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Steve McQueen’s Motorcycle Heir Apparent

Photo credit: Christian Black

Maybe it is time to look for a new celebrity to fill the role as Steve McQueen heir apparent when it come to mixing fame with a big dose of motorcycle action.

It is surprising how infrequently motorcycles break into the mainstream media of film, television, and books. Rarely does the protagonist save the day while riding a motorcycle. Even rarer are celebrities with personas linked directly to motorcycles. Perhaps this should not be surprising—not many have the passion, the chops, or the authentic creds to pull it off, to transcend their public identities as star musician or actor to be universally identified by their adoring fans as a “motorcyclist.” There are many celebrities who ride, but few whose force of personality and authenticity has the power to bring motorcycles into the mainstream. 

By anyone’s reckoning, Steve McQueen is still the King of the Celebrity Bikers, a man whose passion for the sport and lifestyle was so legendary, it’s hard to determine where the rider ends and the actor begins. His authenticity made him one of the most adored motorcyclists in the world through both film and life. He was as much motorcyclist off the screen as he was on the screen and for many McQueen was a cultural icon. There were other celebrities keen on motorcycles before McQueen came along, but since then, who has done more than he to bring motorcycles into popular culture. If McQueen is still King, is there a Steve McQueen heir apparent? 

Let’s consider some names.

If McQueen is still King, is there a Steve McQueen heir apparent?

Ewan MacGregor 

MacGregor and riding partner Charley Boorman are in part responsible for making Adventure touring what it is today and with them fresh in the mind with the just released The Long Way Up airing on Apple TV they are good choices as co-heirs. The Long Way Around and The Long Way Down are motorcycling classics showing both the struggles and joys of long distance riding. 

BMW was likely the greatest benefactor of those first two epic rides illustrating what their bikes were capable of doing in the real world and creating a template for what an Adventure bike should look like even if  the adventure is far shorter or never actually departed upon. The fan appeal of MacGregor and his genuine enjoyment of riding launched motorcycle adventure touring into the mainstream environment.

Not to be outdone by the daring acts of some of the other members on this list, McGregor rode a jet-powered flying motorcycle in the seldom seen but entertaining film, The Island. 

Ewan McGregor in Long Way Up for a genuine McQueen vibe

Keanu Reeves 

Give it up for the Canadian.

Everyone at Timmies everywhere knows who Keanu is.  But do they also know he is a motorcyclist and part founder of Arch Motorcycles? (An Arch motorcycle has appeared on Jay Leno’s Garage). Yes, he does motorcycle stuff on Youtube; he famously appeared in a motorcycle stunt riding ad during the Super Bowl, and he was in a sword fight with Ninja assassins while aboard a motorcycle in John Wick 3.

Curiously, the most famous scene from a Keanu Reeves’ film was without Reeves on the bike—Carrie-Anne Moss rode the Ducati 996 in one of the Matrix films. With a Matrix 4 on the way it appears that Moss and Reeves will be back on another motorcycle—a Ducati, but not the 996 as that particular bike is in Reeves’ collection.

Keanu Reeves with Arch Motorcycle - is he a Canadian McQueen Heir apparent

Tom Cruise 

It would be difficul, if not impossible, to name another Hollywood A-lister who has appeared on two wheels in film more frequently than Cruise. He has long made motorcycles an integral part of the action sequences in his movies. It could be argued that after making the Porsche 928 more famous by dunking it in a lake in Risky Business, he was the force in accelerating the sportbike wave of the 1980s with the Ninja riding scenes in Top Gun. This movie came out in the mid ’80s at a time when race replica sportbikes were being built by all the Japanese manufacturers and the message was obvious: if you can’t fly an F18 fighter, a Kawasaki Ninja is the next best thing.

McQueen heir apparent Tom Cruise on a BMW
photo : Paramount Pictures.

