The Panhead chopper known as “Captain America,” ridden by Peter Fonda in the 1969 movie Easy Rider, may well be the most recognized bike in the world. And when it reached $1.35 million at an auction, it was the highest price ever garnered for a motorcycle. 

But there are a few caveats to the story. The most well-known is the controversy over the authenticity of any Captain America bike, including the high-priced auction piece. Also undetermined is the price actually paid for the auction bike. It’s probably not the $1.35M that’s been widely reported. 

Easy Rider Captain America
The Captain America formerly owned by John Parham, now regarded as the authentic version of a bike used in the filming of Easy Rider. (Photo by National Motorcycle Museum)

And did Peter Fonda really turn down a 10% offer to help promote the auction sale? Popular legend says yes, but new insight says no. We’ve dug deeper than rumor and discovered some little-known facts about the world’s most famous bike. 

Easy Rider became an icon for an entire generation and has influenced hundreds, if not thousands, of custom builders here and around the world,” Glenn Bator, restorer and builder at Bator International, told us. “The love and respect for these bikes will never die, and this story is just another piece of the puzzle that adds to the myth and mystique of Easy Rider.”

Easy Rider Captain America final scene
The Captain America stunt bike goes flying during the final scene in Easy Rider. This is likely the bike that Fonda gave to Haggerty, who had it rebuilt before it was sold to John Parham. It seemed to sell at auction for $1.35 million but probably didn’t.

What We Know

Cliff Vaughs and Ben Hardy built the bikes used in the movie: Fonda’s Captain America and the Billy Bike ridden by co-star Dennis Hopper. In addition to building the two hero bikes ridden in the film, two stunt doubles were also built for the dramatic and shocking climax at the end. 

Easy Rider Captain America Cliff "Soney" Vaughs
Peter Fonda wanted a stretched chopper for Easy Rider, and SoCal builder Cliff “Soney” Vaughs built him what would become an icon.

The Captain America stunt bike was heavily damaged after the movie’s final scene in which Fonda’s character Wyatt gets shot and the bike bursts into flames. The remaining three bikes, legend has it, were stolen at gunpoint from stuntman Tex Hall immediately after filming. The sole chopper from the movie that wasn’t stolen was the crispy Captain America stunt bike whose frame reportedly was broken near the transmission from the crash damage. 

Getting Grizzly

Hall gave the remnants of the crashed Captain America stunt bike to actor Dan Haggerty of TV show Grizzly Adams fame, who had a bit role in Easy Rider and was a friend of Fonda’s. Haggerty said he kept the remains of the bike in his garage untouched for 20 years. 

Related: Easy Rider: Born To Be Riled

Then, in the early 1990s, Haggerty hired builder Gary Graham to restore the famous chopper, which reemerged on display at the Iowa State Fair and at other motorcycle events. At some point, Graham assumed ownership of the bike, which he put up for sale at the Dan Kruse auction in 1996. Haggerty boasted the bike consisted of 90% original parts from the movie bike, and Fonda gave his endorsement based on what Haggerty told him. It gaveled for $63,500, going to Texan Gordon Granger. 

The story takes another turn in 2002 when Haggerty sold a different restored Captain America chopper to J&P Cycles’ John Parham. Fonda apparently authenticated the bike based on Haggerty’s new provenance claim, and Parham proudly displayed his Captain America at the National Motorcycle Museum in Anamosa, Iowa, for several years (Read more about the NMM on page 11). 

Easy Rider Captain America Glenn Bator
Restorer and bike builder Glenn Bator posing on the Captain America replica he built decades ago for collector Otis Chandler.

Then, in early 2014, Parham’s bike was sold to Hollywood memorabilia collector Michael Eisenberg, and it went up for sale later that year at a Profiles in History auction. The bike’s authenticity was brought into question and caused a dispute between Eisenberg and Granger, who both claimed their bikes were the real Captain America.

Eisenberg offered Fonda a 10% cut of the bike’s sale price if he helped promote the auction. It’s been widely reported that Fonda turned down the offer, but that’s not what really happened. 

Related: Retracing Easy Rider: Iconic Movie Inspires Arizona Adventure

Eisenberg confirmed with us that Fonda accepted the offer to help promote the sale. Controversy was sparked when Fonda’s business manager demanded his own 10% cut of the sale price. 

