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The following famous people have ridden a bike or a Vespa:-


Marlon Brando
The 1953 movie, The Wild One, starring Marlon Brando and Lee Marvin, tells a story of two rival motorcycle gangs as they terrorize a small town after one of their leaders is thrown in jail. Brando and the rest of the Black Rebels Motorcycle Club ride Triumphs and other British motorcycles. In fact, Brando rode his own personal bike, a Triumph Thunderbird 650 in the starring role as Johnny

It's a myth that Brando rode a Harley in the movie. It is true that the rival gang, led by Lee Marvin's character, Chino, rode Harley-Davidson motorcycles.

The Wild One was loosely based on the Hollister Incident that occurred in 1947 and was reported in Life Magazine.

This film was banned in Britain until 1968. Marlon Brando and most of the Black Rebels ride Triumphs and other British motorcycles, while Lee Marvin and his boys ride Harley-Davidsons. The Triumph motorcycle that Marlon Brando rides in the movie was his personal bike.

This was the first film in which the manufacturer's logo on motorcycles was not blanked out. Johnson Motors, who imported Triumphs into the USA, protested at their product being linked with Brando and his Black Rebels, but the association served them well. San Francisco Hell's Angels chapter president Frank Sadilek bought the striped shirt that Lee Marvin wore in the movie, and wore it when meeting police officials. Lee Marvin based his character, Chino, on real biker Willie Forkner ("Wino Willy").

Forkner rode with the Booze Fighters Motorcycle Club, and is considered a legend among bikers. Based on a 1951 short story in Harper's Magazine entitled "The Cyclists" Raid", which in turn was based upon a real life incident which occurred in Hollister, California in 1947. The actual incident, however, bore little resemblance to the events depicted in the movie; although spirited, the cyclists did not run amok or become violent. In fact, the bikers were invited back to Hollister over the July 4, 1997 weekend for a fiftieth anniversary celebration of the original incident. Marlon Brando's motorcycle is a 650cc Triumph Thunderbird. From stills, its registration number looks like 63632. Lee Marvin himself also owned a Triumph, a 200cc Tiger Cub upon which he competed in desert races. Gil Stratton Jr featured in a print advertisement for Triumph motorcycles in 1963 in his later and more respectable identity as a famous sports announcer.



Steve McQueen's famous motorbike
It was fellow actor Keenan Wynn who introduced Steve McQueen to dirt biking on Triumph motorcycles.

His local Triumph dealer, Bud Ekins, encouraged McQueen further and the famous actor developed into a good amateur scrambles and desert racer in California in the early 1960s When McQueen's movie The Great Escape needed a motorcycle chase and jump scene, and the film's insurers wouldn't let him do his own stunt work, Ekins not only prepared the Triumphs to look like German army bikes, he did the jump scene as well.

McQueen does appear on bikes in the film, not only while he is being chased by German soldiers on motorcycles, but also as one of the German motorcycling soldiers. The Ekins-McQueen friendship continued and by 1964 they entered a team of American riders in the International Six Days Trial held in Soviet East Germany. The five-man team was mounted on Triumph Trophy motorcycles, which they picked up from the British factory amid much publicity. As a team they competed for the Silver Vase Trophy, but they also competed as individuals for gold, silver or bronze medals, depending on their required riding and timekeeping skills and point scores.

The ISDT had long been called "the Olympics of Motorcycling," and it is still held each year in different countries. Just to finish the event within the maximum allowed time and receive a bronze medal is a considerable achievement in off-road motorcycling.

The five Americans entered were Bud Ekins, his brother Dave, and John Steen, all on 500cc Triumph Trophy bikes, and Cliff Coleman and Steve McQueen on the larger 650cc Triumph Trophy versions. McQueen was the last on the American team and also near the tail end of the entire entry.

For the first two days all the American team riders stayed on perfect gold medal time, but early on Day 3, Bud Ekins slid into a bridge abutment. He remounted and continued to the end of the day's ride, keeping on time, but in considerable pain. A check at the hospital in the evening found that his ankle was broken and he had to withdraw. McQueen fell heavily in the same place where Ekins had come to grief. He was not injured, but damage to the exhaust pipe on the bike delayed him and it was only with an axe borrowed from a forester that he was able to cut the pipe open and get the bike to start.

Later, McQueen was delayed again with chain trouble but fixed that and was racing to get to the day's final checkpoint in time when he was suddenly faced by a spectator on a motorcycle, who, thinking that all the competitors had passed, was riding in the opposite direction. McQueen swerved up a bank to avoid the head-on collision, crashed, damaged the forks on the Triumph and cut his face and knees in the fall. He managed to get the bike started and running again, but with the bent forks he could only ride slowly to the finish where he had to retire from the event.

