Ben Hardy, The African American Man Behind The Iconic Captain America Chopper
By Marissa Johnson
Remember the famous chopper in the 1969 movie Easy Rider? An African American man named Benjamin “Ben” Hardy built that. Of course, he did not get the credit he deserved for it because of his race. Also, the fact that the chopper is not named after its inventor is also a problem that made tracing the origins of the chopper more difficult.
Often, Cliff Vaughs gets credit for building the chopper. He is also an African American man, but his role was to be in charge of obtaining the motorcycles and hiring the labor to work on the motorcycles. Vaughs was a civil rights activist and a member of SNCC (the Studet Nonviolent Coordinating Committee). So, it is not a surprise that he would recognize the talent of a fellow African American man and hire him to build the iconic “chopper.”
Sometimes, Ben Haggerty, a white man, gets the credit for building the chopper, but he was simply the man who repaired the chopper and often was the bike’s handler. Plus, Cliff Vaughs and his crew were fired and replaced early on during the production of the film.
Cliff Vaughs worked for a news outlet when Peter Fonda, the film’s star who rode the Captain America chopper, was arrested for “pot.” Vaughs was covering the story. He met Fonda, told him about his passion for “chopper” building, and told him he could be found on any given day in his back yard working on bikes. Fonda visited his home when he was released from prison, and Vaughs was put in charge of obtaining the bikes for the film.
Surprisingly, the Easy Rider bike was made from a two decades old up cycled Harley Davidson. It, and the other choppers from the movie, were bought at a police auction. The movie is credited with making choppers popular across the world in Russia and in Asia.
The chopper’s true creator, Ben Hardy, died in 1994 before he’d gotten the credit he deserved. Nevertheless, the bike was auctioned off and was estimated to be worth between 1 million and 1.2 million dollars. Also, it is the only surviving authentic chopper from the movie as the three other choppers were stolen before the film’s release.