Most influential motorcyclists | Columns | Gassit Garage
Not so much a motorcyclist but the reason that so many aspired to take up motorcycling was the great Marlon Brando who appeared as Black Rebels Motorcycle Club leader Johnny Strabler in the 1953 classic movie The Wild One.
The original ‘outlaw biker’ movie made Brando a household name, women wanted to be with him and men wanted to be him, and his badboy persona would be copied the world over.
Brando’s now famous Schott Perfecto leather jacket – the Sons of Anarchy hoodie of the fifties – was banned at schools because it was associated with rebellious and hoodlum behaviour. But so popular was Brando’s character Johnny it is said that his look was the inspiration that Elvis Presley used as a model for his role in Jailhouse Rock and even James Dean bought a Triumph TR5 Trophy motorcycle to mimic Brando’s own Triumph Thunderbird 6T motorcycle that he used in the film.
Surely there isn’t a motorcyclist out there that hasn’t seen The Great Escape. Steve McQueen’s jump scene would have to be the most iconic motorcycling scene of all time, and even though Steve didn’t actually do the jump himself (his longtime friend and stunt double Bud Ekins did it for insurance purposes) he was an avid and a very capable motorcyclist in his own right.
The King of Cool competed in many off-road motorcycle competitions and his name and International Six Day Trials competition number 278 is still used by Triumph Motorcycles to this day to promote its classic bikes and merchandise.
Such a fan of motorcycling was McQueen that in 1971 his company Solar Productions funded the classic motorcycle documentary On Any Sunday.
In 1978 McQueen was inducted into the Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Fame but sadly only two years later he would die from what is believed to have been an asbestos related cancer.
Robert Craig ‘Evel’ Knievel is doubtless the most well known stunt performer of all time. Over his career, he attempted more than 75 ramp-to-ramp motorcycle jumps, and even a failed jump across Snake River Canyon in a steam-powered rocketcycle. In the line of action he suffered more than 433 bone fractures and earned an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records as the survivor of “most bones broken in a lifetime”.
If you were lucky enough as a kid, your parents bought you the Evel Knievel Stunt Cycle that you could wind up and send buzzing down the hallway trying to replicate all of the crashes that made EK famous – after all, that is the main reason that a lot of people love a stunt show, because deep down they are hoping for a good stack.
Inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1999, Evel actually passed away at the reasonably respectable age of 69 from, not a crash but a diabetes related illness.
Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman
Every motorcyclist seems to have an opinion on Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman and whether or not their Long Way Down and Round adventures were epic, or just a couple of well cashed- up actor buddies pretending to ride halfway across the world on their sponsored motorcycles wearing their sponsored adventure gear. Love them or loathe them, sales of adventure motorcycles and adventure gear went absolutely apeshit across the globe following their trips.
They showcased adventure motorcycling to the masses and it lit a fire under many a daydreamer to contact an old riding buddy and say “Hey, do you wanna get away from the everyday for a bit?” Tell us you don’t know someone who did exactly that?
We don’t all have the funds to get a couple of support vehicles or a film crew for our next adventure, but a good mate, a GoPro and a plan to take the Long Way Home is a great place to start.