The motorcycle scene from Top Gun was so integral to the movie, such a classic cinematic moment, it is recreated in the new Top Gun sequel. A debate could be made for which motorcycle scene is most memorable from a Tom Cruise film after the Top Gun runway adventure. Motorcycles became prop pieces in Oblivion, Knight and Day and Live Die Repeat, while Mission Impossible series has most frequently pushed motorcycle action with the early Triumphs to the more recent choice of BMW motorcycles. 

And it hasn’t ended yet. A huge multi-story ramp was recently built on the edge of a Norwegian cliff for the upcoming chapter of Mission Impossible, the seventh in the series. Cruise, who famously insists on doing his own stunts, reportedly will ride a motorcycle off the cliff, transition to a parachute base jump prior to sticking the landing. Cruise doesn’t only ride in the movies, he also has a collection of motorcycles including one of the most expensive of all time. So like it or not, Cruise is McQueen’s most obvious Heir Apparent.

James Bond: 

Not real but…

Can you include a fictional character in this list? Daniel Craig has most dramatically ridden a motorcycle as James Bond. Triumph released a 007 edition of the Scrambler in recognition of the big motorcycle stunt in the yet to be released due to COVID No Time To Die. Craig also rode a motorcycle in Skyfall prior to being accidentally shot by Moneypenny so both he and the fictional character both know how to ride. 

While Craig has elevated 007’s riding skills, back in the 1990’s BMW launched the R1200C with Pierce Brosnan on board in Tomorrow Never Dies. The two-up riding scene with Michelle Yeoh was one of the film’s highlights and a dramatic intro for BMW’s cruiser.

Roger Moore, a Bond firmly rooted in the 1970s, was at least chased by motorcyclists…   

Deserving Mention: 

Jay Leno

Leno’s love of all things with wheels is well known and his passion relatable because he obviously enjoys his collection for riding of the bikes rather than simply looking at them. His private museum seems more like the guy next doors garage – except that is many times larger.  Manufacturers arrive peddling the latest offering just hoping to get a segment on Jay Leno’s Garage because of the massive audience. Leno has a large collection of motorcycles to to equal his automobile collection. Scattered amid the motorcycles from known and obscure manufacturers is the world’s largest collection of Brough Superiors and several bikes so rare that few others, if any, exist. That in itself is a feat of dedication—and finances. The motorcycle powered by the helicopter engine—that was a good one! There are many stories of Leno turning up amid riders at the Rock Store on Mulholland Highway or various other haunts where motorcyclists tend to congregate in the Los Angeles area. The community and the spirit of motorcycling seem in some way personified by the affable and everyman Leno.

Do you need to be an enthusiast to know that Leno rides? Not particularly. You just need access to CNBC or Youtube.

Points for the Racer: The Doctor

Valentino Rossi is far and away the most famous and fan beloved motorcycle racer in modern history and qualifies as a true motorcycle celebrity. He has just signed a major contract for 2021 at an age twice that of some of his competition in MotoGP. Rossi’s mindbogglingly long and successful career has spanned almost 25 years of high level motorcycle racing. Stadiums around the world and particularly in his home country are often seas of yellow shirts, hats and paraphernalia. Rossi isn’t the all-conquering force he once was but he is never that far behind. Marc Marquez might be the best rider in the last eight years but he has a long way to go to recreate Rossi’s legacy and adoring fan base. 


Points for Drama: The Teutuls 

For all the drama and reboots and bravado associated with the Teutuls there is no argument regarding the family’s affect on the custom motorcycle world. The sheer personality of the Teutuls brought Orange County Choppers into the livingrooms of North America—that and some very intriguing themed custom builds. At the peak of their popularity every second person attending any of the motorcycle shows across Canada seemed to wear an OCC branded shirt, hat or sunglasses and the stylized motorcycle chopper logo was everywhere.

That success led to the launch of their own line of motorcycles and the building of a palatial head office not far from the company’s original digs. Leaving the cramped, dark and nondescript birth place of the brand didn’t cause the demise of the success but it followed shortly after. The legacy of Orange County Choppers could be felt in any number of other enterprises that sought to find gold in the mining of the high end chopper craze but the Teutuls were THE name of the period.

• John Molony, Canadian Biker, Issue #350


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