Motocycles: Mat Durrans takes a ride into the world of celebrity bikers

Motocycles: Mat Durrans takes a ride into the world of celebrity bikers

I was recently asked to contribute comments to a lifestyle magazine about celebrity bikers. My interviewer wanted to know who the coolest were and what they rode.

The chance to put a positive spin on motorcycling to those who might never give us a second thought was too good to pass up, so I replied with what seemed to me the most obvious examples.

Valentino Rossi and Steve McQueen sprang to mind, as did Barry Sheene, Keanu Reeves and Ewan McGregor (above with Charley Boorman). But The Doctor is a bike racer and not a celebrity, I was informed. McGregor and Reeves just about made the grade while Sheene and McQueen elicited no response.

I’m not exactly a dedicated follower of fashion or of celebrity, but it strikes me as odd that MotoGP’s GOAT doesn’t make the grade as a celebrity. Sheene was the prototype for Rossi. Both are world champions whose character off the track was at least as crucial to their worldwide appeal as the results were on it.


Valentino Rossi

McQueen, as anyone who has any interest in film will know, was a Hollywood leading man during the ’60s and ’70s. He often played the outsider, the renegade loner who had to do things his way. Bullitt, Papillon, The Great Escape and The Magnificent Seven are just some of his antihero escapades, but the coolest part of this actor’s aura was that he was just the same risk-taker when he wasn’t in front of a camera.

He had a tempestuous love life, was hounded by the paparazzi and was way more famous than he ever wanted to be, so what did this Hollywood heart-throb do to escape all the attention? He went fast, in cars and particularly on bikes.

He would enter races under an assumed name and after doing all the mechanical work himself he would ride at a pace that opened up possibilities of professional racing if he ever fancied ditching the acting side of his life.

McQueen is, at least to someone of my advancing years, the coolest biker who ever lived. But he’s dead and that means, apparently, that his celebrity status is lacking.

I included McGregor because, apart from being one of the other coolest dudes in the galaxy — Star Wars’ Obi-Wan Kenobi — he helped spark the explosion in adventure biking by recording his travels around the planet with best mate Charley Boorman.

Reeves also got my nod, thanks to his passion for bikes. His love for two wheels runs so deep he got involved with the creation of a new, niche motorcycle manufacturer. Arch Motorcycles builds a big V-twin performance cruiser that arose out of a design that Reeves wanted for himself, but it proved so good that they decided to start building them for sale on a limited scale.

Steve McQueen

Steve McQueen

All of these gentlemen seemed like eminent candidates for celebrity biking status to me, but my interviewer had other ideas. I was confronted with a barrage of names that, to be brutally honest, I mostly didn’t recognise, so I just spouted out a few more examples that I thought might impress.

George Clooney rides, and crashes too. As does Arnold Schwarzenegger, Billy Idol, Bruce Springsteen, Matt Damon and Jay Leno. Brad Pitt’s a keen biker too; he’s even ridden here in South Africa when he went touring a couple of years ago, under the radar on a BMW R 1200 GS.

These chaps, I’m reliably informed, are all old has-beens and aren’t really celebrities for today’s youngsters.

I know Paris Hilton once crashed a bike at a red-carpet event, I proffered, hopefully. Turns out she’s a bit long in the tooth as well, so an awkward silence ensued.

Jamie Oliver rides a scooter, I eventually whispered in quiet desperation. DJ Fresh? TE Lawrence? Ozzy Osbourne? Evel Knievel? President Putin? Nelson Mandela? I made the last one up, but he was such a cool dude I’m sure he’d have been a biker given half a chance.

It’s at this point that the interviewer thanked me for my time and left, without having taken any notes. It seems my idea of celebrity and that of the magazine differs. The new definition includes those who are famous just because of who they are, rather than what they’ve done.

South Africa’s biggest biking celebrity? That would be Brad Binder, a superhero who this year dominated his class of grand prix racing as has never been done before. If you fancy meeting him and listening to the story of his season, then join me and the rest of The Bike Show team at Rim & Rubber in Greenside on the evening of Wednesday November 30.

If you’re into celebrities, they don’t come much bigger than this young man, at least according to this old man’s criteria. – Mat Durrans