• Jen Booton

Badassery: Soaring Over Barbed Wire

Each week we highlight badasses throughout history doing the unthinkable in celebration of human potential. This Week: Bud Ekins, a legendary Hollywood stuntman who helped pioneer U.S. motocross.

Bud Ekins was a Hollywood stuntman for actor Steve McQueen who is best known for iconic motorcycle jumps and car races in 1960s films. He was also a pioneer of U.S. motocross and and raced competitively throughout the 1940s and 50s.

Ekins’ best-known stunts include a 65-foot jump with a Triumph T6 motorcycle over barbed wire for the film The Great Escape (1963) as his character escaped Nazis in Germany. He also performed in an epic car chase through the streets of San Francisco in the 1968 film Bullitt, which has become widely regarded as one of the most iconic car chase scenes in film history. The sequence revolutionized Hollywood's standards.

McQueen, who was a motorcycle enthusiast himself, befriended Ekins after walking into his motorcycle shop in Los Angeles and was taught to ride off-road by him.

Ekins’ decorated racing career evolved as the sport went from off-road motorcycle endurance rides in the desert and mountains to the modern era of scrambles and motocross. He won several desert races and then became one of the first American riders to compete in the World Championship Motocross Grand Prix circuit in Europe. He also earned gold medals in the International Six Day Trial (now the International Six Day Enduro).

Ekins became one of the country’s leading collectors of vintage and rare bikes and had at one time more than 150 of some of the most valuable motorcycles in the U.S. He was inducted into the Off-road Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1980 and the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1999.

According to a write up about him by the AMA Hall of Fame, Ekins was “a mischievous teenager, to say the least, and had to spend nearly two years in reform school after he and a group of buddies were caught joyriding in a stolen car.” He was dabbling with hot-rodding cars until he rode his cousin’s 1934 Harley-Davidson and discovered his new love.

After Ekins died in 2007 at the age of 77, the then director of the Motorcycle Hall of Fame, Mark Mederski, called him a "great racer and a major player in the birth of motocross."