“Captain America Motorcycle,” the Harley-Davidson chopper ridden by Peter Fonda in 1969’s Easy Rider is arguably one of the most iconic motorcycles in pop culture history. It embodies the rebellious spirit that signaled a cultural shift and inspired a counter-culture movement, and became a symbol of the anti-establishment.
I’m absolutely captivated by this film for a multitude of reasons! First off, it boasts three incredibly eccentric stars who bring a whole new level of wackiness to the screen. It doesn’t just stop there; the movie boldly establishes fresh standards in the world of cinema. The title, Easy Rider, carries a fascinating secret as it subtly alludes to the world of prostitutes.
But wait, there’s more! The iconic bike featured in the film was skillfully crafted by a team of talented African American builders, adding a unique and culturally significant touch to the whole experience. And here’s the cherry on top – the original bike, a true cinematic artifact, was auctioned off. Interestingly, two previous versions of the authentic bikes had been snapped up years and sold by none other than the TV-star Dan Haggerty. Talk about a ride through film history! – Ed
About the Movie: The bike was featured in the 1969 movie Easy Rider, directed by Dennis Hopper after a script he co-wrote. Peter Fonda’s character took it on a cross-country, tragic ride, and it also featured in the final, fiery scene in the film’s third act. Easy Rider became an instant hit, not just because of the stellar cast (Fonda, Hopper himself, Jack Nicholson), but also because of the choppers used including Captain America.
The Chopper was rebuilt by actor Dan Haggerty. (The three other bikes used in the production were stolen prior to the film’s release.)
But despite the bike’s fame, the history of the creation of the bikes used in Easy Rider has for many years been largely unknown. And the man who designed and coordinated the building of the motorcycles, Clifford Vaughs, says he and the other bike builders have not received proper credit for their work.
The motorcycles used in Easy Rider were “Choppers,” crafted by hand. And Choppers are “a type of customized motorcycle usually defined by a stretched out wheel-base, and pulled back handlebars, and a sissy bar, and a wild paint job,” says Paul d’Orleans, the author of the book, The Chopper: The Real Story. “It’s a quintessentially American folk art form.”
What a Good Pop Culture Movie will do: The movie did more to popularize choppers around the world than any other film or any other motorcycle. I mean, suddenly people were building choppers in Czechoslovakia, or Russia, or China, or Japan.
The Men Behind the Machine – In bits and pieces, the story behind the Easy Rider choppers began to emerge publicly, and identified two African-American bike builders: Clifford “Soney” Vaughs, who designed the bikes, and Ben Hardy, a prominent chopper-builder in Los Angeles, who worked on their construction.
Clifford Vaughs, for his part, says he acted as an associate producer early on in the film’s production. By his account, he designed the bikes himself, and is responsible for the distinctive look of the “Captain America” bike. He says he also worked with Ben Hardy to purchase engines at a Los Angeles Police Department auction, and coordinated the building of the bikes.
The Controversy: To this day, it is not certain that this bike was the authentic one. The claim was that it was rebuilt by “Grizzly Adams” actor Dan Haggerty from whatever was left of the bike used by the stuntman in the fiery crash in the film (Fonda himself gifted it to Haggerty), and was the most authentic thing possible. It even came with three letters attesting this much: one from the National Motorcycle Museum, one from Fonda and one from Haggerty.
Its principal authentication comes from Haggerty, who had a bit part in Easy Rider and claims to have taken possession of the only bike that survived the filming of the druggy road movie.
The Hitch in the get-a-long: Haggerty admitted in an interview with The Times, that he has authenticated and sold two Captain America bikes. Some people might think of that as a problem. But in reality, it is just some good-ole American salesmanship.
Chopper Design: The design of the Captain America chopper is characterized by its elongated front end, stretched-out frame, and distinctive paint job featuring the American flag motif on the fuel tank. The bike’s design was heavily influenced by the chopper culture of the 1960s, which emphasized”
- The rejection of societal norms
Why Captain America is an Icon: The spirit of Captain America lives on: a middle finger to the establishment, embodied in a roaring chopper.
But wait, there’s more: From Peter Fonda,
“Terry Southern, the writer of Easy rider. gave us the title, Easy Rider. That was fabulous. That title alone is cool. Easy Rider is a term for a whore’s old man; not a pimp, but a dude who lives with a chick. Because he’s got the easy ride. Well, that’s what happened to America—Liberty became a whore and the whole country took an easy ride.”
Now take a look at Paul Yaffe’s version of Captain America Tiny Custom Bike.
Sources for the Captain America Motorcycle: