Hollywood has had a long love affair with the motorcycle, producing hits like The Wild One and Easy Rider and not-so-great flicks like Wild Hogs — the tale of a group of CPA-types who hit the highway on Harleys and meet up with real bikers.
Add another film to the list with The World’s Fastest Indian, which came out in 2005 but made my TV screen for the first time last night. The rule of thumb in my household is if I haven’t seen it, it’s still new.
Actor Anthony Hopkins plays real-life New Zealander Burt Munro, who spent a lifetime dreaming about coming to America to run his Indian motorcycle on Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats.
The first half of the film details his eccentric lifestyle down under. The elderly man lives in a cinder block shack and pees on his lemon tree each morning. Good fertilizer, he tells a neighbor boy.
The movie takes off when Munro books passage aboard a cargo ship and sets sail for Los Angeles.
He arrives in 1960s Hollywood, shacks up briefly at a flea bag on the Sunset Strip and buys an old Chevy to carry him and his bike to Bonneville.
Munro has adventures along the way that include amorous times with another senior citizen and dinner with a real-live American Indian.
He has to run a gauntlet of Bonneville bureaucracy to be allowed to participate but eventually does with the help of racing heavyweights who’ve taken a shine to him.
The last half-hour of the film contains realistic clips of Hopkins as Munro rumbling across the salt, reaching speeds of more than 200 mph.
I was impressed by the cockpit view, which blurred as the antique V-twin got up to speed. When the bike fishtailed, I felt myself trying to correct it by letting off an imaginary throttle.
It was humbling to see an old Kiwi go so fast on such an obsolete machine. It made me think of the last time I pushed it on my much more modern bike.
I was in the Salinas Valley last fall on one of those endlessly flat farm roads. It was a weekend and there were no tractors, laborers or CHP in sight.
I cranked it, rolling right up to 130 mph. I took my eyes off the road just long enough to glimpse the speedometer, which seemed to be floating.
But despite being decked out in the best protective gear and riding a bike with excellent brakes and suspension, I quickly backed off, worried about blow-outs, potholes and other gremlins.
There are only a handful of people who can set records at Bonneville. I’m not one of them.