“Racing is life. Anything that happens before or after is just waiting.”
As in everything else, the motorcycle community has changed. As the decades passed, the heritage of motorcycling was packed away, and has been largely forgotten with time. Now, the history of motorcycling is all but forgotten by the vast majority of the motorcycle community. The only place where the legends of motorcycling exist are in long forgotten archives that were never digitized, and knowledge of both these archives and the figures documented within them fade by the day.
Until now. British Customs is a Southern California-based lifestyle brand and designer of aftermarket motorcycle parts. They are known for making the highest quality factory-spec bolt-on parts that only require common tools and minimal technical knowledge to install. With any of their parts upgrades, the average rider can completely customize his or her motorcycle in a weekend.
More importantly, British Customs is revitalizing the lost heritage of motorcycling by connecting with the remaining legends that built the motorcycle culture as we now know it and sharing their stories with the riders of today. The company has established on their blog an authoritative database composed of numerous interviews, profiles, histories, and more on the racers, races, machines, designers, tuners, events, personalities, and more that collectively built the heritage of motorcycling. They is calling this the Legends Series.
To help motorcyclists get their own piece of history, British Customs has released multiple custom motorcycles built in collaboration with many of these living legends as well as parts developed with their input. These include the Triumphant built with Eddie Mulder, the Sonny Nutter Tribute built with Sonny Nutter, the British Customs X Mule Motorcycles Tracker Classic, the Spirit of Gyronaut with the heirs of the original Gyronaut X-1 team, Drage Pipes, Slash Cut TT Exhaust, Pro Builder Series Mule Motorcycles parts, the Stainless Steel Collection, and many more.
British Customs has also added a researched and connected piece to their archives on the man who arguably made the motorcycle lifestyle: Steve McQueen.
The late actor Steve McQueen is the man largely responsible for creating the motorcycle lifestyle as it is now known. Before him, motorcycling was typically thought of as an outlaws-only type deal and was generally frowned upon. After him, it was the pinnacle of cool.
McQueen was born in Indiana in 1930, and had a troubled youth. He was mostly raised on his great uncle’s farm in Missouri before he moved to Los Angeles with his mother when he was 12. He became involved with gangs and spent time at the California Junior Boys Republic reform school, which he later in life credited for helping him get back on a straighter path.
McQueen joined the Marines and spent significant time in the brig for numerous offenses, but was promoted to Honor Guard after he helped rescue five fellow shipmates who went overboard into the Arctic Sea after hitting a sandbar. He was honorably discharged in 1950, and then spent several years drifting around the country on a motorcycle. During these years he also took up acting, and his tough-but-good-at-heart personality made him one of the highest paid actors in Hollywood over the next decade.
In the early 60s, he was out riding the streets of Hollywood when he saw some off-road bikers ripping up the hills around the area. He was so impressed by their skill and how much fun it looked like they were having that he went and bought a Triumph 500 cc bike the next day from Bud Ekins’ shop in Hollywood.
In 1962, McQueen was in Germany shooting The Great Escape, and he invited Ekins out to be his stunt double for the film. Ekins had never been a stunt double, but went anyway. Together, they conceived the most iconic motorcycle stunt in film history: the impossible jump which McQueen’s character makes over a fence when trying to escape from a German WWII POW camp, on a Triumph motorcycle. Ekins performed this miraculous stunt with ease, and thus launched his career as a stuntman, often doing work for McQueen throughout both of their careers.
Together, McQueen and Ekins would compete in numerous prestigious off-road races nationally and internationally. The most prestigious arguably being the International Six Days Trial in Germany, which ended in crashes for both of them, but which they were both still proud to have competed admirably in.
In the early 70s, McQueen was asked to help co-produce Any Given Sunday, which is acknowledged to be the best and most authentic motorcycle documentary ever made. Throughout the 70s, McQueen started collecting motorcycles, and by the late 70s his collection included over 100 bikes and was reputed to be worth millions.
Every week, British Customs will add at least two pieces to continue growing their archive as they are completed or documents are uploaded on the racers, events, designers, machines, personalities, and more that created motorcycling as we now know and love it.