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What is a Frisco Style Chopper?

I love choppers. Like, I really love them. They are so unique in so many different ways that, with a trained eye, you can pretty much tell which region of the country a certain bike came from. Growing up as a skateboarder, skating was the same way and some of you may be able to relate that. East coast style was significantly different than West coast style, and for the most part, still remains that way. So let’s talk about a regional chopper style. Let’s talk about arguably the best known form of it: Frisco style (that's short for San Franscisco, California, by the way).

I’ll start out by saying that everyone has an opinion, you can argue this all day long, but this is my opinion on the matter. Frisco bikes were purpose built. Of course they were trashy and cool looking, but they also functioned well. Harley Big Twins such as Knuckleheads, Panheads and Shovelheads, as well as custom Sportsters. Generally high mounted gas tanks, high mid foot controls, lots of ground clearance, and thin. Go fast and look good doing it. When it came to the gas tanks, more often than not, they had a low tunnel or no tunnel so they sat up high on the backbone. The petcock was moved as far back as it could, and the filler neck was moved as high up as it could. This allowed you to use the full capacity of the gas tank, filling it right to the brim and using every drop with the petcock at the very rear. Harley-Davidson Sportster gas tanks were a common choice. This era and style is where the now-common term Frisco Sportster Gas Tank came from. The purpose being to get as much fuel as you can, while maintaining the skinny factor of the bike. As you can imagine, a flat-bottomed tank with those modifications sitting on top of a Harley backbone could add up to an extra half gallon of gas, or more. Go farther and no more worrying about your bike not starting due to the location of a factory petcock and the angle of the San Franciscan hill you parked it on! I’ve also heard that a reason for this was so your carb didn’t starve on one of the gnarly downhills when gravity made all of your gas move to the front of your tank. It makes sense to me. Keeping your bike narrow lets you slip between cars and generally ride wherever you want.

Another neat thing about the Frisco style was the high foot pegs. A lot of the time, you’d see some super high mids, if any pegs at all. Boot heels resting on the engine cases, bad boy status right there. The reason? Ground clearance. In a super sharp turn, the first thing that’s going to scrape are your pegs. If you eliminate that obstacle, the restriction of your lean goes away. Once again, bad boy status. Speaking of ground clearance, Frisco bikes stereotypically had longer than stock front forks with no rake to the neck. This caused the bike to jack itself up, adding a lot more space between the frame and the pavement. Maybe that’s where the wild bend that your swap meet kickstand has came from? Say what you will, or listen to what your buddy that’s an “expert” and only rides GSXRs says, but a bike that has that setup is unlike anything you’ve ever ridden. I have personally built choppers that are a minimum 6” over with no rake, and I can tell you that zig zagging through cars and avoiding potholes becomes significantly easier.

Purpose-built, performance-minded, narrow and nimble. That’s the best way I can sum up the legendary Frisco style. Politics aside, if you want a good look at who did it the “textbook way”, take a look at the HAMC from the 1960’s through the 1980’s. Guys like Jimmy Souza, Armond Bletcher, Sonny Barger, Cisco Valderrama, and Rooster were all pioneers of said style if you need perfect reference.

Words by: Nick Resty, Haints CLCD

Nick Resty • Photo by: David Carlo
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