Yes! Did you know that Chrome’ show in LA exposed an emotionally charged, ragged hole in the history of motorcycling. The discreet mention that Ben Hardy had created the ‘Captain America’ and ‘Billy’ choppers for the film Easy Rider blew my mind – Why didn’t I know this? Why isn’t this part of the folklore surrounding this epochal film? The reasons are myriad, but the effect is the same – this man is nearly invisible on the Motorcycle Culture radar.
A little digging on the web revealed some photos of Hardy and his shop, and some details on the ‘build’ of the Captain America bike. Ben Hardy’s Motorcycle Service was located at 1168 E. Florence in Los Angeles, which is now an auto repair shop. As Hardy looks to be in his late 40s in the photographs, I would presume he is dead now, but I’ll be on the hunt for more info and family photographs – trust The Vintagent; this story is going to come out.
The story thus far: Peter Fonda, the producer of Easy Rider, hired Cliff Vaughs to coordinate the motorcycles for the film, and Cliff tapped Ben Hardy for the actual construction of the machines. I’ve heard a rumor that 3 ‘Captain America’ replicas were built, but I’ll fact check that (it’s rumored one bike still exists, although the principal bikes were apparently stolen from the props warehouse after the movie was completed).
Ben Hardy used standard H-D frames, ca. ’48-’56, and used Buchanan’s frame shop to alter the steering head angle to 45 degrees. The steering head was cut off and repositioned, and the resultant extreme rake required a 12″ extension to the telescopic forks. A set of A.E.E. fork clamps are used, with extended handlebar clamps (‘dog bones’); the handlebars have a rise of 13″ – not yet in ‘ape hanger’ territory.
It’s no surprise Ben Hardy didn’t receive proper recognition for his role in creating the chopper. Back in those days it was much easier to take credit for the inventions and ideas of black people. Glad this little known fact has finally been revealed.