In 1971, a movie was released that perfectly encapsulated the joy and spirit of riding motorcycles.
Unlike previous biking movies, which often portrayed bikers as outlaws or other on the fringes of society, On Any Sunday was a documovie following the professional racers of America’s AMA Grand National series. With onboard cameras (a real novelty at the time) dramatic music and beautiful cinematography, Bruce Brown’s classic made off-road motorcycles, and the warriors who rode them, cool to a whole new generation of wannabee riders.
Set against a Southern Californian backdrop and covering every kind of motorcycling from hillclimbs to road racing, On Any Sunday followed flat track legend Mert Lawwell in his endeavour to retain the Grand National title, which uniquely is fought out over short circuit road races and oval dirt tracks.
But On Any Sunday’s inspiration more often came from the tales of the leisure riders who rode, erm, on any Sunday. Leader among those was Hollywood icon Steve McQueen, who equally played a starring role in the movie that he also part funded.
Whether dirt bikes have ever been fashionable is a matter of conjecture. Posers are few and far between in this most blue collar of motorcycling past times, which has typically been the domain of the hardcore enthusiasts and mates simply out for a ride together.
In many ways, On Any Sunday brought that all together and showed the wide spectrum of motorcycling in early 1970s America. The legacy could be felt two or three decades later, when the teens that were captivated by the movie first time around came to relive their youth and get back into bikes.
McQueen’s cool was revived in the early 2000s. He appeared in a ground breaking TV advert for the 2005 Ford Mustang, which saw his character from the iconic 1968 movie Bullitt driving the modern day car – 25 years after his death – while classic motorcycle brands Barbour and Triumph have also licenced his name and likeness to help sell product. Triumph’s 2006 Scrambler was openly inspired by the actor’s exploits at the 1964 ISDT and came with a range of accessories that included side boards bearing his ‘278’ race number and a comprehensive range of T-shirts and jackets. Indeed, if clothing was your thing, Barbour would happily flog you a McQueen shirt of their own, or even a pricy replica of his riding jacket.
The rise of retro, with McQueen as its poster boy, has made dirt styled road bikes super cool these days. Models like the Ducati Scrambler, Triumph Street Scrambler and Yamaha SCR950 take their cues from the 1970s desert sleds ridden by Steve and his mates back in the day. McQueen probably didn’t make motorcycling cool at the time, but he certainly has in his death. Who knows if these cool modern retros would exist if not for McQueen and On Any Sunday?
On thing remains true though. For the hard core motocrossers and dirt bike riders there’s nothing cool about trying to be cool. And for the weekend warriors, riding dirt bikes remains a passionthey’ll do at any opportunity. Just like On Any Sunday.