Who is the man behind these custom machines is what every custom motorcycles fan wants to know. Journalists, reporters and writers do a good job at revealing who the well known custom builders are. One of the best ever is Tom Zimberoff, the celebrated author of the 2 reference hard-cover books (maybe 3 very soon) Art Of The Chopper 1 and 2. And there is a good reason why Tom is much more than a motorcycles writer and photographer and has such a deep and acute understanding of our world. Since a very young age Tom is fascinated by our bikes and is a true authentic chopper lover. He wrote a beautiful text about how, as a child, he discovered the chopper culture in the desert of Nevada. It’s very interesting and worth reading slowly (Cyril Huze).
“The first choppers I remember seeing in person lumbered along the shimmering summertime streets of mythological Las Vegas, a small but significantly hip retreat made possible by air-conditioning, long faded into memory since the 1960s and my high-school years there. It was the scene of the Rat Pack and rodeo, one-armed bandits, silver dollars, swimming pools, glamorous women wearing head scarves, big dark sunglasses, and pastel polka dots. There was always a forty-nine-cent breakfast served by a waitress who called everyone Honey. Rough-and-tumble three-patch clubs rumbled through town like Wild West desert posses, slowing down to make a visual statement on the Strip. I was particularly fascinated by the wretched excess of their motors. Maybe, I was susceptible to these loud convolutions of pipes and pig iron as a teenage boy because, in spite of their attraction, they made my blood run cold under the desert sun, mimicking the antipyretic attributes of oil flowing through their infernal plumbing.
These were primitive machines compared to today’s glitzy bikes, but in a way that choppers-as-art invoke the same kind of gut response as does one’s first glimpse of the prehistoric paintings of prey animals on the walls of antediluvian caves in Europe, the impact of which are presumed to strike awe in the beholder. I recall walking by and staring at bikes leaning in choreographed rows in casino parking lots, their chrome and aluminum parts rendered no less lambent by a patina of oil and road grime, and wished I could ride off into a desolate desert landscape on one of them myself.
The first photographs of choppers I remember seeing appeared in Look magazine. In 1967, I saw a series of portraits depicting the startling and new San Francisco counter culture which included Irving Penn’s perfect portrayals of Hells Angels and their Harleys in a studio setting. Then, in 1969, again in Look, I saw a young Ann-Margret of Viva Las Vegas (the movie) and Elvis Presley days wheeling down a desert byway just outside Sin City on a perfect, red Triumph chopper with tank scoops and a chrome girder, wearing a stars-and-stripes bustier that mimicked Peter Fonda’s characterization of Captain America on the silver screen that same year.
The latter publicity picture, made by my friend Douglas Kirkland, had stuck in my mind for decades, since long before I met and became friends with him. Older and securely established in the photo biz, he unselfishly helped me get one of my first important photo assignments. Unconsciously, perhaps, his and Penn’s photographs were catalysts for my interest in choppers later on. Now, I seek them out as a personal predilection and to record them for posterity as artifacts of a cultural insurgency.
Builders abound. Artists do not. That is to say, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of competent mechanics and fabricators who can build a really tight, beautiful motorcycle. But only a few can go beyond imitation, to meld function and style into something never seen before "