‘Happy Days’: Henry Winkler Confesses That ‘The Fonz’ Could Never Ride a Motorcycle

by Matthew Wilson

“Happy Days” character The Fonz was known for his leather jacket and his motorcycle. But actor Henry Winkler said both almost didn’t make the show at all.

It turns out every time the Fonz got on his hot rod was a bit of television magic. Winkler confessed that he wasn’t actually riding a motorcycle on set. In fact, Winkler couldn’t ride a motorcycle at all in real life. The one time he tried on the “Happy Days” set ended in disaster for all present.

I can’t ride a motorcycle. So one of the first days on the set, they say, ‘Look, you just have to go five feet. We’re inside. Just have to pull up,'” Winkler told the Television Academy Foundation. Unfortunately, Winkler couldn’t make heads or tails of riding a motorcycle and ended up crashing the vehicle. In fact, the actor almost took out the director of photography.

“I gunned it and ran into the sound truck, nearly killed the director of photography,” Winkler continued. “Put the bike down, slid under the truck. And they took the bike out first because they rented that. And they said, ‘Are you okay?’ They said, ‘Probably, we’re never going to let you do that again.’ For the next 10 years, they put me on a board on wheels and pulled me. And I looked like I was [riding]. I’ve never ridden a motorcycle again in my life.”

So every time viewers saw the Fonz on his bike, in reality, the motorcycle was attached to a piece of string, creating the illusion that Winkler was really riding.

Henry Winkler on His Leather Jacket

Meanwhile, Winkler almost didn’t wear his leather jacket for an entirely different reason. The network believed only criminals wore leather jackets. So initially, they forbade Winkler from wearing the jacket in the show. For most of the first season, the character didn’t have one of his signature trademarks.

“I can’t wear leather because NBC believes I would be associated with crime if I wore leather. So I’m wearing a MacGregor golf jacket. One was beige and one was puce,” Winkler said.

Finally, the show’s creators and the network reached a compromise regarding the signature leather jacket. They would allow Winkler to wear the jacket during the show as long as he shared the scene with his motorcycle. Otherwise, the character would have to find a different windbreaker to drape himself in.