Steve McQueen: Motorcycle Enthusiast
To major motorcycle enthusiast Steve McQueen, biking was second only to breathing. Discover the details of his lifelong love of bikes and his motorcycle collection.
“McQueens Machines” features the cars, motorcycles and even airplanes that Steve McQueen owned over the years. Read details about the star’s amateur racing career, movie stunt work and his passion for collecting.
Photo courtesy Motorbooks
McQueen’s Machines (Motorbooks, 2007) by Matt Stone celebrates major motorhead and famous actor Steve McQueen and his passion as a car enthusiast, racer, and motorcyclist. Get a close-up look at the automobiles and motorcycles in McQueen’s garage, those he drove in movies and others he raced. The following excerpt is from Chapter 2, “McQueen on Screen.”
McQueen on Two Wheels
"A Husqvarna 405 at about 12,000 rpm—that’s music. In bike racing, I specialize; I do rough-country riding, the long-distance kind of thing. With a cycle, you’re dealing with natural terrain, you learn to read the earth. . . I like being out there in the desert on a set of wheels. You’re really alive out there."
—Steve McQueen, from Star on Wheels, 1972
It was inevitable that Steve McQueen and motorcycles would form a lifelong link. His childhood and rough early years—scrabbling for work, living in near poverty—forced the issue on two fronts. One, bikes were cheaper than cars. Two, he was of the ideal temperament for motorcycling in the late 1940s, when the activity was far from genteel. Indeed, the personality of the rough-and-tumble biker stereotype had long been formed by then, supported by daredevil racers of the 1910s and 1920s and only given a unified visual identity we recognize today by so-called outlaws of the 1960s. In between, we had Brando and Elvis and James Dean—misunderstood, troubled, in trouble, and, for that matter, out for trouble. It would be no surprise to find a rudderless youth, enticed by the image, stick to it as a way of submerging his troubles.
McQueen might be placed in this category after a cursory examination, but that would do him a tremendous injustice. Even if he didn’t start out to be one of his period’s most celebrated motorcycle enthusiasts, McQueen had most certainly become one.
Whether you consider his positioning of motorcycles (among other fast vehicles) in his films and public life or stop to ponder the fact that, at one point, he owned more than 100 motorcycles at one time, you can’t read much about McQueen and not realize that he was, deep down and to the core, a pure enthusiast, a man for whom motorcycling was, you might say, second only to breathing. The endeavor was both an escape from acting and a validation of his skills, plus an opportunity to join a tight fraternity of riders who, at first, didn’t care who he was as much as how well he could ride. These statements would, no doubt, horrify McQueen, who was as taciturn about his hobby as anyone.
The difficulty to tracing the post-McQueen history of many of his bikes is the nature of the beast.
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