It’s not a motorcycle baby, it’s a chopper.
If only the real thing will do, with outrageously kicked out forks, the top banana seat, vibrating V-twin motor, plus matching Peter Fonda/Captain America outfits, then the California Motorcycle Company Easy Rider replica is the only chopper for you.
Otherwise you would be in serious danger of looking like a bit of a pillock, obviously… .
For a moment, everything falls into place so perfectly that I really could be starring in the most famous biker movie ever made. Riding through the Florida traffic to return the stunning Captain America chop to its owner, I’ve almost reached my destination when I pull up at a set of lights, glance up and realise that I’m sitting right alongside a mean-looking dude in a large white pick-up truck.
Riding through the Florida traffic, The big white pick-up truck pulled alongside at the traffic lights again and again. If this was the closing scene from Easy Rider, I suddenly realise, by now he’d have blasted me with the second barrel of his shotgun, having already unloaded the first barrel on my pal Billy a few yards down the road.
Instead of which the truck driver looks down and grins broadly as the lights change, I let out the clutch and rumble off on what must be the most evocative, if least practical, bikes ever to be put into series production. Not to mention one of the most famous. It’s no exaggeration to say that the Captain America Harley that Peter Fonda’s character, Wyatt, rode in the 1969 movie Easy Rider is probably the most instantly recognisable motorcycle of all time.
The low-budget road movie, released in 1969, became a huge commercial success. It big stars not only of Fonda, Dennis Hopper (who directed as well as played Billy) and Jack Nicholson (as George, the drunken Texan lawyer they pick up along the way), but also the bikes – and particularly the more radical and eyecatching Captain America.
The actual Harleys that starred in the movie did not survive, so ex-Los Angeles Police Department Harleys were used to create the authentic looking chop, with its looooong, long, front forks.
What happened to the originals ?
As far as anyone seems to know, there were two of each model used in Easy Rider, based on the panhead model from the early Fifties. One of the Captain America bikes was destroyed in filming the final sequence. The other, along with both Billy bikes, was stolen from a California garage shortly after filming was finished. At this time there had been no publicity for the film, and the bikes were almost certainly dismantled and sold in pieces.
Various people have built one-off replicas since then, and some have even been passed off as the real thing. But now Peter Fonda himself has teamed up with the California Motorcycle Company to bring Captain America back to life.
Which explained how I came to be in a parking lot behind the back of Carl’s Speed Shop in Daytona Beach during Bike Week, holding my Fonda-replica stars ’n’ stripes helmet as I looked over the CMC chopper.
This one is definitely official:California Motorcycle Company, in conjunction with Fonda-White Productions, is building a limited series of 750 bikes of both the Captain America and Billy bikes, very much based on the originals but with new S&S engines and a few essential updates.
Inevitably there are a few compromises involved in transferring the outrageous original custom bike into a road-legal, rideable bike. Those mighty front forks are ten inches longer than stock, but at 36 degrees their rake is less radical than the 42 degrees of the original. The real Captain Americas front wheel lacked not only a mudguard but also a brake; the replica has a drilled disc, plus another instead of the original drum at the rear.
But such practical necessities apart, the bike’s look is amazingly correct. The apehanger bars (not, in fact, quite as tall as the originals); the tiny tank; the studded banana seat above a hardtail rear end; the meandering exhaust pipes with their fishtail silencers… Even the big pushrod V-twin motor looks like a panhead, though in reality it’s a standard 88ci (1442cc) S&S lump fitted with a pair of period-style valve covers.
This bike’s modern details even include turn signals but these mods certainly didn’t detract from the bike’s impact as I fastened the strap of my Fonda-replica helmet, stepped over the ultra-low seat, reached up to the bars and hit the starter button, another non-original part.
The big V-twin came to life with a low, chugging exhaust note that was quieter than I expected but (I discovered on replaying the video later) very faithful to the original. And then I was off, following that far-away front wheel out into the Daytona Beach traffic with my boots up on the forward-set footpegs and a big grin on my face. If any recent production bike was built for style rather than performance it’s this one, but for gentle blatting round Daytona it was great fun.
The big S&S motor hardly felt as though it was kicking out the claimed 75bhp, but it had enough torque to send the bike chugga-lugging forward with plenty of urgency. Urgently enough to make me hang tightly on to those shiny apehangers, though I wouldn’t have wanted to ride it to Florida all the way from Los Angeles, over 2000 miles to the west, as Captain America had in the movie, even if I had been full of drugs.
Engine performance was typical of many big cruisers, and the bike tracked fine in a straight line, but those long forks and the lack of rear suspension inevitably gave a very strange feeling in corners. Even a simple slow-speed change of direction made those long fork legs feel as though they were getting tangled up, and with so much trail the bike didn’t really want to turn at all.
Given more practice it wasn’t so bad, but Fonda’s original bike, with its even more heavily raked front end, must have been really tricky to manoeuvre.The leant-back riding position and complete lack of rear suspension meant for a distinctly unfomfortable ride, too. My back was aching after just a short ride, so what Captain America would have felt like after riding the 2000-miles plus from LA to Florida doesn’t bear thinking about.
That was not the only discomfort, either. In his autobiography, `Don’t Tell Dad,’ Fonda recalls ending a long day on the road by ordering a cold beer and being unable to drink it because both of his arms were locked straight!
The bike’s seat was not its only uncomfortable feature; Squeezing the handlebar lever had little effect other than to make the forks dive and twitch to the right, Though at least some slowing power was transmitted to the skinny 21-inch front Avon Roadrunner. The fatter, five-inch wide rear Avon and the bike’s weight bias made the similarly sized rear disc distinctly more useful.
I didn’t travel far enough to come across a hippy commune or the Mardi Gras, but a spin on Captain America was definitely enough to get me in the spirit of the Sixties. At $23,3,995 the Fonda/CMC bike is not cheap, any more than it is a sensible form of transport. But it looks and feels just right, it’s great fun to ride (for short distances!), and it’s a piece of rumbling, rolling two-wheeled history with an unmistakable style of its own.
For anyone whose life was changed the first time they saw Easy Rider, or even for those who just want the opportunity to be Captain America, this is likely to prove very hard to resist.
Get bike insurance from Carole Nash for the CMC Fonda.
Engine Air-cooled 45-degree S&S Super Stock V-twin
Claimed power (bhp) 75bhp
Compression ratio –
Front tyre 90/90 x 21in Avon Roadrunner
Rear tyre 5.00 x 16in Avon Speedmaster
Front suspension Telescopic Showa, no adjustment
Rear suspension Rigid
Front brake CMC caliper, 300mm disc
Rear brake CMC caliper, 300mm disc
Top speed 110 mph
Fuel capacity 18 litres (4.7 US gals)
Current price cost $23,995