Monday, May 19, 2014


The fantastic '70s title drawing of 'Not So Easy' (1973)
For the past 6 months I've been intensively researching the history of choppers for my upcoming book 'Chopper: the True Story', with the publisher Gestalten, for whom I wrote 'The Ride' in association with Chris Hunter, Gary Inman, and Dave Edwards.  'The Ride' is still the #1 motorcycle book on, and 40,000 copies are in print...let's hope 'Chopper: the True Story' will be as successful!
Evel Knievel was under contract with Harley-Davidson in 1973, so H-D's permission was required to film him at his Anaheim stadium jump in 1973.  Here Cliff Vaughs pats Evel on the back, as he tests the ramp, and his Sportster, the day before the big jump
One of my research projects was to dig a little deeper into the story behind 'Easy Rider', and specifically the creation of the 'Captain America' and 'Billy' choppers.  I've reported previously that it was the combination of Cliff Vaughs and Ben Hardy which produced these machines, and spending time with Cliff last week, plus interviews with others who were witnesses to the building of the bikes, has actually deepened the mystery for me, rather than clarifying the story!  This will all be explained in the book...  I've certainly learned a lot more about the importance of black and Latino influences on the creation of the motorcycle style we call chopper from my research, and the relationship of hot rod/custom culture to the evolution from the bob-job to the chopper.
Cliff's wife Wendy Vaughs rides an Aermacchi/Harley two stroke in an evasive move
After discovering that the last remaining 'Captain America' chopper now resides in the Los Angeles area (previously it was on display at the National Motorcycle Museum in Anamosa, Iowa), it seemed appropriate to reunite Cliff Vaughs with the motorcycle he organized for 'Easy Rider'.  That reunion happened last week in Los Angeles, and the story will be published in print around the time 'Chopper' is published in September (sorry to make you wait, but it's worth it, and part of the deal I worked out with Gestalten).
Luckily, Evel's jump was a success, and Vaughs' shot of him airborne, in slow motion, is a thing of beauty
Cliff Vaughs continued his relationship with Peter Fonda after after 'Easy Rider' was finished, and in 1973 Vaughs directed 'Not So Easy', a motorcycle safety film featuring Fonda and Evel Kneivel, as well as Cliff and his then-wife Wendy as rider/examples in the film.  Harley-Davidson provided an example of each bike in their range for the film, from Aermacchi two-strokes to big twin, all of which are used.
Peter Fonda addresses the audience at the beginning and end of the film, in his usual laconic style
Pat de Turk, Vaughs' house-mate at the time, recalls: "In 1974, I found myself living with Cliff again in Venice, where he had a huge collection of new Harley Davidsons in his backyard.  I worked with (assisted) him on the making of "It's Not So Easy", his motorcycle safety film. I was with the filming of Fonda, Knievel, Billy Smith, and Otis Young (Cliff told me he cut Otis's scene). Then I once took out one of the full dress hogs for a ride, and then watched as over the next few weeks/months all the bikes just seemed to disappear."
Cliff Vaughs riding on the Pacific Coast Highway during 'Not So Easy'
'Not So Easy' disappeared from the 'Net a few years ago, but has reappeared via a 'safety film' website: it's a fabulous period piece, and the title logo alone deserves some kind of award for '70s chopperland coolness. Stay tuned for more news of my 'Chopper' book.


Rhynchocephalian said...

A book on the way you say? Where do I sign?! Looking forwards!

Unknown said...

Oh my, I saw that film back in 1976-77 when I took a friend to get his motorcycle license. We used my 67 BMW R60/2 for the test because it was so easy to ride slow. Oh those were the days, thanks for the memory trip.