The cultural impact motorcycles have had on American society is fascinating. One film that stands out, in particular, is Easy Rider. This is a movie that helped popularize motorcycles and cement their place in American culture.
Released in 1969, Easy Rider tells the story of two bikers, played by Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper, who travel across the United States for freedom and adventure.
Easy Rider, The Movie
Fonda plays Wyatt, the movie’s protagonist. Hopper plays Billy, Wyatt’s best friend and fellow biker.
Fonda’s naturalistic acting style combines perfectly with Hopper’s intense and unpredictable acting style. The two co-stars’ on-screen chemistry was essential to the movie’s success and is epitomized in scenes like their iconic campfire conversation.
The movie’s images of Fonda and Hopper riding their motorcycles through the American Southwest helped to romanticize the idea of the “biker” and popularize motorcycles among a new generation of riders and enthusiasts.
Beyond the Movie
But Easy Rider was more than just a movie about motorcycles. It reflected the counterculture movement of the 1960s and the search for freedom and individualism that defined that era.
The movie’s themes of rebellion, independence, and nonconformity resonated with audiences worldwide and helped inspire a new generation of riders and enthusiasts.
Easy Rider also played an essential role in the evolution of Harley-Davidson motorcycles. Before the movie’s release, Harley-Davidson had a reputation for producing large, heavy motorcycles that were seen as outdated and out of touch with modern trends.
The “Captain America” Chopper
But the movie helped to change that perception, showcasing the “Captain America” chopper. The bike was a customized Harley-Davidson motorcycle that became an instant icon and helped to revitalize the brand’s image.
The last “Captain America” bike actually went to auction in 2014 with an estimated value of around $1 million.
NPR interviewed Paul d’Orleans, author of The Chopper: The Real Story, regarding the auction and the motorcycle. He said the bikes in Easy Rider, like Captain America, “did more to popularize choppers around the world than any other film or any other motorcycle.”
Easy Rider Today
Today, Easy Rider remains an important cultural touchstone and a testament to the enduring power of motorcycles and motorcycle culture. It helped a generation of riders discover their first motorcycle and join the motorcycle revolution.
For enthusiasts like myself, the movie represents a defining moment in the history of motorcycles. It’s an enduring symbol of freedom, individualism, and the open road.