engines are reliable and easy to work on. 

Kawasaki KZ

Kawasaki KZ models are another good option to bob. 

KZ frames lend themselves as good candidates to hardtail. The stock geometry of the frame makes that modification a bit easier. 

Yamaha XS

The Yamaha XS is another popular base motorcycle. 


They’re easy to modify and widely available. 

Specifically, the XS650 is an excellent choice for a bobber. The engine is great, parts are easy to find, and they’re easy to work on. 

Can you turn any bike into a bobber?

With the right tools, budget, and time, yes, any motorcycle can technically be turned into a bobber. 

However, some models are definitely better suited towards the classic bobber style than others. 

Stock Bobbers

If you want the bobber style without the trouble of building it yourself, there are some stock options out there. You’ll just be paying for it. 

Some stock bobber motorcycles to check out include:

  • Harley Davidson Street Bob
  • Harley Davidson Sportster Iron
  • Indian Scout Bobber
  • Triumph Bonneville Bobber
  • Yamaha Bolt

Tips for Building a Bobber Motorcycle

Just like any successful motorcycle project, a little planning upfront goes a long way when building a bobber.

First, you’ll want to think about how you want your bike to look when the project is finished. 

Spend some time online, in forums, and looking through pictures of motorcycles you’d like to use for information. 

Noting the key features you like will help you figure out the major steps for your build and any parts you’ll need to buy. 

Next, try to find a base motorcycle that gets you as close to your end vision as reasonably possible. 

Of course, you’ll want to balance affordability and parts availability when choosing a bike to bobber as well. 

Finally, since a bobber motorcycle style is often achieved through reduction, you’ll need to think and plan things out before you just start cutting off or removing things from the bike. 

While a stripped down bike is often fine for a track, you’ll still need all the street legal parts if you plan to register and ride it. 

Continue reading to get some ideas for the key components for your bobber build.

Frame

The frame and overall stance or angle of your motorcycle is one of the most important factors to get the bobber look. 

Original bobbers featured a rigid frame, which removes the swingarm or shocks in the rear. 

To modify a soft tail bike into a bobber, many builders will cut the stock frame in order to weld on a hardtail. 

Bolt-on frames are available for certain models. 

Front Suspension

If you’ve hard-tailed the frame, you’ll be changing the angles and the wheelbase of the motorcycle. 

In order to keep your frame’s bottom rails parallel to the ground, you’ll typically need to shorten the front suspension.

Alternative options include swapping out the front end completely or changing the rake of the steering stem. 

Seats

After modifying the frame, you’ll need a solution for the seat. 

If you’ve hardtailed the frame, it’s usually a good idea to select a seat with springs to help absorb the bumps and vibrations as you ride. 

Smaller, solo seats are the most popular choice for bobbers.

If you’re riding fast and looking to reduce weight, a small single seat is all you need.

Gas Tank

Like the seat, if you’ve modified the frame, you’re going to need a new gas tank and a way to mount it. 

The gas tank plays another big role in the overall shape and angle of a bobber. 

You’ll typically want to choose something with a lower profile that will flow with the increased downward angle of the frame. 

Fenders

Another classic piece of the bobber style is the shorter front and rear fenders. 

Bobber motorcycles typically feature shorter, chopped fenders in both the front and the rear. 

If you need to mount new fenders, be sure to allow for enough clearance for your tires. 

Tires

You can use stock tires for your bobber build, or you can go with fatter tires to further build upon the overall shape of the bike. 

Exhaust

The exhaust you choose can also have a pretty big impact on the overall style and feel of your bike. 

Straight pipes are a popular choice for bobbers. 


Exhaust wrap is another way to add a custom look. 

Electronics & Controls

Simplicity is a key component to bobbers. 

One thing you’ll need to think about is where to put your electronics, turn signals, cables, wires, and other controls. 

Popular choices for hiding and simplifying these items include:

  • Clip-on mirrors. 
  • Small, low profile turn signals. 
  • A fake oil tank to hide electrical components. 
  • Routing cables and wires through the handlebars. 

Now that you’ve got some of the basics of the bobber, it’s up to you to decide on what you’ll do for your own bike. 

Just remember to start with a plan and build a bike you’ll enjoy working on and riding.