With my usual bout of insomnia, I read the obituary of Peter Fonda who has died, aged 79. Fonda was made famous by the film Easy Rider. Just now, an old friend, Tony sends me a WhatsApp message this morning. Tony, like me, a keen motorcyclist and lifelong friend. Tony co-ran London’s largest motorcycle showroom in 70’s; we grew up together riding motorcycles. Tony writes: “another style icon of our youth Peter Fonda is dead; he is more responsible for you riding a motorbike than you think”.
I reply: Easy Rider for me was a bit of a joke,.. (remembering watching re-runs during all-nighters university, our minds distracted by drugs).
The thing that really got me interested in motorcycling was when Honda 50 and was chased round the nearby convent garden near where I lived, chased by furious nuns on a Honda 50 aged 11 years old.
The second the Event that influenced me to ride motorcycles was when I visited Rivetts motorcycle showroom situated on the London Embankment. I remember gazing at three racing Yamahas on display there. Soon after I bought a pair of Ashman red devil motocross boots with 10 buckles up the side, which I rode on my Yamaha RD 350.
The girls adored Fonda, but I thought he was a bit of a joke really, Dennis Hopper was the magic. It wasn’t because they rode motorcycles in the film more that they woke us to possibilities of freedom and craziness which all seems a little bit out of date now. The film was cowritten by Hopper, Fonda and Terry Southern. Southern was largely ignored, his contribution overshadowed by the ‘gorgeous’ Fonda. My personal delightful moment, seeing Nicholson in his baseball helmet, riding along with them in a white suit, I connected with this character, in his awkwardness, crossing barriers of mores and convention. Fonda sit ‘correctly’ on an expensive custom Harley, conforming to a set of values already imprinted by Californian fashion, soon to be imitated by the rest of America’s youth. No, Fonda had great genes, but he was not a rebel – a pin-up on so many bedroom walls, not mine.
Fonda was part of a silver spoon-entitled Hollywood set, overshadowed by his father and his more accomplished actress and activist sister Jane. He was a good-looking guy in the right place at the right time and just rode along for the ride. Hopper and Lee Marvin in The Wild One (not Brando) portrayed the true rebel persona but neither inspired me to ride.