1968 H-D Chopper

The glory days of the American chopper

1968 H-D Chopper

Long before Jesse James, Billy Lane and the late Indian Larry became household names, there were hundreds of talented artists and fabricators turning out extraordinary custom motorcycles like this 1968 Harley-Davidson XLH show bike.

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This machine, with its extended front end, is a classic example of the chopper style that took hold in the late 1960s and exploded in popularity in the ’70s, fueled by the quintessential freedom-loving motorcycling movie, “Easy Rider.”

It’s also a prime example of the type of bike that was all but legislated out of existence in the late ’70s and early ’80s.

This chopper began life back in 1977, when Kenneth Baumgarth decided to turn his 1968 Sportster into something a bit more stylish. Four years later, he was done.

Typical of many “custom Harleys” of the day, only the XLH Sportster engine in this machine was built by Harley-Davidson. The rest was hand-made or obtained from aftermarket specialty parts suppliers.

The bike features a custom-built rigid frame with custom sheet metal body parts, all created by Denver’s Choppers, which is still building classic raked choppers today. There are no welds or joints showing anywhere, and the sheet metal of the tank is carefully contoured into the frame.

In addition to the superb external work, the engine cases, connecting rods, and flywheels have been polished, intake and exhaust valves have been enlarged, and high-performance cams were bolted in.

When he donated the machine to the Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum, where it is now on display, Baumgarth said he built the bike for the show circuit, but never did put it on display.

A close look at the bike reveals that, like many customs of the day, the bike has no front brake, and a passenger would have to be extremely careful not to get burned by the dramatic, upswept pipes while perched on the rear “seat.”

But practical concerns weren’t always a high priority for chopper artists, as forks got longer and longer, and “ape-hanger” handlebars got higher and higher.

Eventually, these radical machines prompted many state legislatures to step in and regulate fork lengths, handlebar heights and other motorcycle modifications. In the end, it was those laws that took the extreme edge off a custom-bike movement that is seeing a renaissance three decades later.
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61 cubic inches

Internal expanding shoe,
rear only

chain drive

Motorcycle Hall
of Fame Museum, donated by
Kenneth Baumgarth

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