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Steve McQueen's Jump Revisited

McQueen Metisse Replica

Metisse Motorcycles says it will build 300 copies of the new Steve McQueen Metisse Desert Racer.

Almost 30 years since he died and 46 years since his epic jump in The Great Escape, Steve McQueen still holds us under his spell. But if you think about it a moment, just why is a bit of a mystery. For one thing, McQueen didn’t even make the jump; that duty fell to offroad racer and stuntman Bud Ekins, a close friend of McQueen’s. Insurers for the film wouldn’t let McQueen expose himself to that kind of danger, so Ekins made the famous jump that’s been tied to McQueen ever since. Yet motorcyclists never tire of talking about that jump, which was recently recreated with help from Gerry Lisi at Metisse Motorcycles, who just launched a limited run of 300 Steve McQueen Metisse Desert Racers.

The motivation for the recreation was the apparent controversy surrounding the original McQueen/Ekins jump. Ekins rarely said much about the jump, and when he did it was only that the stunt was done with a bone-stock Triumph Tiger. But therein lies the rub, with some parties claiming there’s no way a stock Tiger could have cleared the fence. Ekins, who died in 2007, claimed it took several tries to clear the fence, building up a berm to get enough lift for the shot they needed.

To test the jump’s difficulty, Britain’s The Sunday Times got Metisse Motorcycles owner Lisi to loan them one of the firm’s limited-edition Steve McQueen replicas, a Metisse-framed, Triumph-powered scrambler modeled on McQueen’s own Rickman-Metisse of the late 1960s, which McQueen called “the best handling bike I’ve ever owned.”

Riding duties fell to British Trials champion Steve Colley, and the jump was executed on the rolling turf of a golf club in Oxfordshire, with fencing built out of logs to mimic the crossing border McQueen (or Ekins, as the case may be) jumps in the film. Colley claimed to have a little trouble getting enough speed and momentum for the jump, but finally, after multiple adjustments both to the bike and his launch point, Colley hit his launch ramp flat out and roared over the fence. Afterwards, Colley called the McQueen/Ekins jump “amazing. What they lack in equipment, they sure made up in balls,” Colley said.

Oh, and the McQueen replica Colley used? You can buy one yourself from Metisse Motorcycles — provided you have a spare $18,000 or so sitting around – or you can check out the May/June 2009 issue of Motorcycle Classics, mailing April 3, for Alan Cathcart’s full story on this incredible tribute to Steve McQueen, complete with stunning pics and a full ride report. Don’t miss it. — Richard Backus