Motorcycles on the Small Screen - The 70's

The chaotic events of the 60's seemingly stemmed from wars and social change looked to continue in the 70's. Major trends included a growing disillusionment of government, advances in civil rights, increased influence of the women's movement, a heightened concern for the environment and increased space exploration.

Many of the "radical" ideas of the 60's gained wider acceptance in the new decade and were mainstreamed into American life and culture.

Amid war, social realignment and presidential impeachment proceedings, American culture flourished. While the events of the times were reflected in and became the inspiration for much of the music, literature, entertainment, and even fashion of the decade the motorcycle was parked in the garage for much of the decade.

Aside from a 1914 model motorcycle being used as a comedic prop in a short lived series called ‘Nicholas’ starring James Garner as well as a character on the Sandy Duncan show having the job of a motorcycle cop, the television landscape was barren of bikers.

That is, until America saw ‘Happy Days’ again in 1974.

Heeeyyyyyy!
The next time a motorcycle would play a prominent role on TV, cool would take on a whole new level, even redefining the definition. Nostalgia for the simpler times of the rock and roll era became big business in the mid-1970s and leading the wave was Happy Days, a sitcom version of teenage life in the mid-1950s. It started modestly and built in popularity rising to the number one program in all of American television by the 1976-77 season.

Although originally written as a minor character, The Fonz became so popular Henry Winkler was eventually featured in the ending credits second only to Ron Howard. With the Fonz formerly belonging to a motorcycle gang (the Falcons) and his leather jacket as much his a signature as the various phrases and the all-powerful thumb, bikers were given a cleaner, softer image.

Serious riders may not have questioned his coolness, but certainly wondered about his attention to detail. In the very early episodes he rode custom Harley-Davidson models, later the bike became a Triumph changing again to a BSA. Overall, the Fonz rode a variety of motorcycles including Harley Panhead, Harley Knucklehead, Harley Sportster, Triumph 500 CC Twin, Trophy 650 CC and a BSA.

Erik Estrada and Larry Wilcox in CHiPs

Motorcycles and the people who loved to ride them were given further credibility when a show that featured the bikes as nearly as much as the leading characters appeared in 1977. CHiPs starred Larry Wilcox and Erik Estrada as two California Highway Patrol Officers riding around Los Angeles on their Kawasaki’s solving crimes and possibly witnessing the most highway accidents in the history of automobile travel.

From the high energy introduction to the various fly-by camera shots of the two riders cruising the California highways the show was loved by all ages.

The success of CHiPs rode television motorcycles into the eighties.

Motorcycles on the Small Screen – Introduction

Motorcycles on the Small Screen – The 60’s

Motorcycles on the Small Screen – The 80’s

Motorcycles on the Small Screen – The 90’s

Motorcycles on the Small Screen – Today

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