When a young Eric Christian Olsen first watched Steve McQueen gun the engine on his TT Special 650 in The Great Escape, he instantly knew two things – he had to be an actor and he had to own a Triumph.
Years later he has achieved both. He’s starred in a flurry of Hollywood movies and owns a special edition Bonneville… and he insists: “I fell in love with Triumph and that motorcycle the first time I saw The Great Escape.”
Eric made his breakthrough in 2001 as a gunner in blockbuster Pearl Harbour and took the lead role in adolescent send-up film Not Another Teen Movie before making his name in long-running TV hit NCIS LA. Now back in filming after a “cathartic riding break”, he is already planning his next adventure.
“I fell in love with Triumph”
One episode of the police show also marked a screen debut for his pride and joy as his character Detective Marty Deeks roared onto set on a Bonneville 2013 Steve McQueen Edition.
“When Triumph made the Steve McQueen edition of the Bonnie, I knew I needed to be with it physically, emotionally, intimately, so I bought one.
“I gotta respect any actor that was that talented on a bike, but also his style of acting was my favourite of that generation. McQueen did it, Redford did it, Newman did it. On screen they listened, and told the truth.”
Respect the legacy
Eric says he’s biased when it comes to Triumph so the Special Edition is just one of many in his garage: “I respect the legacy of their motorcycles, the history of the company, the quality of the craftsmanship and I’ve always been drawn to their bikes.”
But just one bike? “No, no, no, that would never do. I also have a 1200XCx Tiger in that beautiful matte green, and a murdered out scrambler at our barn outside Jackson Hole in Wyoming.”
There and Malibu see the most of Eric these days, and he’s currently wrapping up filming for series 8 of NCIS as well as finishing parts in three movies due out in the autumn.
Cannibalised cafe racer
Riding has always been his own personal ‘great escape’ since he was immersed into the joy of the open road as a child: “My dad had a cannibalised cafe racer in the garage that he would ride to school. He was a track and cross country coach and an English professor.
“He would take off in blue jeans, a tweed blazer and dusted up Nikes. That’s as cool as it gets.”
Nowadays Eric has his pick of perfect rides, but says the roads near his home in Malibu, California are “unbelievable”: “We usually go up to Topanga and then follow the spine of the Santa Monica mountains alla Mulholland Highway pass the rock store all the way to Camarillo around Point Mugu and back down the Pacific Highway. That’s a perfect ride.”
Paris to the Med: from Paradise to heaven
Twelve months after a dream trip from Paris to the south of France – as he puts it “the equivalent of riding from paradise to heaven” – with five friends on Tiger 1200 XCxs, he can’t stop reminiscing.
“It was a completely different experience. The Bonnie is my casual, laid back, city bike. Silky smooth torque and a gear box with light enough action that I don’t look a fool looking for neutral on Sunset Boulevard,” he says.
“The XCx felt like a land rocket. It was big, sexy, and powerful, with a lot of nice torque with the big triple. Great options for all road conditions and surprisingly agile in the corners.”
Compared to the heat of Hollywood, the rain-swept avenues of the French capital were a culture shock, but one that Eric and his crew revelled in: “It was during the most torrential flooding Paris had seen in 100 years.
“We spent the first two days riding through a monsoon. As they were rescuing priceless paintings from the Louvre, we were attempting to cross puddles the size of Luxembourg. Every day was a highlight, stunning architecture, beautiful scenery, unbelievable wine, amazing food, gracious and welcoming people everywhere we went.”
He adds: “I guess many people would think riding California would be incredible, but there’s nothing as beautiful as the view of the Mediterranean Sea from the cliffs above the south of France. Every day was a highlight. Stunning architecture, beautiful scenery, unbelievable wine, amazing food, gracious and welcoming people everywhere we went. It was a journey of a lifetime. So much so that we plan to do our Triumph ride every year.”
Finding the golden goat
One highlight he urges Riviera riders not to miss is La Chevre d’Or (The Golden Goat) restaurant teetering on the mountain 2,000 feet above the Saint Jean Cap Ferrat and the Med.
“Your bike is parked in a castle built 1,000 years ago at the top of Eze. History is dripping from every angle. The view is spectacular… the Mediterranean sea is so blue it almost bleeds into the sky.
For now, Eric is focusing on completing filming of Battle of the Sexes with Steve Carrell and Sun Dogs starring Allison Janney. But another Triumph adventure will be on the horizon as soon as the directors call it ‘a wrap”.
He says: “Later this year, we’re trying to either do Croatia, Spain, Norway, Japan, New Zealand, Australia or Argentina. We will go as far as the Tigers can take us.”