Custom motorcycle builder Ben Hardy was born Benjamin F. Hardy on July 25, 1921, in Los Angeles, California. However, historical data regarding his family, upbringing, and obituary have yet to be recovered from the annals of time.
After World War II, as the United States experienced a slight depression with high unemployment, and California had an unemployment rate of 8.8% compared to a national average of 3.9% in 1946, Hardy established Hardy’s Motorcycle Service shop in South Central Los Angeles, located at 1168 E. Florence Avenue. He built two ‘Billy’ bikes and three’ Captain Americas,’ made at that time from a 20-year-old, heavily customized Harley-Davidson Panhead, with the assistance of another Black motorcycle builder, Cliff Vaughn, the most famous motorcycles ever made.
Los Angeles, California, was a city divided and segregated along racial lines, and it did not welcome Hardy and his creation into the mainstream motorcycle world. However, Hardy and Black motorcyclists continued riding the typical ‘Billy’ bike in their limited circle. In the 1950s, during the high point of Jim Crow, some viewed the camaraderie of riding a customized Harley chopper creatively in a group as a revolutionary act.
In 1969, Hardy’s chopper was showcased in the iconic 1969 motorcycle film Easy Rider, in which two bikers travel through the Southwest and South of the U.S. with lots of money from a cocaine deal. His bikes were duplicated for this movie if mechanical failure or wreckage during film shortage were anticipated. The film Easy Rider brought in more than $60 million; however, Hardy was inadequately recognized and did not benefit financially from the movie’s success.
In 2004, 20 years after the death of Hardy, the Captain America bike sold for $1.35 million. Four years later, in 2008, Hardy’s work was featured in the “Black Chrome” at the California African American Museum. This exhibit, sponsored by the Automobile Club of Southern California, the most prominent member of the AAA Federation of Motor Clubs, was about the historical development of African American motorcycle culture. A replica of Hardy’s Captain America bike is housed in one of Germany’s largest motorcycle collections at the German Two-Wheeler and NSU Museum in northern Baden-Württemberg.
Ben Hardy died in 1994. He was 74.