Friday, January 1, 2010


Nostalgia on Wheels posted these incredible pictures of Steve McQueen and his Bud Ekins' desert-modified Triumph Bonneville racer from the June 1964 edition of Cycle World Magazine. Original photos by Cal West.

Actor Steve McQueen and his Triumph desert bike in their native habitat.

Many modifications make a desert bike. Crossovers, skid plate, giant filters, etc.

Paper-pack air cleaners are connected to carbs by special a collector box. A Cushy saddle and high pipes are essential in the desert.


Winning desert races is what this machine was set up for. It is the mount of actor Steve McQueen, who recently won the novice class in a one-hour desert scrambles. The victory only proved what a close look at his Triumph Bonneville suggests: McQueen takes his motorcycling seriously.

It takes some modifications to wing the rough, dusty hare 'n hounds, scrambles and enduros that are popular in the southwestern desert. McQueen's machine was prepared in Bud Ekins' Sherman Oaks, California shop. They started by replacing the stock wheel with a 1956 Triumph hub and 19" wheel to reduce unsprung weight. The forks were fitted with sidecar springs and the rake increased slightly by altering the frame at the steering crown. The rear frame hoop was bent upward to accommodate a 4.00 x 18 Dunlop sports knobby, and to it were welded brackets for the Bates cross-country seat. The bars are by Flanders, with leather hand guards, and the throttle cables run over the tank, through alloy brackets to the twin 1 1/8" Amal carburetors.

A Harlan skidplate protects the underside of the motor, the footpegs were braced, and the rear brake rod was increased to 5/16" diameter and rerouted inside the frame and shock (where sagebrush can't damege it). The oil tank was modified to increase its capacity and bring the filler out the side fom under the seat. It also serves as part of the mudguard, saving weight.

The engine is basically a stock Bonneville but the compression was lowered from 12 : 1 to 8 1/2 : 1 for reliability, and the sagebrush-snagging oil pressure indicator was converted t a pop-off relief valve with a return line back to the oil tank. McQueen runs Jomo TT cams and Lode RL47 Platinum tip plugs.

The important job of filtering all that dirt out of the desert air is handled by paper-pack air cleaners connected by a special collector box to the carbs. This box is finished in black wrinkle-finish paint while the tanks are dark green. The cross-over pipes are Ekins' own design, and are left unplated for better heat dissipation. Perhaps if McQueen were riding this motorcycle in the movie, he would have made his "Great Escape."

--Cycle World Magazine, June 1964


  1. Have you noticed a trend on this site that all the "real men" photos stopped being taken in the 60's?

    I'm in a mood.


  2. Great post. McQueen is my fav. actor. Sand Pebbles is on now, watched The Great Escape a few days ago. ;-)

  3. Tell me who the "new" McQueens, Brandos, and Pollocks are and I'll write about them happily.

    Exactly my point.

  4. McQueen is a great actor. He's a well-known fanatic of dirt and pit bikes.

  5. Excellent motorcycles, these motorcycles are what I like specially because they're classics and also the value is too high, What I'm gonna do tomorrow will be waking up and then go to the first agency in order to buy the most perfect classic motorcycle, next I'll come back to the pharmacy in order to continue working.