Biker Legend, Mondo Porras – The Godfather of Choppers
Revered as the “Godfather of Choppers” by many of his peers, Mondo can look back at an illustrious career in custom bikes as very few can. From judging and putting on bike shows worldwide, to television appearances and hardcover books, his story is as unique as the man himself and his name as instantly recognizable as the long, low and lean bikes Denver’s is most known for.
Of course, it wasn’t always just “Mondo.” In fact, during the early days, back in the sixties when he began his career at Denver’s Choppers in San Bernardino (commonly referred to as Berdoo), Armando Porras was known as Bondo Mondo, due to his talent involving the famous shop’s sleek and long custom frames.
Barely out of high school, Mondo had begun working with Denver Mullins, the original owner of the shop at the time, building custom cars and hot rods. “We decided, at some point, to get some motorcycles and fix ‘em up,” Mondo recalls, “and that’s how we got into playing with bikes. We all bought Harleys and decided we didn’t like the way they looked, so we started building front ends and changing frames and customizing them, and pretty soon people came in and wanted us to do that to their bikes.”
That was shortly after 1967, the year Denver’s Choppers opened its doors, which made it one of the very first businesses in the slowly emerging custom motorcycle industry to manufacture and sell custom parts and accessories. “Back then, there were no catalogs to order parts from, so within a short time, we were known worldwide as the guys to go to for custom parts for choppers,” Mondo explains.
Among the many innovations to soon come out of the small shop were items like rear fenders doubling as oil tanks, wildly stretched and raked frames, and especially springer front ends that kept getting longer and longer. More and more parts sprang up, and Denver’s began building complete custom bikes and shipping them all over the world. It got to the point, according to Mondo, where “you couldn’t pick up a custom bike magazine without seeing a Denver bike in it.”
The Denver’s Chopper style is uniquely its own, according to Mondo, who describes it as long and low. “I’d call it Southern California style. What a lot of people today call a Swedish chopper, is actually a Denver’s chopper. We used to send a lot of bikes over to Sweden, and there’s a motorcycle club in Sweden right now called Denver’s Choppers. It’s been there since the seventies. We were also the first ones who came up with the gooseneck frames.”
It all came to a tragic end, however, in October of 1992, when Denver, who also dabbled in drag boats, drowned during a test run with a safety capsule he and Mondo had designed. For the following year-and-a-half, Mondo stayed at the shop to settle outstanding accounts and take care of legal matters. “What I did was focus more on the drag boats but was still building bikes in the shop as well,” he says.
On June 30, 1997, he re-opened Denver’s Choppers, having moved to Henderson, Nevada, just outside of Las Vegas, for what he calls economic reasons. “During that time some of the things I am most-proud of occurred to me,” he says. “First off, my association with Easyriders Magazine. I could not have done it without the magazine’s timeless support and help over the years. In 2001 I was awarded the trophy for Best Custom Bike Fabricator from Easyriders. I also had the very extreme pleasure of being in David Mann’s last painting for the 30th anniversary of Easyriders. This was a huge deal to me.” Sadly, Easyriders magazine went out of business last year after 50 years as America’s best-loved custom motorcycle magazine.
Mondo was also honored to be awarded the first ever David Mann Kind Award from the David Mann Chopper Fest, and he was installed into the Sturgis Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 2018, along with being voted Cycle Source Magazine’s Man of the Year.
In 2012 he moved up to Reno to be near his daughter and her family and try to slow down a bit, running his one-man-shop in a strip mall near the city’s airport. “But slowing down has not really happened. I still work seven days a week because I love it so much,” Mondo says. “The shop is always filled with bikes, new builds, customers’ bikes, my collection and my friend Gerald Casey’s collection who helps me out at the shop. In fact, we built a radical Knucklehead for Gerald for the Michel Lichter Bike ‘Motorcycle as Art Museum Show’ at the Buffalo Chip in Sturgis this year.”
After more than 50 years in the business, Mondo still adheres to the old Denver philosophy, and his front end, rolling chassis, and complete bikes are as innovative, old-school, and mind-blowing as they were during the early days. “The front ends are our bread and butter,” he says about the trademark look that defines many of the bikes he builds. But his shop contains a number of different bikes styles, not just long choppers. There are a lot of FXR-style bikes and high-performance sport bikes or whatever the select customer desires. “Stuff you can’t buy from Harley anymore, you can buy from us,” he says, “with any engine combination you can imagine.”
Mondo’s also fully involved in the Reno custom bike scene and has several of his own shows, most notably during Street Vibrations but also in places like Hollister and farther afield. After more than 50 years into his career, Mondo shows no signs of slowing down. “I am still building quite a few long bikes the old Denver-style way for customers from all over the country and beyond,” Mondo says. “Most of my customers are hard-working Americans young and old who love choppers. I still build a lot of Springer front ends that go all over the world.”
Speaking of those long Springers, Mondo build an 18-over chrome Springer for the Golden Chopper in the biker film Rough Boys last year. It’s a custom Panhead that you can win! Go to www.roughboysmovie.com for details. He even plays the part of a mysterious character called “The Doctor” in the movie.
As far as retirement goes, Mondo says although he’s in his 70s now, he’s loving it more and more every day as the bikes get better with every build, with new ideas and challenges. “That makes it all worthwhile and exciting to come to work every day,” he says. “I don’t want to ever retire. I’m having too much fun building bikes and hot rods. My running joke is that if you ever find me in my shop bent over my welding table with my hood on and the part finished I was working on, I died a happy man.”
Mondo has spent a lifetime creating amazing custom motorcycles and we’re proud to say that he was Born To Ride.
—Kai Raecke and Dave Nichols