Following is an abstract of an article I found in an Old _Popular_Science_ magazine, November, 1966, to be exact, written by Steve McQueen.
First, a brief bio on Steve. He'd be in his '60's now, if he were still alive, and I'm sure he'd still be riding regularly. Steve was one of the famous enthusiasts who put motorcycling on the map, for good or worse. He was a successful Hollywood and TV actor - his credits include _Bullit_ - the definitive San Francisco Car Chase Movie, _The_Sand_Pebbles_, _The_Great_Escape_ - in which he did some of his own stunt riding (you have maybe seen the poster of the disguised TR6 jumping the compound fence), and many others - who was also an enthusiastic desert racer, collector, and all-around motorcyclist.
He was taken by Cancer in his prime, a young man with everything going for him - beautiful wife, home, and the acclaim of his colleagues on screen and off. As you'll see in the article, he was a good friend of Bud Ekins, another famous California desert racer, who had a very successful Triumph dealership, and promoted motorcycling in many ways, including and especially American participation in the International Six Days Trial, and in International Moto-Cross - up till his time, US/AMA racing was pretty well limited to that which Harleys and Indians did well - hill climbs, drags, and flat track racing.
The following article was for the edification of the general, _Popular_Science-reading population, and Steve's renown as a movie actor was obviously a large part of their choice in him as an author. But make no mistake, Steve was a respected member of the off-road motorcycling fraternity, and was a regular competitor and contributor to the motorcycle-specific magazines as well, such as _Cycle_.
Since I was a young (well, 25) cross-country racing fan myself at the time, I found this old article to be very interesting, and thought I'd share it with y'all.
On his passing, Steve's very comprehensive motorcycle collection - he specialized in Belt-Drive pre-war singles and V-twins, as well as the regular -to-drool-for more modern machines - was eventually auctioned off, to be passed onto and enjoyed by other well-to-do aficianados. His day-to-day Desert sled, for example, shown at the bottom of this article, was on display at Trev Deeley's (RIP, Trevor!) Motorcycle Museum in Richmond, BC, the last time I was there - about 1998. It may still be, and a trip to the Museum is pretty well obligatory for any motorcyclist who finds himself in BC's lower mainland. Check it out!
What is interesting to me is that, although as the following article attests, Steve was an admirer of the excellent Rickman-Mettise kit wrapped around a Triumph 650, his daily pounder, at least for desert events, was not one of these at all, but a basically stock-chassised MCM-piped beat-up old Triumph, pretty well stock!
Meanwhile, here is a fairly word-for-word ripoff of the '66 PS article. I've beenkeeping my copy for quite a few years now, and I thought it was time to share it.
|Steve demonstrates his nickel-plated, fancy-ass, to-die-for-in-the-'60's Rickman-Metisse Triumph, as well as the latest '66-tech safety gear. What? No Sneakers? (Actually, this was pretty well the kit for most desert racers of the time - except they wore a helmet, of course!) - Big Air for The Day, unless you're Evel Kneivel! X-Sporters, eat your hearts out!||
Da Man Hissef, star of stage, screen, radio, and desert - Steve McQueen!
|"First of all, I don't set myself up as an expert on either setting up machinery for racing, or in the actual sport of racing itself. But after 21 years of desert riding in Southern California, TT Scrambles, Hare and Hound, and a bit of racing in the wet in the Six Day Trials in East Germany in 1964, I sure hope I picked up a little about motor-cycles and riding along the way. It hasn't hurt, either, being partners with Bud and Dave Ekins in a motorcycle shop in the San Fernando Valley. That's been a keen education - like going to school. Dave won two gold medals, and Bud picked up three representing our country in the Six Day Trials, and they are two of the best desert bike riders this country has ever produced. I was very pleased and flattered to be chosen to test six dirt bikes for PS.||Let's get to the point immediately. We assembled all the bikes on a scrambling course of six-mile perimeter, which had just about every type of terrain I could think of: cow trailing with a top end close to 70 m.p.h., a sand Wash with some rocks (to be avoided at all costs) ; sand dips of the washboard type with a depth of two feet maximum; several high-speed jumps of the TT variety; and a lot of fast trailing with quick changes, both up and down and side to side. Here are my impressions of the bikes and how I rate them for desert riding - the kind of riding I'm mainly interested in."|
The BSA HornetThe first bike I tested - the BSA Hornet - is designed for desert riding or scrambles. It has a powerful 650 cc engine and a damn good air cleaner - real important for hard riding or in the desert. It's important for the longevity of the engine because you don't have to take the carburetor apart to get the slide unstuck from sand and grit, a problem they don't have in the East. it's a keen bike. But I found it awfully heavy. A lot of weight would have to be stripped off to make the bike competitive. (I prefer a lighter bike, which seems to adjust to the driver. It almost seems to become part of you in the test.)
