The Easy Rider Bikes – Built by Ben Hardy and Cliff Vaughs

98 percent of all creation is accident, and 1 percent is intellect.     At least that what Dennis Hopper said.    I think thats an extremely humble way to describe natural talent and desire.   Hell, mostly desire.   But then again, Dennis Hopper smoked a lot of pot.

I’ve watched American Chopper since it came out.     Jesse James makes some killer bikes.     Been to bike shows and seen some really custom bikes that just blow my mind, and a few make me just wonder why.  Anyone who fabricates something out of metal and it ends up rideable and 2 wheels tho, has my respect.    I can’t do it.   I never tried, and its always been this goal of mine to get to a place in life that I could try.   I think I could make something cool. Maybe an old school bobber from the 40s or 50’s.    I love that history;   Guys came home from WWII, started cutting off fenders and lightening up their bikes so they’d go faster.    Thats when the custom bike was born. But what is the most famous custom ever?   To me, its pretty easy.    I bet most people can tell you what this bike is.

Captain America Bike from Easy Rider

Captain America – Easy Rider

Man, I double dog dare you to find me a more recognizable bike.   I can’t figure what that bike would be.   Evel Knevel?   Steve McQueen in the Great Escape?   Both are great bikes, but would you know em if you saw em?   Whether or not you’ve seen the movie, that bike is an icon.   It’s a 1950’s panhead motorcycle ripped from its police bike frame (peter Fonda bought 4 old police bikes from ranging from 1952 to 1954 for the movie) , and then someone got all freaky creative with it.    The rake is crazy, the fender is gone, and there is no rear suspension. Hell, there’s no front brake.     I am not a chopper guy, but you gotta respect that teardrop gas tank, the king and queen seat and you’ll find waldo faster than you can find the rear shocks.       Maybe I’ve got my head lodged up Easy Rider’s ass (and that may be true), but tell me a more famous bike.    Either way, you can’t tell me a bike that influenced more people to ride, and start customizing.

When The Easy Rider concept was quickly made into form, Peter Fonda set out to get him a couple of bikes for the movie.   There’s lots of controversy about who built these bikes.    Some say Dan Haggerty, who was in the movie.  The guy who painted the bikes, his son says it was him (his dad, that is).     Some say it was Peter Fonda.

But the guy who built them was a guy named Ben Hardy.    Ben was an African american man who knew Harleys, and knew what he was doing.      When Cliff Vaughs was asked by Fonda to oversee the building of the bikes, Vaugh’s turned to Hardy who was well known (if you were black) in Los Angeles as the go to guy to build a killer bike, and do it right.

Ben Hardy Easy Rider Bike

Ben Hardy was the man who built the Easy Rider bikes in 1968. A man lost in history, yet was one of the men who built the most famous bike ever built. Click on his picture for a cool story about someone who dealt with him.

Peter had only one thing he wanted on the bike.   He wanted captain America to have a flag on his gas tank.   Beyond that, the design was left to Vaughs.      I gotta think tho… Peter was an experienced rider, and Dennis hopper wasn’t.    That had to have come up in the conversation somewhere, because the Billy bike was a much easier bike to ride.    I had a fat boy that was really close to the same configuration, and my brother has a friend with a Billy Bike replica.   They’re easy bikes to ride.   The captain America bike?  Cut that steering head off and rake that bitch out like it is, throw in those long forks with no front brake and see how you fare.      You don’t give that kind of bike  to a beginner.

It was Cliff who actually first offered the name “Easy Rider” to Fonda.     It was a term he used in the day.   Whats an Easy Rider?  that depends on who you ask.   In the 1900s it meant a freeloader.   A guy who mooched off you.  To Dennis hopper, it meant a man who lived off the money of a whore.     He got it from an old Mae West movie.   Whatever cliff meant by it, I’m not sure.  All I know is he redefined the word.   To this day I think it is associated to Harley riders.   Maybe because of cliff, but most definitely because of the movie.     When you say Easy Rider, I think of the movie.   I think of Harley’s.

Vaugh’s quickly took the idea to Ben Hardy.    Peter bought four 1950’s panhead police bikes from auction, and got them to Hardy and Vaughs.  Jim Buchanan fabricated the frames,  The engines were built by Hardy, Dean Lanza did the paint (his son is adamant he built the entire bikes).       2 bikes were for filming, 2 were for the final sequence of the movie, which I’m fucking assuming you know about, otherwise you wouldn’t be here reading this.    Hardy went to work, and the rest is history.

Ben Hardy's shop, back in the day - Builder of the Easy Rider Bikes

Ben Hardy’s shop, back in the day – Builder of the Easy Rider Bikes

Ben Hardy Shop Today

Ben Hardy Shop Today

Ben Died in 1994.  Cliff is still alive today.     Both men haven’t gotten the recognition they deserve— in my opinion, for building the most famous bikes in the world.    Ben’s old shop is still around in Los Angeles if you want to see it.

