July 20, 2024

Benjamin F. Hardy was indeed a prominent African-American custom motorcycle builder. He is best known for his work on the iconic chopper motorcycles used in the 1969 film “Easy Rider.” Hardy, along with another notable builder, Cliff Vaughs, was responsible for creating the “Captain America” and “Billy Bike” choppers that became cultural symbols of the 1960s counterculture movement. Despite his significant contributions to motorcycle culture and film, Hardy’s work did not receive widespread recognition during his lifetime, but he has since been celebrated for his craftsmanship and impact on the custom motorcycle scene.

The Captain America bike, made from a then 20-year-old, heavily customized Harley-Davidson panhead is considered one of the most iconic motorcycles ever built.

Working with another Black motorcycle builder, coordinator Cliff Vaughs, Hardy built two ‘Billy’ bikes and three ‘Captain Americas’, one of which was destroyed in the making of the movie, the rest of which were stolen. Each bike had a backup to make sure that shooting could continue in case one of the old machines failed or got wrecked accidentally. The ‘Billy’ bike was typical of the custom motorcycles Black bikers were riding at the time.

Hardy and Vaughs remained largely unknown and uncredited for 25 years as they were not accepted due to being African-Americans, and were not welcomed into the mainstream motorcycle world in the USA.

Known locally as “Benny” and “King of Bikes” Ben Hardy’s Motorcycle Service was located at 1168 E. Florence in Los Angeles. He was a mentor to many of the local motorcyclists in South Central, Los Angeles.

His work was featured in the “Black Chrome” exhibition at the California African American Museum.

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