Forty years ago, America was in crisis. Bodies piled up in Vietnam, while rioters burned down Chicago and Washington D.C. Martin Luther King's dream died in Memphis. Robert F. Kennedy's too, in Los Angeles. The Manson Family, and the Hell's Angels at Altamont, extinguished any remaining Aquarian-age idealism. It was against this chaotic backdrop that Wyatt and Billy, two drug-dealing hippies named after cowboys, set out on iron horses to find what was left of the American Dream. Flush with dirty money from one last big score, they headed for Florida to retire but ended up dead in a ditch. The '60s were over, man, and the film Easy Rider, premiering in July 1969, was the decade's epitaph.
Forty years later, America is falling apart again. A different dream--this time free money and easy prosperity--is collapsing. Where are our Easy Riding antiheroes now? Peter Fonda--Wyatt in the original film--is still recycling his most famous role in formulaic comedy crap like Wild Hogs. Meanwhile his co-star, Dennis Hopper--who also wrote and directed Easy Rider--is a registered Republican paying the bills pitching a different kind of retirement plan in Ameriprise television commercials. The '60s really are over, man...
And what happened to their iconic choppers? Once the ultimate outlaw accessory, chromed-out choppers have become the status symbol of choice for the same investment bankers and stockbrokers that gutted our financial system. Or worse: hideous, high-concept brand extensions for any Fortune 500 mega-corporation with $100K to blow on an Orange County Choppers special. Now, Honda--the "Nicest People" people!--has dropped the Fury, the first true chopper from Japan, Inc., complete with a 12-month protection plan and more warning stickers than a set of Lawn Jarts. Wyatt and Billy have got to be turning triple axles in their shallow, backwoods graves.
Can you still find the truth by hurtling feet-forward across America aboard a chopper? Even if one is a mass-produced "custom" from Kansas, and the other isn't American at all? Can you still capture Wyatt and Billy's easy-riding bliss? Would you even want to? Armed with one dark-red-metallic Honda Fury and a similarly shaded Big Dog Motorcycles K9--advertised as "America's #1 Chopper"--Brian Catterson and I set out to find out.
We'd ride from L.A. just like Wyatt and Billy did, aiming for Taos, New Mexico, 950 miles east. Taos was home to the New Buffalo commune that inspired the famous scene in the movie and ground zero for 2009's "Summer of Love"--a series of biker-oriented festivities marshaled by Dennis Hopper. Outfitted in our vintage-style Fulmer helmets with bubbleshields (that Memphis-based company also celebrating its 40th anniversary this year), we'd compare the Fury against a real-deal American chopper on the same highways immortalized in the film, and cap it with an interview of Mr. Easy Rider himself. Call it a method-acting road test.
Rubber-inlaid billet grips look good, but don't do much to dampen the vibes. Right turn si
The Big Dog's single, round gauge is more useful than you'd imagine, incorporating an anal
The Big Dog is powered by a 117-cubic-inch S&S V-twin that makes almost 100 horsepower and
Big Dog Motorcycles truly are the big dogs of the American custom market. Designing and manufacturing high-end, turnkey choppers since 1994, the Wichita-based company has sold 25,000 bikes, and claims 50 percent market share. The top-of-the-line K9 is as close as you can get to a real chopper without lighting a cutting torch. Powered by 117 cubic inches (1917cc, in sissy metric-speak) of American-made V-twin muscle, this canine measures more than 9 feet from stem to stern, and its raked head tube is so tall you can limbo underneath it.
Honda, the largest motorcycle manufacturer on the planet, stamps out millions of technically proficient, emotionally distant motor appliances. To sex up that image for the youth of America, Honda imagined a badass chopper--complete with a pierced-tongue/snarling-dog ad campaign. Even if the Fury is just a cut-down version of Granddad's VTX1300, with its bare-backbone frame, stretched tank and raked fork, it's certainly the edgiest Oriental cruiser yet.
Our day-one route deviates from Easy Rider's original easterly path, looping north through Las Vegas because we want to watch James Stewart whoop ass at Sam Boyd Stadium during the AMA Supercross season finale--hardly in keeping with the theme, but hey, it was on the way. The long stretch of I-15 across the Mojave Desert gave us a good assessment of engine performance. We soon found that acceleration contests are no contest: The K9 simply devours the Fury at any distance and in any gear--even its massively overdriven sixth, which allows the big twin to essentially idle at 70 mph.
The K9's air-cooled, pushrod, 45-degree V-twin is built to Big Dog specs by S&S in Viola, Wisconsin. Our test bike was fitted with optional electronic fuel injection and a Vance & Hines Big Radius exhaust, to produce 97.7 horsepower and 104.3 lb.-ft. of torque on our rear-wheel dyno. (We had to remove the front wheel to make it fit.) The Fury's liquid-cooled, SOHC, 52-degree V-twin is more sophisticated, but hardly more potent. Even the 605cc disadvantage can't account for the Fury's less-than-furious 55.6 bhp and 72.1 lb.-ft. That power deficit shows everywhere: The Honda is 1.5 seconds slower through the quarter-mile and a half-second slower in 60-80 mph roll-ons, despite weighing 79 pounds less than the Big Dog.
Adding further insult is an electronic speed governor limiting the Fury's top speed to 99 mph. That's right: You're free to ride your Honda chopper without being hassled by the man, as long as you keep it under the ton. The K9 surely will exceed 120 mph, but by how much we're not sure--punishing windblast and a slight-but-persistent chassis weave tempered our desire to find out.
Off The Record
Age: 34 Height: 5'7" Weight: 145 lbs. Inseam: 31 in.
Who knew Honda designers adhered to the club racer's 50/50 Rule: "It's okay as long as it looks good from 50 feet away at 50 miles per hour"? Except where the club racer's bike looks rattier the closer you get, the Fury looks too gussied up. Covers and cowls clutter what should be clean lines and some components, like the undersized rear tire and uninspired tail, just look lame. And don't get me started on the limp performance, capped with a 99-mph speed governor! Any chopper deserving of the title needs to at least outrun a stock Civic.
Big Dog's K9, on the other hand, is the real deal. It's long, loud, hard to handle and brutally uncomfortable, but man does it turn heads! Up close or from afar, the K9 captures the look, sound and feel of a true chopper. If only it were a bit more comfortable to ride over 50 miles, or above 50 mph...