Bud Ekins: 1930-2007 - Icon

The most famous motorcycle stunt ever filmed is also one of the most misunderstood scenes in motion-picture history: the epic motorcycle jump from director John Sturges's 1963 classic The Great Escape.

People still believe it was the film's star, Steve McQueen, who launched that '62-spec Triumph TR6 more than 65 feet over a barbed-wire fence actually made of rubber bands. After all, McQueen was a talented rider and did many of his own two-wheeled stunts. But it was actually McQueen's close friend Bud Ekins-4 inches taller and not nearly as blonde-who jumped the Triumph that afternoon in Germany, after major surgery that made it look like a Wehrmacht-issue BMW.

It was Ekins-stuntman, accomplished off-road rider, multi-time Six Days gold medalist, collector, restorer, Motorcycle Hall Of Fame inductee and general hard-core motorcycle freak-who got McQueen into bikes in the first place. Ekins eventually partnered with the Hollywood star on the U.S.'s '64 ISDT team. It was a friendship that lasted right up until McQueen's death in '80.

Ekins was always around bikes, from his early days in America aboard clapped-out Depression-era Harleys, to his early post-war racing successes and European Grand Prix motocross experiences in the early '50s. He won in the prestigious Big Bear endurance run and Catalina Grand Prix, dominated Southern California desert racing in the late '50s, and took four gold medals in the International Six Day Trial. In 1962, Ekins and Bill Robinson set the Tijuana to La Paz record, covering the 1000 miles on a Honda CL72-a 250cc four-stroke streetbike!-in 40 hours. The man's racing resume would fill a book.

When Ekins and McQueen met at Ekins's SoCal Triumph dealership in the early '60s, their friendship led Ekins to become a Hollywood stuntman-which led in turn to that epic scene in The Great Escape. The huge jump wasn't in the original screenplay. It was just a little something McQueen and Ekins dreamed up while shooting in Germany.

In the '80s and '90s, Ekins continued to play with motorcycles, working on his massive collection of classic bikes right into the 21st century, and remained proud that every one of them actually ran. That's Ekins through and through...he was a rider, not a polisher.

Bud Ekins died last October, and it's no stretch to say he leaves a hole in the motorcycle community no one will ever be able to fill. We miss him very much.

Godspeed, Bud. You were a gentleman, a certified maniac and an inspiration to generations. That jump makes the hair on the back of our necks stand up every time we see it. But it'll never be quite the same without you.