Captain America Teardrop Gas Tank

The next time you’re at a gas station, and you’re staring down into your tank and pouring gasoline all over it, think of Ben Hardy and Cliff Vaughs.     They made a killer movie as much as anyone else, and I dare say the most famous motorcycles ever built.

Leave a Reply


    • Bee, why is it that you think black bikers, in particular, need to be recognized as bikers? We know that black people have fought in wars, ride bikes, and join motorcycle MC's. We know this information. What type of recognition should black people get? What about Asian riders, or Mexican riders? What about Middle Eastern riders? Should they all get the same type of recognition? If not, why?

      • Christian, not asking for any special recognition or privilege, shouldn't the man that built the best known two wheeler in the world be given his due recognition?

    • I am not sure why one group of people, specifically, should get recognition over any other group of people. Can you explain to me, why black people, should get any type of special recognition? What about Native American riders? Do they deserve some sort of recognition for riding? Not just riding, but building, critical thinking and imagination that is needed in order to build such a machine? what about recognition for that? Want that too? I can sit here all night long, and ask you why black people, in general, deserve ANY type of special recognition for the things that they have done.

    • Have they accomplished ANYTHING, for the greater good of our society, that has not already been, previously, accomplished by someone else? If so, I would, definitely, like to hear about it. Just know this, and try to incorporate it into your daily philosophy of life, EQUAL RIGHTS for EVERYONE, SPECIAL PRIVILAGES for NO ONE! No one group of people, in this country of ours, is any better, or more deserving than another!

      • Well… I must say, as an outsider the black Americans were stolen from Africa, so they do deserve some special treatment… it's also a fact that racism has been evident in US history… think KKK for example…

        However… those of us who ride (I think) understand freedom. Maybe we are the ones who will finally treat people equally no matter what. With that equality though comes an understanding of righting the wrongs that happened, African Americans, The Jews etc. Sure we can't go back and right all the wrongs but we can understand and try to do better

        Cheers from New Zealand
        Pete … Harley Liberty Sportster, Buell M2, '47 BSA, and a few others

    • As soon as some of us figure that out, and live life by it, the better off they will be in the long run. It might just be the cause of so much hatred toward one another, to fade-off into history. But until then, it will just keep creating more, and more animosity between us. Enjoy riding, as I recognize you, black man, as an equally interested rider of American highways and roads. Ride safe, and look out for car drivers!

    • I'm 57 yrs old….I grew up in Neighborhood ….this shall be added to my Book & Movie..thank you Bee….you a Good Man…Respect…check out 1 Down Motorcycle Club & Parts …my Folks.

  2. Dean lanza was a custom painter/bike builder he rented his bikes to the movie industry. He owned Deans Custom Bike Shop located at 2350 Alesandro St. Los angeles. Most of the photos were taken in front of his shop…my favorite is my dad on his Wild Angels "Dragon Bike"

    • Jody, I\’ve read up on your dad. Man, you can make the bike, but the paint is what people see. Thanks for posting, and I\’d love to know more. Email me at and I\’d love to flesh out this more. History is history and it needs to be recognized.

  3. Hi guys,
    i write from Italy and i've a question for everyone,
    who know the old aftermarket brand of captain america and billy bike gas tanks?
    Bruno,,,,,,,,,,,,,,from Italy

  4. I never knew this stuff until tonight. I do respect the rider on long forks as I can't possibly see riding them myself, but there is something missing in today's bike world. I think it is the search for freedom. We call ourselves the "Land of the Free and Home of the Brave" and nothing can be further from the truth. We aren't Free and only a select few are Brave. We have become so darned drawn to following the man's rules and it's those rules which have over 1 in 10 Americans behind bars. That is the most people in captivity of any nation on earth. Land of the Free – don't make me laugh. I'm a newbie to bike world, but I tell you I got the bug. My bike isn't a Harley, it's an old Honda, but it sure makes one heckuva bobber/cafe racer. On the one hand I'd love a Sportster – 90's vintage, yet on the other hand, you have to wear the Harley commercial costume (shirts, expensive leathers, and the like) on the weekends for the short jaunts into town for Harley events. Bah Humbug! That's not what it's about. Freedom is freedom and we seem to have lost that real idea for the corporate/government illusions – LIES!!!!

    • Gil,
      You seem to have the meaning of "Freedom" confused with its synonyms. I'm a combat veteran, and I am here to tell you… Freedom doesn't mean go out and break the laws that the American people, as a civilized society, agreed to set in place, and then not get locked-up for it. So, laugh all you want, but ignorance isn't funny. If this (your statement above) is what you think freedom is, you've got shit twisted, Man. Prisoners or not, we STILL have more freedom in this country, as American citizens, to do as we please, In order to live our lives the way that we want, without the fear of our government (Until the election of Obama), stepping in, and dictating how things should be on a personal level. Keep in mind, as well, a majority of US voting citizens put him where he is. Not me… THEM! Misguided or not, I hope all goes well with your future medical care!

