Harley-Davidson races through pop culture, from Elvis to Katy Perry to Jason Momoa

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Harley-Davidson motorcycles have played a starring role in popular culture for decades, from movies to music to being celebrities' favorite ride.

Here are some of Harley's greatest hits.

Captain America (the bike, not the superhero) in ‘Easy Rider’

Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper ride Harleys throughout the groundbreaking 1969 movie “Easy Rider,” but it’s Fonda’s customized Captain America bike, a modified Harley Hydra-Glide with a red-white-and-blue gas tank, that people remember.

Harley in ‘Captain America’ (the superhero, not the bike)

Captain America rode a Harley, too. In “Captain America: The First Avenger,” Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) wrote a Harley-Davidson WLA, a Harley model also known as the “Liberator,” modified to U.S. Army specifications in 1942 and ‘43. (Rogers wrote more contemporary Harley models in subsequent “Captain America” and “Avengers” movies.)

Fonzie briefly rode a Harley in the 1970s-disguised-as-the-1950s sitcom "Happy Days," set in Harley-Davidson's hometown.
Fonzie briefly rode a Harley in the 1970s-disguised-as-the-1950s sitcom "Happy Days," set in Harley-Davidson's hometown.

Did Fonzie ride a Harley on ‘Happy Days’?

In the show’s early days, Fonzie wrote a Harley (bike mavens say it was a Harley Knucklehead), but for most of the show’s run, the Cool One rode a 1949 Triumph TR5. (Henry Winkler, who played the beloved TV character, actually didn’t ride the bikes himself; he told Jennifer Hudson on her talk show in May 2023 that he only rode the motorcycle for “17 seconds,” but he was “so dyslexic” that he shot forward, sliding the bike under a truck. “I never rode it again,” he said. “They scare me, actually.”

The original biker movie: Harleys in ‘The Wild One’

Based on a true story of motorcycle gangs taking over a small California town, 1953’s “The Wild One” may be the most influential motorcycle movie ever made, embodied in Marlon Brando’s cynical, super-cool gang leader Johnny Strabler. Lee Marvin, who played Brando’s rival in the movie, rode a Harley-Davidson Flathead Bopper, but Brando rode a Triumph — it was his own bike. (The two-time Oscar winner did buy a Harley later; his 1969 Harley-Davidson FLH Electra Glide was sold at an auction in 2015 for $256,000.)

Evel Knievel’s Harley XR-750

The stunt-riding legend began his death-defying career riding other models, but in 1970 he switched to a customized Harley-Davidson XR-750, the bike that he rode for many of his biggest and best-known jumps, including jumping over 50 stacked cars in 1973, and jumping 133 feet over 14 buses.

Jason Momoa: Harleys in ‘Fast X’ (and real life)

When he was lined up to play the villain in “Fast X,” Momoa — an avid rider who has his own Harley-themed clothing line being sold by the company — reportedly used his corporate connections to get his own wheels for the action movie. “I called Harley instantly, called the CEO (Jochen Zeitz), and was like, 'Bro, can you help me?'” Momoa told Total Film magazine in its April 2023 issue. “So they sent up like six bikes. I totally got hooked up. They let me build it for my character." In one of the movie’s more memorable scenes, Momoa races through the streets of Rome on a customized Harley Pan America, riding rings around Vin Diesel and company.

Katy Perry's 'Harleys in Hawaii'

Pop star Katy Perry took a trip to Hawaii with significant other Orlando Bloom, and came back with a hit song that gave Harley-Davidson millions in marketing value. Released in 2019, "Harleys in Hawaii," about a free-spirited ride around the islands, was an instant hit; in its first two weeks, it streamed 20 million times on Spotify, and the song's video, with Perry riding a Harley, was seen more than 12 million times. The New York Times estimated the song was worth the equivalent of $40 million in promotional spending, and even reached an audience (young women) that Harley has had trouble reaching.

‘Motorcycle Mama’ by Sailcat

Sailcat, a soft-rock group led by John D. Wyker and Court Pickett, peaked at No. 12 on the Billboard charts in the spring of 1972 with the infectious radio-friendly song, propelled by the chorus “You’ll be the queen of my highway / my motorcycle mama / and we’ll see the world from my Harley.” Soon after releasing an album of the same name and appearing on “American Bandstand,” the band broke up.

Other songs that celebrate Harley bikes and culture include:

"Harley," by Kathy Mattea.

"Haley's Got a Harley," by 38 Special

"Unknown Legend," by Neil Young

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Harley in ‘Terminator 2’

In the second (and best) of the “Terminator” movies, Arnold Schwarzenegger plays the cyborg who returns to the present to save the youth who will grow up to be the leader of the human resistance. He starts on his journey by stealing a 1991 Fat Boy from a biker bar, to the strains of George Thorogood’s “Bad to the Bone.”

Elvis Presley and his Harleys

The King of Rock ’N’ Roll loved all things engine-powered, but he was a Harley-Davidson guy as soon as he was a big enough star to afford one. After he signed with Sun Records in 1955, Presley used the advance to buy a Harley Hummer. Presley owned at least a dozen Harleys; he bought his last motorcycle, a Harley FLK touring bike, not long before his death in 1977.

This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Harley-Davidson in pop culture, from Elvis Presley to Katy Perry