Eisenberg told us that since he already had Fonda’s endorsement, he told the manager to pound sand, prompting the manager to threaten to kill the sale of the bike. In the process, Fonda got riled up about the deal and publicly retracted his validation of Granger’s bike, saying that Haggerty had duped him and that there was “a big rat stinking someplace in this.”

Nevertheless, Eisenberg’s Captain America was gaveled at a whopping $1.35 million. And for years it’s been reported as sold at that price, but that’s not exactly true. The controversy over the bike scuttled the sale after the gavel was struck, so it wasn’t actually sold at the auction. 

Easy Rider Captain America Jack Lepler
Builder Jack Lepler with one of his Captain Americas. (Photo by Jeanie Sevon)

Following the auction, and after a lie-detector test, Haggerty admitted that Granger’s bike only contained a few “bits and pieces, nothing more – a chain or a fender, nothing more.” 

Haggerty also signed a document that confirmed the Parham/Eisenberg bike has the frame of the movie bike, saying what he previously claimed about Granger’s Captain America was an honest mistake. Glenn Bator inspected the Eisenberg bike at the auction and noted frame repairs near the transmission, which added authenticity to the bike’s new provenance claims. 

No Sale? 

Months after the supposed sale, the auction company procured a buyer for the bike, according to Eisenberg. No details of the actual sale price have been reported, and the name of the buyer has been a mystery. But a page about the Captain America bike on the National Motorcycle Museum’s website says it was purchased by Paul Allen, one of Microsoft’s founders. 

Further muddying the waters is that the film studio built two re-creations of each movie bike for still photography and promotional appearances. Note that the Billy Bike in some famous promo pictures has a black frame, not the red frame seen in the movie. 

Easy Rider Captain America Dragon Bike replica
Lepler built this replica of the Dragon Bike ridden by Peter Fonda in The Wild Angels, the 1966 biker film directed by Roger Corman. (Photo by Jeanie Sevon)

According to Eisenberg, no one knows what became of the promo Billy Bikes, but he told us an interesting tidbit about one of the Captain America promo bikes, which was stored in Hopper’s shed in Taos, New Mexico. Apparently, the bike was traded to a local guy who went by the name of Rodent for “a bag of weed and a ping-pong paddle.”

One More Time

In 2021, Granger’s Captain America was seen at a Cord & Kruse auction, apparently restored after it was damaged in a fire in 2010. It sold for $255,000, a handy bump from the $63K paid for it in 1996. 

America Replicas

Captain America has been replicated over and over, sometimes extremely well, other times not. Glenn Bator built replicas of both Easy Rider bikes for Otis Chandler’s venerable collection years ago, and he’s currently working on the most accurate Billy Bike ever reproduced. 

“When it comes to building replicas, the devil is in the details,” Bator told us. “There are tons of very poor examples of both these motorcycles out in the world, with only a few builds that I would consider to be a close replica. It takes time and years of research to get them right.”

The man who may lay claim to building the most Captain America replicas is Jack Lepler. He recently completed #17 and says it’s his last. 

Easy Rider Captain America Billy Bike replica
Glenn Bator is currently working on a new Billy Bike replica that he says will be the most accurate version ever created, including skull taillights that were 3D-printed to match the irreplaceable ones seen in Easy Rider. (Photo by Glenn Bator)

“The original parts are challenging to find, my chrome guy is dead, the upholsterer moved, and my welder retired,” he said. “I demand a very high level of detail and authenticity for every bike I build.”

Lepler built the Captain America that sits in Don Laughlin’s auto museum housed in the Riverside Resort & Casino in Laughlin, Nevada, and his replicas also show up on loan to museums and events. Lepler also built the four motorcycles seen in Easy Rider 2: The Ride Back.

And just who buys these bikes? People with a lot of money and a lot of nostalgia who want the Captain sitting in their den, motorcycle collection, or museum. 

Fantasy Blurs Reality

In the original movie, easy riders Fonda and Hopper apparently rode those iconic motorcycles for a total of only 47 miles. Yet, 54 years later, the men, the myth, and the motorcycles still ride the road of our dreams.


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