The Hornet also had a tendency to want to go its own way. 1 always had to stay on top of it. But it sure had a good-functioning power train. I also think the front forks should be raked on a more forward angle. With this ad- justment, the BSA would have a more stable ride in the rough and would be generally a smoother performer.
The BSA Hornet felt "awfully heavy." But then it has a great, powerful engine. The actor suggests that reduction of the bike's weight would make it a more competitive, more satisfactory vehicle.
-This is a TT bike with trials tires and no knobby (treads). It's a 750cc, four-stroke,two-cylinderthat has lots of torque. With its Harmon and Collins camshaft and two Amal Monobloc carburetors, it produces almost 60 horsepower at the rear wheels. This semicustom model isn't a true scrambler. It's more of a TT, or track racing bike, because of its shorter forks which give you less ground clearance than I like a scrambler to have. Norton's history in road racing is well known, but desert riding is a bit different. You need the torque, but you also need the handling. I would say that you need at least 6 1/2 inches of travel in the fork and stiffer shocks, but it's sure a a goer. And it's very forgiving.
Four-stroke Norton semicustom job, shown being revved up, has a 750cc engine. "it sure is a handful," McQueen says. "It's a race-bred bike with loads and loads of torque." But clearance is low.
| My feeling has been that the Triumph Bonneville 650cc has been best for the desert until recently, when the lightweights started to nip at its tail. It has more wins in desert racing than any other bike. It, too, is of the brute variety. I found its new unit construction to be quite an advanceover the earlier separate engine and gearbox.
The front end has a tendency to push, but then you adjust to that and have a very smooth ride, and the Triumph front forks are bloody good. l would think, next to the Ceriani forks, they are the best.
Having two carburetors has always been questionable in my mind - just another cable that could snag, and not that much (extra) speed is involved. However, the Triumph is a very strong bike that handles very well. The extra inch of travel and additional raking of the forks produce a smoother ride than it has had up to now.
Triumph is the bike that McQueen is most
partial to. A desert champion, this Bonneville
TT special has a 650cc four-stroke engine
that is one of the most powerful in the world.
Unit construction is new.
Author rides high on this 250cc Montesa La Cross, the author finds it a very "forgiving" bike. "It handles just great," he says. This results mostly from neutral suspension. A Spanish import, it's a two-stroke.
Greeves Challenger has "even more beans than the Montesa." This two-stroke, high-revving bike has been very successful in European scrambling competition because it's a healthy piece of machinery
Despite my preference for four-strokes, I was surprised at the performance of these two-stroke bikes. The Montesa is a Spanish import with a 250cc engine. It's a great bike - a keen bike - and a comer. It has real good rear shocks with five adjustments, and |
6 1/2 inches of travel in the front forks. The forks are very simlar to the Ceriani, perhaps a bit stiffer.
The Montesa is a very neutral-handling bike with a light front end that can be brought up and down by turning it on full song in the first three gears, and it handles great. The high revs necessary for a two-stroke have been worked out very well. The revs just seem to keep going up and up. A couple of times I missed the corner. I was in fourth gear and honking right along. I was already sliding and too dedicated to change my line and just went flat out completely off the course. I expected to be up on t he front end any minute
doing a swordfight in the air with the handlebars, as there were some ruts and I was bouncing along pretty good. But the suspension took the punishment and I found it very easy to keep the weight going the way I wanted it - very forgiving indeed. It's an awful lot of bike for $800.
The Greeves Challenger is also a high- revving two-stroke that has been very successful in European scrambles, as well as in the desert. lt's strictly a race-bred vehicle. A very healthy piece of machinery, it has even more beans than the Montesa. I've raced against them and they don't break down even in the hot baked desert air where a two-stroke is affected a lot more than a four-stroke. These two-strokes have a lot going for them, but frankly l'm too attached to four-strokes to be completely won over. De spite the quality of the two-stroke engines, I still don't feel that 1 have all the torque I need to get out of trouble.
