There will always be a part of me that has a soft spot for the movie "Easy Rider," even though if we're being honest it really isn't a very good film.
For those of you who haven't seen it, the film is the story of two Los Angeles drug dealers—Wyatt, aka "Captain America" (Peter Fonda, who also produced the movie) and Billy (Dennis Hopper, who also directed)—who make a load of cash in a cocaine deal with Phil Spector. Wyatt and Billy then get a couple of motorcycles and head off across the southwest on the open road to Mardi Gras, picking up doomed alcoholic ACLU lawyer George Hanson (Jack Nicholson) and discovering circa-1968 America along the way—all set to the music of The Byrds, Jimi Hendrix, Steppenwolf, etc.*
Like most things having to do with hippies, it really hasn't aged well at all. The sweeping southwestern landscape and Laslo Kovac's cinematography (especially the Monument Valley sequence) are still about as spectacular as cinema gets. However the story itself is actually boring as hell, the performances (especially Fonda's) are awful, the direction is a ham-fisted coked-out mess and–thanks to 40-some years of counterculture nostalgia mixed with crass commercialism—even the then-revolutionary soundtrack now sounds like a collection of jingles for dad jeans.
But the iconic image of those motorcycles roaring across the open western landscape are why the film endures today, and why I still like it despite its many, many glaring faults. That image is the real American Dream—not communal peace and love, or the search for inner peace and contentment on your own terms, or even making a buttload of cash on a coke deal and retiring to Florida like the film imagines—but saying "Fuck it!" to everyone and everything and roaring off down the open road on a shit-hot motorcycle, looking for some kicks.
It worked for me, sort of. I never actually used the proceeds of a drug transaction to purchase a motorcycle—shit-hot or otherwise—and roar off across the desert in a cloud of dust and raised middle fingers, but I did once buy a copy of "Easy Rider" on VHS (along with a really nice four-slice toaster, a used pedal steel guitar and a brass one-hitter) using a bunch of student loan money.
And that's sort of the same thing, right?
Anyway, all that American Dream gibberish was really just an illusion, of course—but the armada of aging "Wyatt" wannabe's barreling down the highways of Arizona and New Mexico on lumbering leather-fringed cruisers is a testament to just how enduring that illusion still is today.
And now, Captain America's actual custom Harley-Davidson chopper can be yours—provided, of course, that you never actually went after the real American Dream by saying "Fuck it!" etc., but instead did what a sizable chunk of "Easy Rider"'s original "counterculture" audience grew up to do and become wealthy upwardly-mobile professionals with a lot of disposable income.
The bike—the only one of the four custom-built for the movie that still survives—is expected to fetch up to $1.2 million when it goes up for auction next month in California. The other three motorcycles built for "Easy Rider" were actually all stolen from the set before the movie even wrapped production, and haven't been seen since.
According to the Associated Press, the bike—a heavily-modified and chromed-out 1952 Harley-Davidson Hydra-Glide police model with a red, white and blue painted teardrop-shaped gas tank, ape-hanger handlebars, custom seat and fishtail exhausts—was owned by actor Dan "Grizzly Adams" Haggerty, who handled the bikes during the film shoot.
The motorcycle was actually destroyed during the filming of the movie's famous fiery ending, but was rebuilt by Haggerty, who sold it to an Iowa museum in 2001. It was purchased again last year by a California businessman, Michael Eisenberg, who once owned a motorcycle-themed restaurant with Fonda and Hopper.
Eisenberg says he intends to donate a "significant amount" of the proceeds from the auction to the American Humane Association, which is awfully nice of him to do.
*If you haven't already, you should check out Peter Biskind's classic "Easy Riders and Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drugs-and-Rock 'N' Roll Generation Saved Hollywood" for a full look at the unimaginably awful clusterfuck behind the production of "Easy Rider."
Image via AP