1950 Harley-Davidson Panhead | QuickShift

Harley-Davidson panhead Captain America
(AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

Although legendary actors Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper received top billing in the seminal 1969 film Easy Rider, their co-star Captain America—a chopped Harley-Davidson Panhead with an American flag emblazoned on its gas tank—gained just as much attention. It became one of the most evocative motorcycles in American history, transcending its function as transportation to reach mythic status as a postmodern icon.

In the opening sequence of Easy Rider, the characters played by Fonda and Hopper close a huge drug deal, then trade their unremarkable bikes for ornate custom choppers and embark on a cross-country ride.

The more impressive bike, Captain America, becomes the rolling embodiment of the duo’s newfound freedom when they line the gas tank with the cash they scored. With its pop art paint job, extensive chrome detailing, and lavishly raked fork, Captain America defies convention and the status quo, serving as an antiestablishment symbol in the heated political atmosphere of the Vietnam era. The casual destruction of the bike at the film’s end underscores the frailty of counterculture ideals, representing a freedom that is lost, and perhaps unrecoverable.




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