Thursday, September 18, 2014


The iconic image of Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper in 'Easy Rider'
It's the most famous motorcycle in the world - everyone knows the bike, even if they know nothing about motorcycles or '60s counterculture. Many times more people recognize the 'Captain America' chopper than ever saw 'Easy Rider', and movie posters of Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper riding their choppers across America still adorn the walls of college dorms around the world.  It's an enduring image, a romantic touchstone from an era when Freedom seemed possible via a cool motorcycle and a groovy outfit.
A screen capture in the film, with Dennis Hopper and Jack Nicholson horsing around on their choppers
The 'Captain America' and 'Billy' bikes were the brainchild of 'Easy Rider' Associate Producer Cliff Vaughs, and the first pair (the 'hero' or 'A' bikes) were built by Ben Hardy in LA, while a second pair (the substitute or 'B' bikes) were built by mechanic Larry Marcus at his and Cliff Vaugh's house in Santa Monica.  The full story of the origin of these remarkable motorcycle will appear in October in my book 'The Chopper: the Real Story' (published by Gestalten, who also published 'The Ride'), and it's a long, complicated, and controversial saga.

That story isn't quite over, as what's claimed as an authentic survivor 'Captain America' is coming up for auction October 18th at the Profiles in History auction house.  Owner Michael Eisenberg purchased the chopper from the National Motorcycle Museum in Anamosa, Iowa earlier this year, and has decided to sell the machine,  "It was with much deliberation and trepidation that I decided to sell it...When I came to the realization of what I actually had just sitting in my warehouse I felt it would be better served if it could once again be on public display. I also decided that a portion of the proceeds should benefit some charities, the American Humane Association and the National Motorcycle Museum in Anamosa Iowa so that they can continue to educate the public on the history of the motorcycle."
This is my 'wet plate' photograph of the very machine at auction, from an hour I spent at a roadside parking lot on Mulholland Drive in LA taking photos of the machine in company with its creator, Cliff Vaughs.  [Visit
for more images.]
The machine at auction was apparently built from the remains of the 'B' Captain America bike by Dan Haggerty, who was the 'chopper handler' for 'Easy Rider' after Associate Producer Cliff Vaughs, along with most of the initial crew on the film (including this bike's builder, Larry Marcus), was fired as Columbia Pictures took control of the film's budget and production.  The 'B' bike was partially destroyed at the end of the film, and Haggerty apparently kept the parts.  The remaining 3 film bikes were stolen before the end of production, and never recovered, although pieces of these bikes have circulated through the bike collector crowd (and the rumor mill) in the 46 years since the film was made.

Press releases about the 'Captain America' sale are quoting estimates of $1Million, which seems cheap when one considers the astronomical price of far less famous Ferraris, and the rumored $1.1M sale price of the Rollie Free/'bathing suit' Vincent 3 years ago, which is also among the most famous machines in history, along with TE Lawrence's 'fatal' Brough Superior SS100 - which was offered for £2M several years ago.

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GuitarSlinger said...

Sure .. the 'Captain America' bike is the iconic bike from the film and probably will sell for a godawful fortune ... only to be stuffed away in some collection/museum .

But give me the ' Billy Bike ' any day . Despite its ' supporting role ' status ..... in my opinion that ... was the rider/looker of the two

Anonymous said...

In other words, it's a bitsa. Waiting for Fonda to chime in.

GuitarSlinger said...

Paul - A heads up to perhaps pass on to your publisher . I just pre-ordered your " The Chopper " book from my local independent bookstore . Boy ... there's a ton of conflicting info floating around about it .. from the price [ $45 - $65 ] ... right on down to the release date [ everything from this past August to October .. ].. so you might want to bang on the publisher/distributers door so they can get the correct info out to everyone ... from Amazon right on down to local iconic independent booksellers .

Regardless of the info snafu though ... I'm very much looking forward to the book ... so

Rock On - Ride On - Remain calm - and Carry On

Anonymous said...

There is a good bit with Sugar Bear and the facts behind the Easy Rider motorcycles in a video called “History of the Chopper”. It is a Discovery Channel DVD done with Jesse James.

The Vintagent said...

Click on the links to Ben Hardy and Cliff Vaughs; Sugar Bear is a great protector of black chopper history, but he doesn't know the whole story. That will appear in my book 'Chopper: the Real Story' coming out in a month.

Anonymous said...

Weird scenes inside the gold mine, Paul. Great story on the "Captain America" bike, but hard on the heels of that explosive photo of a burning Harley in the immediately preceding post (Halfway There). Too close for comfort for my memory of seeing "Easy Rider" the first time ever in the Gramercy Theater on 23rd Street in NYC and being pissed, super pissed.

I saw "Gimme Shelter" a year later in the same venue, several NYC chapter Hells Angels stalking the aisles. Weird, too.


rory macon said...

Long and Lean, Mighty Fine Rides; Although Peter Fonda called it a Saturday Night Special