Bud Ekins was the real thing. The way he told it he had started riding much the same way he started breathing – pure instinct.
Born and raised in California, Ekins grew up riding motorcycles in the hills above his home in Hollywood. The whole of his life unfolded from his love of bikes. At first, he entered local bike races for fun but by the mid-1950s he was the top rider in Southern California. He raced in the United States, in Europe, in Mexico. He even accidentally pioneered desert racing in 1964 when, in gruelling conditions, he and his brother rode a motorcycle most of the length of Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula in 39 hours and 48 minutes, setting the Tijuana – La Paz record.
But Bud’s life ended up almost as glamorous as it was gritty. In 1963, Steve McQueen walked into Bud’s Triumph motorcycle dealership and asked him to keep him company on a film set in Germany.
What followed was the most famous motorcycle stunt in film history.
Bud went on to work on several other films, there was the famous car chase in McQueen’s 1968 Bullitt; two Bond films; The Blues Brothers. Bud worked right up until 1998 and whenever he was done working for a while, much of Hollywood could be found hanging out at his dealership. He even taught Warren Beatty to ride. There were long nights, parties that stretched out a week, for a while Evel Knievel even changed tyres at Bud’s shop.
Walking off sunny Ventura Boulevard into the Sherman Oaks dealership, you might not have guessed at the tales its owner held. Certainly, Bud’s 6-and-a-half-feet frame made him quite imposing. The tattoos might even have suggested some stories, although Bud maintained he got them at 13 because ‘Tattoos were part of growing up. You had to have a tattoo. I got them for the same reason you start smoking.’ But Bud’s presence was not starry or overwhelming. Unlike later stuntmen, he was not a fan of outlandish tricks. If he jumped something, it was because he knew he could. Perhaps that steadiness was what drew people to him.
Bud did not compete because he needed to win. He did not star in films because he needed the attention. He did it because it was what he knew, what he loved. He rode like he lived, with great dedication. By the time he was an old man, he had more stories than most but he rarely told them. When he did, there was the sense that this was a man who, because he had dedicated himself to the things he loved best, had enough ease to live, to really live.