The Wacky World Of Mini-Choppers
Ride On Down The Highway With Your Butt 12" From The Road
They're everywhere you turn. You can't sort through the reams of them on Ebay Motors to find any real bikes. You can't pass by an empty parking lot without some kid blasting by on one. You'll even find some very righteous bikers complete with full leathers and a bad-a$$ attitude riding hopped-up versions down the street and somehow keeping a straight face! They're mini-choppers, and they're the latest and very mad motorcycling craze!
Take a modern custom chopper. Wash it in really hot water until it shrinks... way down. There you go! You have a mini-chopper.
Mini-choppers are usually built around 50cc - 110cc single cylinder four stroke engines (although there are electric versions, lawn-mower engined versions, etc.). The most popular motor is one of the myriad Chinese clones of the old Honda 50cc Mini-Trail and 90cc Step-Through engine.
Designed in the early '60s, this little Honda and its clones are distinctive in their almost horizontal finned cylinder arrangement. These motors are cheap to build, and if they come from a respectable clone manufacturer are virtually indestructable.
There are some other engines that are fitted into the mini-choppers, such as the Chinese clones of the Honda CB100-125, which feature a more conventional upright finned cylinder that looks more like a "real motorcycle." These are the favourites of the "hop-up" crowd as it is fairly simple with off-the-shelf third party hop-up kits to bring these single cylinder bikes to 200cc or more, allowing the mini-chopper rider to experience freeway speeds while being held up barely a foot off the ground by a spindly bicycle-thickness frame. Now that's scary!
There are precious few states and countries that will legally allow you to register, insure and ride your mini-chopper down the street. So, what do you do with a mini-chopper? Good question, and one that has a direct relationship to the burgeoning number of classified ads in the local papers selling "Mini-Chopper: Like New. Barely Ever Ridden."
That's because there really isn't anywhere to ride these things. The extended front end, skinny front tire and general flimsiness of the bike rule out riding them off-road on anything but the most manicured lawn. It seems like they're caught in the Segway Catch-22: "I'd buy one if I could ride it somewhere, but I can't, so I won't."
However, with an average street price below $500, the mini-choppers are less than 10% the price of an equally unusable Segway, thus more people take the plunge. If you shop carefully, you can be the proud owner of a 50cc mini-chopper, brand new, right out of the crate from China, for $199. Now you can take it home and wax it, since there isn't much you really can do with it, unless you have a really long private driveway.
Some of the mini-choppers come from China with various homologations which allow them to be road-registered, like ECC for the European Union, but those are few and far between, and are generally far more costly. More critical even if you were to be in a jurisdiction that allows the registration of mini-choppers for road use is how you're going to convince your insurance company to cover an underpowered, fragile, tiny vehicle that keeps your face at the level of an SUV bumper.
However, since the continent is tilted and everything that's loose rolls towards California, you will find a fair amount of riders who have gone through that state's regulatory hoops and have figured out a way to get a legal license plate on their mini-choppers. These are usually hopped-up to around 150-200cc, have top speeds near 70mph (gasp!), have the frames beefed up to put up with the stresses of freeway riding with a full-sized adult's weight on the thin tubing, and should feature some form of prayer beads that the whole thing doesn't break in half going over a bump with a Peterbilt on your tail.
Mini-choppers come in all shapes and sizes, and some versions can cost well over $3,000! They're fun to look at and the girls think they're cute... but where can you ride them??? And why would you want to???