  5. It's funny I just seen a rerun of American Pickers with Dan Haggerty on it and he has a Billy bike and claimed that he had built the bikes for Easy Rider.So how involved was he? Thanks for the info an buddy of mine had said a guy named Bubba Brown(a Black Biker) had built them well at least he was half right.

  6. Check it out to all , give respect to all !
    Most importantly don’t ever leave someone out because of his color because that just shows ure fake ! Any man or woman who can create anything that has changed or influenced a nation of riders is a bad dude!
    If you call yourself any kind of a Biker then you know Ben H. was ahead of his time.
    If you Love Bikes / Motorcycles , then show much respect to the MAN !
    Life is to short to spend all of ure time HATING . Show the same respect that you would want , especially to those who have paved the way for all of us who truly love to ride just to be free on the open roads .
    True Bikers don’t care what color you are , we just Love your creative juices , remember that anyone can Hate but it takes a very special person to CREATE.

  7. Well I cannot believe This man wasn't talked about a few decades earlier . The Iconic flavor of that bike and movie are as American as anything .. What a shame. But I bet in the inner circles they knew he was the man ! Wwell better late than never I am glad I saw this article very glad .

  8. This is Dean Lanza's son I grew up in the shop of my dad who painted the Capt. America bike. I have the pictures to prove it show me one picture with hardy and Capt. America? I also as a kid walked into my dad's shop and knocked over this tank when he finished painting it while it was sitting on a milk crate drying. He also had to make duplicates of this bike because they kept crashing them because they couldn't ride the bikes out on the set. My dad hired hardy to build some of the extra bikes they had crashed because he was doing other movies as well, like "Hells angles on wheels" and others plus he had to build a bike for PETER FONDA if you don't believe me ask him. Look at my dad's bikes they would win any Custom car and rod show he entered and he had a basement for trophies taller than 6 feet to prove it!!! Please don't try to lie I saw with my own eyes and I have witnesses ask any Hell's Angels and Chosen Few he was always painting bikes for them they knew my dad's work!!!

  9. i have a poster of the easy rider ,Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper. It's a double print and you can vaguely see another bike in the background. I think it may have been a misprint. The whole poster is green and black. Just wondering if anyone has any information on it? Thanks in advance.

  10. Just a note…. The frames are not "fabricated" they are the stock rigid Harley frames for pre-58 Harleys, in this case panheads and only the captain America bike had a modified neck … And coming from someone who's ridden a long bike (raked neck and extended forks) they do not require any more work or experience to ride they are actually much more stable and easy handling in many instances .. Maybe have a look at the knuckle hopper rode in glory stompers before saying he was inexperienced… The movie pre-dates easy rider by a couple years..

    • I own the glory stompers, and he didn\’t ride nearly as far as he did in Easy Rider. It was by his own admission that he wasn\’t as experienced of a rider as he\’d liked to be. Hoppers words, not mine.

  11. cant help but add my sightins of these bikes. or duplicates to them? built for easyrider movie.the late Joe Babcock owosso mich. Had these Bikes covered with bed sheets he showed us.there were 6 all together.what a sight. if yuo ask around owosso michigan. those that knew Joe Babcock i am sure some of them seen the bikes as well. My dad had a used car lot from the 50s to mid 80s and at a consevative est. he sold and located 1oo or more bikes for joe babcock? Leave where its at? weve all had our own encounters. this was one of mine, meeting Joe Babcock, and witness to his work which was second too none.JOE WAS AFILLIATED WITH THE IRON WHEEL MOTORCYCLE CLUB OF OWOSSO MICH.

  12. Now someone owns a Captain American bike claimed to be resurrected from the crashed bike. However he has recently been told by Haggarty, who sold it to him, that it is a phony and another Captain America bike is the real one that has just been sold in auction at well over the minimum bid of $1Million. Which one is real? Is either real? Does Haggarty still claim to have built them originally? At least he built or ordered built these two bikes, one of which is clearly a phony…if not both. The first guy needs to sue Haggarty, the other needs his head examined for buying the second. How can you authenticate either as being the real restored "crashed bike"? What ever happened to the unwrecked movie bike? Any of those parts known to exist? Rebuild that one!….Let's get Mark Fuhrman on this….Colombo is not available….


  14. Thanks for your sharing. There are many people now who like to be the customized bike things. My elder brother also complete a customized bike recently with awesome design.

    • I kinda doubt it. It took over a year to edit the movie, so when the bikes were stolen they had no idea it would be as popular as it ended up being. Some say the HA stole the bikes because they were owed money from the movie the wild angels. I dunno that you could prove any of it.

  15. he is Dean Lanza's son, and he plays very well. Once I got a chance but could meet with him. Hope I will get the chance again.

  16. BS stories, the bikes were not stolen by HA. There was no tying people up at knife point, no machine guns all BS. They where stuffed into a storage building along with other stuff, no one cared about them. Several months later while putting more stuff in the storage building it was noticed the building had been broken into and a lot of stuff was stolen including the bikes. Those bikes where parted out and are long gone