by S. Deck

Peter Fonda: Indian Motorcycle’s Easy Rider

Jun 15, 20017 mins
ERP Systems

CIO: How did you get involved with the new Indian Motorcycle group?

Peter Fonda: I got to know Ray and Rich [Sotelo] and the team at CMC when they built Limited Edition 30th Anniversary [Easy Rider] Captain America cycles in 1999. Now they?ve given me a bike to ride and tinker with and I get an appearance fee. I get the bike for a couple of years and I give it back and they auction it off for some charity.

I don?t feel like I owe some allegiance to Harley ? I think probably Harley owes some allegiance to me (chuckle). I know the guys over there and like them too. They make a good motorcycle. So does Ducatti. It?s not like one is better than the other; they each have their own values for me.

I like Harley-Davidson. In fact, I think they?ve improved that bike tremendously. When I did ?Easy Rider,? we called ?em `Hardleys? ?cause they hardly ever started and they would just leak all over the damn place. Now with the new evolution engines, they don?t leak, they don?t drop oil.

How many motorcycles do you have?

Two Indians?one old and one new?a Harley Davidson, a ?Fonda? custom bike, an old BMW, and a Ducatti Monster. I enjoy all kinds of motorcycles, have all my life.

How does the new Indian chief compare to the vintage one you own?

Well, it?s harder to work on the engine [of the new one]. With the older ones you can open it up, get in and adjust the valves and in 15 minutes you?ve got everything adjusted. If you like to tinker with old engines that?s kinda fun. Now, they?re like the Harley engine. They?re very dependable. And their gear box is great. It?s easy to find neutral, you don?t have to screw around with it. On the Harley?s, you have to break it in a bit and then you get to where it?s easy to find neutral, which is an essential part that a lot of people don?t understand in motorcycling, knowing how to hit neutral. I?m a purist. I don?t want to turn it off by that little off/on, run/start button.

How?s the ride on the new Indian? Do you ever go out on one and just let it rip?

Oh, of course! Absolutely! It?s smooth riding. The center of gravity is so low that you can get a real smooth ride. And you know, with the right bars, you?re just sitting back in there; it?s just a real, easy, smooth ride.

With the Chiefs, you have to be careful going on the corners because it has such a low center of gravity, which makes it easier to ride, but around corners?you have the footboards?you tend to drag them and that?s something that most cyclists don?t want to do. So you tend to make a wider corner. You don?t cut it quite as sharp as you would with other motorcycles.

It?s also nice when you pull up to a stop sign and some gal or guy — not just biker-types, but straight middle-class and older ladies ? says, ?That is the most beautiful motorcycle I?ve ever seen!?

Do you go to Sturgis [South Dakota] for the big summer motorcycle rally?

Yeah, if I?m not working, it?s a great thing. Guys and gals come up here to the [Montana] ranch and we all cruise. It?s a beautiful 500-mile ride and we love it and people are always so friendly and nice to me there. Other bikers say, ?Hey! All right! Good to see ya!? I feel like, ?Okay, I?m all right here, nothing to worry about. I?m with a bunch of friends.?

What do you ride on a 500-mile trek like that?

I?ll ride my [Harley] Road King or maybe the Indian because we?ve now gotten to where it doesn?t scrape any plates and I can putt around up there.

What other rides do you take?

Very often I?ll go from here, all alone, down to Four Corners for their rally on Labor Day. And then come back up. I love it being out there alone. I don?t need to have a buddy riding next to me. It?s not bad when I have one, but I don?t need it. I?m looking around? there are no fences. Think about it, the highway has no fences; we?re just out there running. It truly is a wonderful feeling for me. But ever since I hit the deer in 1993 I will not ride at dusk or later.

What happened?

I was on a straight road, going 55 [mph] and a doe jumped out right in front of me. I?ve learned that you never try to turn, never try to turn to miss. Just keep going, brake and brace for it. BAM! It was so fast, there wasn?t a thing I could do but hit it. I was just in this huge cloud of fur and dust. My headlight was broken, I was worried about the metal post on the side of the road ?and I thought, ?Time to put this thing down.? So I did. I bent up the left-front roll bar, the crash bar, but that?s what it was supposed to do. Didn?t even hurt the bike, just a little dent in the tank. I had to replace the crash bars but the Fat Boy has that solid wheel and that big front end I was able to hit that impact and ride through it. I?m a very fortunate person to be able to be alive and tell you the story. But I just love to ride. If I finish my chores around here and I want to go off on a ride, I just jump on one of the bikes and just go for a spin, and around here a spin can take you over 65-70 miles easily. And back before dusk.

When you?re riding around a city like Los Angeles do a lot of people recognize you as Easy Rider?

Not always. I?m just a dude in leather and a helmet until they see my smile. I mean I can wear dark glasses and they get it before they get the smile and then it?s, ?Oh! You?re Bridget Fonda?s father!? or ?Hey, Easy Rider!? But usually they see the bike first. It?s funny ? people call ?Easy Rider? a biker movie. It wasn?t a biker movie at all ? it was a Western! I wore spurs. Those were just different types of horses.

So do you ride a motorcycle when you really need to get somewhere?

Having to get somewhere on a motorcycle is the wrong way to go riding. You know, ?cause it?s the ride that?s the thing. Having to get someplace puts a limit of time on you. You have to push further than you want because you?d got to be somewhere. I don?t like that thing on me when I ride. I want to be able to cruise. I want to think about things. I can stop when I want and start when I want to start. That?s the biker thing.