Steve McQueen was a motorhead for motorcycles during the '60s

Everybody has something that relaxes them and for McQueen it was risking his life. Very "King of Cool" of him.

Image credit: The Everett Collection

Fans of Steve McQueen already knew he enjoyed living his life in the fast lane. Whether it was in a car, on a horse, in his career or while sitting on a bike; If it involved speed, McQueen was there, probably in record time.

For McQueen, racing cars and motorcycles was his way of clearing his mind. McQueen owned around 200 motorcycles. Some of these vintage bikes included: 1951 Triumph Thunderbird, 1933 Matchless Silver Hawk, 1912 Harley-Davidson X8E Big Twin, 1970 Husqvarna 400 Cross, 1915 Cyclone Boardtracker and more. 

He had plenty of rides to choose from when taking breaks or on hiatus from Wanted: Dead or Alive (1958). Much like his character, Josh Randall, McQueen loved adventure. "The King of Cool" was just that. He was known as one of the biggest motorcycle personalities in the 20th century, and many fans wanted to be just like him.

He was the iconic bad boy during the 1960s and the 1970s. His tough side made him stand out in Hollywood, but that part of him was best shown while sitting on one of his bikes. 

McQueen even did his own motorcycle stunts while filming the 1963 film The Great Escape. The film was noted for its epic motorcycle chase and jump scene, which is considered one of the best Hollywood stunts ever performed. 

In a 1965 interview with The Alexandria Times-Tribune, McQueen said whenever he started to believe he was the greatest actor to ever come out of Hollywood, he would jump on a motorcycle for a more realistic appraisal of himself.

According to the interview, McQueen had just returned from the International Six Days Trail (ISDT) in East Germany, where he competed with the American team. Could you imagine having one of the greatest American TV cowboys on your team?

McQueen's explanation for why he risked his life to race with the American team? It's simple: "To keep from getting a swelled head."

"You see, around the studios everybody waits on me," McQueen said. "They powder my nose and tell me what they think I need to hear. And after a while you're convinced you are super-human."

"But when you're racing a motorcycle, the guy on the next bike doesn't give a damn who you are. And if he beats you in the race, well, it means he's a better man than you are, and he's not afraid to tell you that you're lousy."

When the actor wasn't dedicating his time to filming, most of it was spent (literally with cash) on cars, motorcycles, rugged hunting trips or roughing it on mountain trails. 

"Man, I got to keep a perspective," McQueen said. "I know motorcycle racing can be dangerous, but I don't plan on getting killed. And when I'm humming along on the bike, I say to myself, 'Man, this is where I want to be. This is what I'm happy doing.'"

According to the interview, McQueen and his team of four other Americans were unsponsored and paying their own way to attend the motorcycle trials in East Germany. They failed to place well in the competition at the time. McQueen explained: "We had too many crashes."

Watch Wanted Dead or Alive on MeTV!

Saturdays at 4:30 PM

*available in most MeTV markets
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?
Close

10 Comments

Jaguartech 7 months ago
Was Bud Ekins that made the jump, he also owned the motorcycle.
raddad Jaguartech 7 months ago
Bud was also on the ISDT team with Steve. Steve broke his ankle in the race .
Jaguartech raddad 7 months ago
The last scenes in On Any Sunday where he's riding with Malcolm Smith are pretty cool also.
I raced Husqvarna and Ossa bikes back in the day.
CaptainDunsel 7 months ago
Steve McQueen did indeed do the rather hair-raising motorcycle jump over a barbed wire fence in "The Great Escape". But the real kicker is when you learn who played the German soldier chasing him, who also jumped that same fence. That German was played by... Steve McQueen.

And now you know... The Rest of the Story.
Andybandit 7 months ago
Steve had 200 motorcycles. Wow that is amazing.
CaptainDunsel Andybandit 7 months ago
Oh, publicists make up stuff like that all the time. He probably only had 199.
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?