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Show and tell - Bike action movies

2011-08-15 09:27


BEST BIKE ACTION MOVIE?: Steve McQueen Truimph is seen here poised to jump over the Swiss border.

Action movies, and more importantly the bikes featured in them, are always guaranteed to spark a heated discussion in any bar in any country.

At my local in the southern suburbs of Cape Town, someone asked Jaco the barman: “So, what’s your ‘bestest’ motorcycle action movie then?”

He looked up and said: “There’s only really good bike flick, and that’s 'The Great Escape'. Especially where the star, old whatisname who jumped over the barbed-wire fence on a stolen Jerry’s motorcycle, that was really lekker…  I think it must have been a BMW," he added thoughtfully.


Listening in on the conversation I had to agree with the lads that 'The Great Escape' was definitely something of a motorcycle cult movie.

Drawn into the discussion I stated that my favourite bike flick was called 'The World’s Fastest Indian', a movie that surprisingly few of the punters had seen, which is a pity considering the entire movie is all about motorcycles - Indian V-twins to be exact.

I corrected Jaco in that the 'The Great Escape' starred Steve McQueen who attempted to jump over the Swiss border fence not on a German bike but a British Triumph steed… which seemed to surprise most of the guys as well.

That, and the fact that the rider was not really McQueen (who was an accomplished rider ) but Bud Ekins, a Hollywood film stunt man and close friend of McQueen and was also responsible for building the escape bike.

How ones goes about disguising a 1961 pre-unit Triumph Trophy as a BMW has never been explained but the visuals are nevertheless superbly done, especially the failed 20m border jump to freedom that McQueen attempted.


Anybody who saw the film may well remember a scene depicting a German soldier being hauled off his bike at speed due to a wire that had been stretched across the road. That particular stunt was performed by McQueen.

Being lifelong friends, McQueen and Ekins would get together in their California homes as both were avid bike collectors. At last count in 1981, about 12 month’s before McQueen died, he owned 112 motorcycles, Ekins had 130.

Of course there are plenty of other movie stars who enjoy bikes: Brad Pitt, Peter Fonda ('Easy Rider'), and John Travolta ('Wild Hog'), but arguably the biggest bike enthusiast is Tom Cruise with his love of the Triumph motorcycles.

Sure, it was a Kawasaki Ninja featured in 'Top Gun' but in several films since he has starred with products assembed in Hinckley, England.

Accidents can happen to anybody, as any biker will tell you, but a few years ago Cruise was cruising along Hollywood Boulevard and skidded and fell off on a patch of oil. He picked himself up, dusted himself down, signed a few autographs and rode off into the sunset!

Another interesting character of years gone by who was passionate about bikes was British singer/entertainer/comedian George Formby. My local drinking hole occasionally has a motoring theme evening… but I’m not sure if the audience would appreciate me bringing along 'No Limit', the movie starring Formby entering and winning the Isle of Man TT races with his Shuttleworth Snap race bike!

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