Dave Ekins and Cliff Coleman finished the Six Days with gold medals and John Steen finished with a silver, just one minute away from the gold. The American team finished 16th out of 19 national teams.

McQueen never raced the No. 278 Triumph again. It was rebuilt and used by the American team in the 1965 ISDT, after which it came to California and was used successfully by several riders in Californian and Mexican desert races until it was retired in 1972.

Steve McQueen died in 1980 at age 50 from mesothelial cancer. No. 278 is now in a California motorcycle collection.

—Allan Johnson




T.E. Lawrence of Arabia

Lawrence of Arabia loved his motorcycling and his motorcycle. 'A skittish motorbike,' he said; 'with a touch of blood in it is better than all the riding animals on earth, because of its logical extension of our faculties, and the hint, the provocation, to excess conferred by its honeyed untiring smoothness. Because Boa' - Boa was Lawrence's pet name for his Brough - 'loves me, he gives me five more miles of speed than a stranger would get from him.

TE Lawrence, immortalised as Lawrence of Arabia, had an unceasing passion for motorcycles and, like so many other men of his generation, began riding during the First World War. Following the publication of 'Seven Pillars of Wisdom' Lawrence bought his first Brough Superior, a 1922 Mark 1A, thus beginning a long association with the marque and its owner, George Brough. Lawrence named his Broughs 'Boanerges', meaning 'sons of thunder', and called them George I, George II, and so on. George VIII was under construction at the time of Lawrence's death.

Lawrence's last motorcycle (George VII aka GW 2275, built in 1932), was fitted with all the best Brough Superior equipment of the day. In particular it was equipped with the Bentley & Draper rear suspension system, Castle Brampton front forks, Royal Enfield brakes and Lucas electrical equipment. Its engine number was 22000/S and its frame number was 1041.S. The machine sported an Amal 1.25-inch carburettor and a Jaeger 120mph speedometer. Lawrence was famed for giving that speedo plenty of exercise in his high-speed dashes along the lanes of England - in fact he broke it more than once!

'The burble of my exhaust unwound like a long cord behind me,' he reported. 'Soon my speed snapped it, and I heard only the cry of the wind my battering head split and fended aside. The cry rose with my speed to a shriek while the air's coldness streamed like two jets of iced water into my dissolving eyes... The next mile of road was rough. I braced my feet into the rests, thrust with my arms, and clenched my knees on the tank til its rubber grips goggled under my thighs... The bad ground was passed and on the new road our flight became birdlike.'

There can be no doubt that Lawrence was besotted with his Brough and the exhilaration it afforded him. It was; 'the silkiest thing I have ever ridden' he said. 'At 50 she is a dream. She is extraordinarily fast, with a following wind and downhill I got over the hundred on Easter Monday in the New Forest.' And yes - if you have noticed - Lawrence initially referred to Boa in female terms but later switched to calling the bike 'him' or 'it'. 

The chrome and black Brough cost T E Lawrence £170 when he bought it in 1932 but today it is priceless. Despite the 25,000 or more miles they covered together, and a few dents - the legacy of that fatal crash near Clouds Hill in Dorset nearly 70 years ago - the Brough still looks impressive. All through the latter months of 1934 and the first part of 1935 Lawrence planned to take George VII back to Brough for some much-needed maintenance, but he found it hard to make time for the trip.

The one early summer's day in May 1935, Lawrence was riding the Brough back home from Bovington in Dorset to his nearby cottage at Clouds Hill. Suddenly he came upon two boy cyclists, possibly obscured from view by a passing car; fatally swerving to avoid them he pitched over the handlebars onto the road. Like most riders of the time he was not wearing a helmet, and so sustained a serious head injury which left him in a coma and claimed his life some six days later.

No one who knew TE Lawrence could have been too surprised by his end. George Bernard Shaw, who contributed towards the Brough's cost as a present to Lawrence, commented on his friend's mania for speed and is reported to have summed up his gift thus: 'It was like handing a pistol to a would-be suicide.'

The strength of the Brough protected it from major damage -- the footpegs were bent, saddle grazed, the headlamp rim came off, the kickstarter and gearchange levers were bent -- and following the accident it was repaired by George Brough himself. If you look closely at the bike in the Museum then the damage done to the handlebars and front mudguard can still clearly be seen to this day. Since the accident and its subsequent repair, Lawrence's Boa has rarely been exhibited in public. Now visitors to the National Motor Museum will be able to see this legendary bike for themselves displayed in a special exhibition case, complete with other Lawrence memorabilia within the Museum's Hall Of Fame.