A great article from 1971 unearthed from the Sports Illustrated archives– Steve McQueen discussing desert bike riding with Bud Ekins & Malcolm Smith, Racing in the 12 Hours of Sebring with Pete Revson, The Great Escape, his son Chad, and much more.
McQueen even recalls exactly when he was bitten by the off-road bug– “Well, I was riding along Sepulveda with Dennis Hopper when we saw these guys bopping and bumping through the weeds near there, off the road. It was Keenan Wynn and another guy on these strange machines, dirt bikes they called them. We asked Keenan if he could climb that cliff. ‘Watch this,’ he says. Varoom! Right up to the top. Dennis and I were standing there with our eyes out to here. The very next day I went out and bought me a 500-cc Triumph dirt bike.”
Read on friends, read on.
Steve McQueen riding his Husqvarna 400 motorcycle. Below is an article from SI magazine, 1971.
HARVEY ON THE LAM
* * *
By Robert F. Jones
By any name, Steve McQueen gets all revved up over dirt bikes.
Slamming one across the California Desert is now his Great Escape.
The opening scene: California’s Mojave Desert at high noon. Dead silence. Through the shimmering heat waves, Mount San Jacinto seems to writhe on the horizon like a dying brontosaurus. The spines of the cactus at foreground right are in sharp focus, the gleaming spearpoints of a vegetable army. In the shadow of a boulder, sudden movement. A Gila monster raises its beadwork head and flicks its tongue, alert to the distant sound that is just beginning to insinuate itself into the desert’s quiet. A sudden, ululating whine, the invading noise rapidly gains strength as four distorted dots on the horizon weave closer. The dots take on color and shape s they approach: a quartet of red and chrome motorcycles, stunting and racketing through the puckerbushes, their riders vaulting the ridges and slaloming through the cactus at 70 mph. Their ominous, mechanical verve sends the Gila monster– descendant of the dinosaurs– scuttling for shelter. The camers zooms in on the lead rider’s face, sun-blackened and jut-jawed under his helmet. Up music and credits: hold onto your popcorn, folks–
Harvey Mushman rides again!
That scenario, or one like it, takes place nearly every weekend in the desert surrounding Palm Springs. Harvey Mushman is the ocassional pseudonym of Steve McQueen, movie actor and motor sportsman, when he goes a-racing. His companions on those fast, racking transits of the wasteland often include the best of the desert-riding breed: Bud Ekins or Roger Riddell, Mert Lawwill or Malcolm Smith. Now and then a smaller figure on a smaller bike trails behind, slower but only a touch less skillful in his handling of the desert’s harsh nuance– Chad McQueen, the actor’s 10-year-old son.
June 13th, 1971 – Steve McQueen riding his Husqvarna 400 motorcycle in the Mojave Desert — Photo by Heinz Kluetmeier/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images