McQueen’s Motorcycles: Racing and Riding with the King of Cool | Review
There is a certain magic with anything associated with Steve McQueen. The man left his mark as an actor on television and the big screen, and that is where most people came to know him.
The back story of his life suggests that if he hadn’t been a movie star, he probably would have made a name for himself as a professional motorcycle and/or auto racer, and maybe as a collector with an eagle eye for fine motorcycles and cars.
He wasn’t just a guy who got rich in the movie biz and took up motorcycle racing as a minor hobby—he was good at it. McQueen was a tough competitor in off-road events from the Baja 1000 and Elsinore Grand Prix, and was also a member of the U.S. Team for the 1964 International Six Days Trial (ISDT).
Matt Stone’s new book, “McQueen’s Motorcycles-Racing and Riding with the King of Cool,” is a vibrant memoir of McQueen’s life as a motorcyclist. Stone’s work shows McQueen was an ardent rider, a tough competitor and an accomplished collector.
The book springs from Stone’s earlier work, “McQueen’s Machines: The Cars and Bikes of a Hollywood Icon,” published in 2007. Stone explains: “As successful as Machines was and still is, it had only one chapter about McQueen as a motorcyclist, and I always felt that there was much more of the story to be told.”
He was right, and he’s just the guy to tell it. Brought to life with 163 color and black and white images, Stone takes us along on the ride that was the late Steve McQueen’s life. Indeed, it was a life with a rocky start and some rough spots along the way.
In McQueen’s Motorcycles, Stone tells how McQueen was not a child of privilege, coming from a broken home, only attending school to the ninth grade and spending part of his youth living in the Boys Republic Reform School in California. Only 17, McQueen joined the Marine Corps and while serving his full tour to discharge undertook to soup up one of the tanks he served in!
Acting school in New York started him on the path to stardom, and the purchase of a battered 1946 Indian Chief with sidecar planted the seeds for his life-long love affair with motorcycles.
Stone includes some of the misadventures McQueen had on his motorcycles, such as the trip on his BSA that went south in more ways than one. McQueen and some buddies took their bikes to Cuba, and he wound up arrested for trying to sell some guy cigarettes. He had to sell his helmet and parts of the BSA for bail money; the BSA never made it off the island.
Where McQueen’s acting career and his affinity for motorcycles intersect makes for fascinating chapters; one is about the 1963 classic, “The Great Escape,” another is on Bruce Brown’s epic “On Any Sunday,” which co-starred Malcolm Smith and 1969 AMA Grand National Champion, Mert Lawwill.
Other chapters focus on his motorcycle racing exploits, including his desert and other off-road racing in the sixties and seventies and his place in the history of the 1964 ISDT. Finally, Stone focuses on McQueen’s gathering –McQueen didn’t really classify himself as a “collector”—of motorcycles, classic and not-so-much that over five decades ran up to about 200 bikes of various brands and types. The book includes a look at some of the best of the McQueen collection and where they are now.
Stone’s book is superbly done both in content and presentation. Even if you haven’t been a big Steve McQueen fan in the past, the book’s insights into his generous personality as well as tough, competitive side may well make you one. Indeed, by the time you’re finished reading Stone’s book, it may be difficult to decide what was more fascinating—the man or his motorcycles.
- Title: McQueen’s Motorcycles-Racing and Riding with the King of Cool
- Author: Matt Stone
- Published: 2017 hardcover, 159 8.5” x 11” pages, 163 color and black & white images.
- Publisher: Motorbooks, Quarto Publishing Group, 400 First Ave. North, Suite 400, Minneapolis, MN 55401 USA
- ISBN: 978-0-7603-5175-8
- MSRP: U.S. $35 U.K. £24.99 $45 CAN