We were hoping a photo from Easy Rider would inspire a debate. Instead, it seems we caused a stampede.
We asked our Facebook community, “What is the most iconic motorcycle?” and holy Harley-Davidson, you would have thought we’d just asked, “Who has the prettiest daughter?” After wading through more than 600 comments, we determined: 1. You love Harleys; 2. You love Evel Knievel; 3. You love biker movies; and 4. You don’t like people who don’t love biker movies.
“Captain America,” the patriotically painted Harley-Davidson panhead that Peter Fonda rode in Easy Rider received an overwhelming amount of praise, and it also evoked questions. Like, who built it? And was the motorcycle that sold for $1.6 million in October 2014 the real thing? And did Easy Rider actually have a plot, or did they just make it up as they went along?
Many of you claimed that “Captain America” and Easy Rider so impacted your life that you eventually purchased a motorcycle of your own — after you tricked out your bicycle, of course. “In ’69 I built my Schwinn into a chopper using pipe for forks, and I painted it red, white and blue with stars,” David Martin wrote. “Later, I had a ’65 Harley-Davidson FLH panhead.”
Another bike from Easy Rider received lots of love, too. “You can have Captain America. I’ll take the Billy Bike any day,” Dennis Main wrote, referring to the Harley that Dennis Hopper rode in the film. “That’s a real rider’s bike. Stretched-out choppers (like Captain America) may look good, but they can be a pain to ride in ‘real life.’”
Of course, some of you were stuck trying to interpret the question. Tommy Phillips wondered if we wanted you to pick the most iconic bike from the two shown in the photo or the most iconic bike of all time. He settled on the former, and even then he hedged his bets. “The answer, of course, would be Captain America. However the better-looking and more-practical bike would be the Billy Bike. Even Fonda said his bike was squirrely. If you watch Hopper on his, he had trouble handling it and would never have been able to control that thing Fonda had. No question as to which was the icon.”
Moving past Easy Rider but staying in Hollywood, movie motorcycle nominations included Marlon Brando’s Triumph in The Wild Ones, the evil chopper in Ghost Rider, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Harley in Terminator, Tom Cruise’s Kawasaki GPZ900R in Top Gun, the Harley FXR in Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man, and Steve McQueen’s Triumph in The Great Escape. One thing is for sure, Vince Dotson will never forget McQueen’s ride … or the name of his stunt man.
Vince: “Steve McQueen jumping barbwire to escape Nazis ... on a hog. Now, that’s cool.”
Mike Newton: “That was done on a Triumph, not a hog!!”
Dwayne Franks: “It wasn’t actually Steve McQueen who did the jump; it was Bud Akins.”
Mark Wallace: “A hog? Really? Vince, you’re new to this, aren’t you?”
Vince: “I deserve that.”
There were plenty of non-movie nominations too. For Gale Henderson, the most iconic motorcycle of all time is the 1947 Indian Chief. David Harrell picked the HRD Vincent Black Shadow. And Steve Day said “100 million buyers can’t be wrong” when he posted a photo of a Honda Super Cub.
Ron Johnston named the 1968 Kawasaki 500 Mach III. “It was a 3-cylinder 2-stroke screamer that eclipsed the 4-cylinder Honda CB750 at the time.” Jim Dyer seconded that vote. “I had mine up to 110 mph one time. It scared the heck out of me. The front end was very loose, felt like it was floating.” To which Mark Pool replied, “It WAS floating. The aerodynamics on that bike were terrible.”
Eddie Peyton added, “The 750 two-stroke Kawasaki was a beast. They didn’t call it ‘The Widow Maker’ for nothing.” Tim Hassler wrote, “I had a ’70 H1 triple when I was 17 years old. Lord have mercy…” Brian Jackson called it “a death machine. Crazy fast for its time.” Added Jeffery McIntosh: “I had a ’71 in high school, and my dad’s friend was a DOT officer who clocked me running over 120 mph down on the little country road where we lived. Guess what, my dad sold my ’71 HT1.”
Charlie Daley described the Triumph 650 “as iconic as it gets.” But Dan Clark spoke for many of you when he wrote, “Imagine jumping ANYTHING on Evel Kneivel’s Harley XR-750 … The man definitely had a pair!”
Jon Davidson Oeflein’s choice is definitely biased, but we certainly can’t question his sources. “To me, it is the 1936 Harley-Davidson E (Knucklehead),” he wrote. “It was the last model that my great-grandfather Walter Davidson brought to market and the last model all the four founders of Harley-Davidson were still around for. Also, the OHV design of new motor was a game changer.”
Chris Sanchez whole-heartedly agreed: “Jon Davidson Oeflein, you nailed it! The Knucklehead is by far the best looking engine Harley ever made! … I thank your great-grandfather Walter Davidson and the others for giving me the thrill of my life!”
Ricky Ainsworth admitted, “I’ll probably be hated, but ... that new Harley Milwaukee 8 is definitely a one-of-a-kind bike … it’s a beast.” Others agreed.
Brian Davis loves Harleys, and he owns one, too. Still … “My choice for most iconic would be the Honda CB 750. It changed the motorcycle world by redefining the standard of design, reliability and performance of what motorcycles should be, and it was the turning point of which manufacturers would excel and which ones would fade away in defeat or barely survive.”
The last word goes to Craig Dickinson, even if he didn’t actually call it iconic. “The best bike in the world is the one you’re riding that day.”