|The revs just seem to keep going up and up. A couple of times I missed the corner. I was in fourth gear and honk- ing right along. I was already sliding and too dedicated to change my line and just went flat out completely off the course. I expected to be up on the front end any minute doing a swordfight in the air with the handlebars, as there were some ruts and I was bouncing along pretty good. But the suspension took the punishment and I found it very easy to keep the weight going the way I wanted it - very forgiving indeed. It's an awful lot of bike for $800.The Greeves Challenger is also a high-revving two-stroke that has been very successful||in European scrambles, as well as in the desert. lt's strictly a race-bred vehicle. A very healthy piece of machinery, it has even more beans than the Montesa. I've raced against them and they don't break down even in the hot baked desert air where a two-stroke is affected a lot more than a four-stroke. These two-strokes have a lot going for them, but frankly l'm too attached to four-strokes to be completely won over. Despite the quality of the two-stroke engines, I still don't feel that I have all the torque I need to get out of trouble.|
The HondaThey have learned a great deal at Honda about desert riding. And they have set up the Honda Scrambelr accordingly - good electrical system, super suspension, and a very good power train. They can be made to perform like a 500cc, and you have a lot of rpm to play with. It's a keen bike for the money.
|Steve points to the oil intake of his Rickman-Metisse frame, which forms the basis of the new bike he built himself. The high-riding actor says that the frame is a great step forward in bike design because the whole frame is the ''oil tank.'' The oil is exposed to a larger surface and thus stays considerably cooler than if it were circulating from a conventional oil tank. Keeping the oil cool helps prevent breakdowns, should make piston seizures rare.|
Components from various other bikes were added by McQueen to complete his Rickman-Metisse rig. The fork-crown above is from BSA, which is noted or making strong ones. 'It's real important for me because I've hit bumps so hard sometimes that I've actually bent the handlebars," McQueen says.
Italian Ceriani forks help to give his home-built rig a smooth ride. Mcqueen says. They have 7 1/2 inches of travel. This feature makes the rig more capable of taking the ruts and bumps typical of scrambling courses - the kind of terrain where McQueen prefers to do his riding.
| "I prefer the big four-stroke engine, but on a light bike. The
best way I've found to get this combination is with a bike I put together
with the assistance of the Ekins brothers in our valley shop. I used a
Rickman Matisse frame - a revolutionary piece of equipment that does
away with the oil tank. The oil circulates through the tubes of the
frame, which keeps it cool. That's especially important when you're
racing or driving under hard conditions. It helps to avoid breakdowns
and should make piston seizures quite rare."
"I used a 650cc Triumph engine as a power plant for this bike. The drive train and gearbox are also Triumph. It has Ceriani forks with 7 1/2 inches of travel for a real smooth ride, and a BSA crown."
"The fiberglass fenders and tank hold the weight down to a notch under
300 pounds. The rig is the best-handling bike I've ever owned. And the
power - it's like supersonic. You can build a rig just like it by ordering
the frame from the Rickman-Metisse distributors in England. The frame
costs $400 and you Can Scrounge any Other Components you need to complete
the bike from junkyards. You should be able to put together a real
first-class bike for a very modest sum - and that makes plenty of
"Summing up, I'd say they're a high-performing group of bikes and I had a ball riding them. "
|"Boy, isn't it just great," Steve McQueen told me when he had
finished testing these motorcycles for PS. (There were originally 10
in the group, but testing was not completed on the Suzuki X6 Scrambler,
BMW R60, Harley-Davidson Sprint, and Yamaha Catalina because of technical
difficulties and McQueen's tight schedule. Nevertheless, they are
included in the chart on page 79, for your complete information.)
Why does a movie star who just received. $750,000 for making _The_Sand _Pebbles_ for 20th Century-Fox, spend his time cow trailing on a motorcycle? "It's the clean smell of the desert in the morning."
|"The satisfaction of setting up a rig and having it work perfectly
in every way," McQueen told me. McQueen is happy about the popularity of
motorbikes today. But he is a little concerned about new riders. "Think
you have to learn to ride away from heavy traffic. Myself, I like to
ride flat out, where it's allowed." he says. He urges motorcyclists not
to take chances, though. Even through he reluctantly consented to pose
for a few pictures without a helmet for PS, he urged motorcyclists not
to ride without one. It can make all the difference between getting up
from a crash and dusting yourself off - or having someone send you
flowers in the hospital."
- Herbert Shuldiner.
The bike is VERY original - it looks as if it was just thrown on the truck after the last time it was ridden on the desert - and it probably was. Rear fender torn off long previously - the ol' "wheeley bruise," bits of tape and bailing wire holding things together ("nothing is as permanent as a temporary fix"); I think I remember dirt caked around a few oil seeps. Anyway, here's the shot: