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Motorcycles in the Movies

Article by Alan Liptrot


When Bud Ekins took the place of Steve McQueen, to jump the wire fence in the film ‘The Great Escape’, he arguably created the most famous motorcycle movie scene of all time, but you will notice that I used the word ‘arguably’, because there are other movies that run this one close. The Great Escape wasn’t a film about motorcycles; it just happened to have the scene that everyone remembers. Interestingly, although McQueen didn’t perform that stunt, it was his idea to include that scene. Both Ekins and McQueen were avid motorcyclists.

In 1969, Dennis Hopper directed and starred alongside Peter Fonda in a film that reverberated far beyond the Movie Theatre. ‘Easy Rider’ was the story of two disillusioned youths who, after collecting the funds from a dope sale in Southern California, set off on a trip across America. The Hydraglides in the film, which were built between 1949 and 1952, were bought at auction for 500 US Dollars, but chopper builders Cliff Vaughs and Ben Hardy transformed the bikes, each one having a back-up to ensure the cameras kept rolling. One of the bikes was wrecked in the final scene while the others were stolen before the significance of movie props was realised. The final campfire scene still had to be shot, hence the absence of the motorcycles, whereas in the previous campfire scenes, the bikes are clearly visible. The wrecked ‘Captain America’ was rebuilt and by Dan Haggerty and became a museum exhibit until it was sold in 2001.

Walter Salles directed ‘The Motorcycle Diaries’ which was released in the USA in 2004. This is the true story of Ernesto Che Guevara who in 1952, before completing his medical degree, sets out with his biochemist friend Alberto, to travel across South America on an old Norton 500. La Poderosa (The Mighty or Powerful one), as the bike is fondly, but erroneously named, is asked to take them over the Andes, along the Chilean coast, across the Atacama desert, through the Peruvian Amazon and arrive in Venezuela in just a few months, in time to celebrate Alberto’s birthday on April 2nd. They actually arrive at their destination in July. This movie is in Spanish with English subtitles.

In 2007 the ‘Wild Hogs’, bored with their middle-class existence, decide to take to the road on their Harleys. All goes well until they fall foul of the biker gang ‘Del Fuegos’ whose mean leader steals Dudley’s bike. The bikes in the film, provided by Harley Davidson, were an XL1200C Sporster for Dudley (William Macy), an FXSTS Springer Softail for Bobby (Martin Lawrence), a black Fatboy for Doug (Tim Allen) and a Screaming Eagle Fatboy for Woody (John Travolta).

In the 1997 film, ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’, Pierce Brosnan and Michelle Yeoh steal a BMW R1200 and tangle with villains in a Range Rover. Needless to say, Bond wins the day, and luckily for Bond, the owner of the BMW doesn’t catch up with him. Bikes aren’t used much at all in Bond films, which is a great pity as they seem to be ideal for the this type of movie.

Marlon Brando played gang leader Johnny Strabler in the 1953 film ‘The Wild One’, in which a small town is terrorized by two rival biker gangs. Brando rides a 1950 Triumph Thunderbird. This film was banned in the United Kingdom for fourteen years, after which its first public airing was at the 59 Club in Paddington, London. The audience were predominantly ‘Rockers’. The movie also features Lee Marvin as the opposing gang leader.

In 1968 ‘The Girl on a Motorcycle’ was Marianne Faithfull as young wife Rebecca, who leaves her husband to visit her lover in Heidelberg. One of the amazing things about this film is how she manages to keep her Harley in an upright position even when taking bends. The film is also known as ‘Naked Under Leather’, which sounds a whole lot more interesting don’t you think?

There are of course many other movies featuring motorcycles, some of them with very interesting titles such as ‘She Devils on Wheels’, ‘Chopper Chicks in Zombietown’ and ‘Electra Glide in Blue’, but until someone comes up with a scene to rival the wire jump in ‘The Great Escape’, I’m sticking with my favourite,

About the Author

Alan Liptrot is the founder of Motorbike Tours.co.uk The Company offers guided motorcycle tours in Spain, Portugal and Morocco.


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