Long Strange Trip

Long Strange Trip: Malcolm and Me

As funny as it sounds, some folks are gonna say that On Any Sunday and the trio of Malcolm Smith, Steve McQueen and Mert Lawwill are not exactly Harley-Davidson/American V-Twin-themed chunks of moto culture, and therefore not acceptable as grist for a magazine that covers that segment of the sport.

That’s hogwash, of course.

Aside from the fact that Mert Lawwill spent the entirety of Bruce Brown’s epic documentary fighting to defend the Grand National Championship he won on a Harley-Davidson, against a bunch of other Harley-Davidsons (and Triumphs, and BSAs), all while being watched by race fans who rode to the races aboard a lot of Harley-Davidson motorcycles, and the fact that Milwaukee is featured prominently in the Bonneville speed record segment of the film…there’s the Universal Motorcycle Everyman thing to consider.

This Everyman could be Mert or Steve or Malcolm; it could be the fat guy on the Yamaha Mini Enduro in the film’s opening scenes; it could be the African American couple crashing their Electra Glide in the mud; the unhelmeted commuter on the Yamaha two-stroke; the desert-racing gal with the Desert Daisy jersey; or the many off-road racers depicted throughout the film.

malcolm smith
Malcolm at work during an autobiography session, with the infamous and invaluable dry-erase board nearby. It was a huge help.

On Any Sunday, as most know, applies to all of us. Or at least it used to. Unlike today, motorcyclists were pretty much one big tribe 50 years ago, when OAS debuted in theaters across the country. Motorcycling was much less of an us vs. them thing back then. 

Yeah, you had biker gangs at one extreme and clean-cut college kids in pretty sweaters on Hondas on the other, and all sorts in between. But motorcycle people were, for the most part, motorcycle people. Dirt bikes and street bikes of any ilk were just that – bikes – and despite the ever-present concept of brand love, folks pretty much got along and intermixed and enjoyed riding. 

If there is a Universal two-wheeled Everyman, it’s obvious that rider, racer, businessman and true enthusiast Malcolm Smith could easily be it. Malcolm had a lot to do with this edition’s OAS piece, too, largely because of the On Any Sunday chapter we included in his autobiography – titled Malcolm! The Autobiography – that debuted back in 2015.

Mitch Boehm Malcolm Smith
Mitch Boehm and Malcolm Smith

Helping Malcolm write his life story was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me, and the process itself was plenty fascinating, too. Once we’d mapped out the basic chapters – from his family and early years in Canada and So Cal to his recent retirement – and began organizing his massive cache of photos, we attacked each section in depth, meeting usually once a week for five or six hours and filling up a large dry-erase board with hundreds of details on what, when, who and how. I’d snap photos of the board every once in a while, and it’s a good thing, too, because one day one of his grandkids figured they’d use it for doodling – and erased every bit of it!

Once I’d gotten a chapter written we’d go over it word by word, with Malcolm making tweaks and additions when necessary until, over time, he pronounced it just exactly perfect: His story, his take, his words, his life. Then the words and images would go to my good friend and longtime art director Todd Westover for design and layout. And then more proofing. It took two years to finish, but the end result was and is epic, and the book continues to sell very well – and will, I imagine, for decades to come.

While Malcolm continues to struggle with Parkinson’s Disease, we chat often, and he seems to be fighting the good fight, which is what you’d expect from the guy who could, in Bruce Brown’s words, do it all. 

As Bruce quipped in the film, “Nice, Malcolm…” 

If you dare to go toe-to-toe
with Boehm find him at
longstrangetrip@thunderpress.net.
May your wounds quickly heal

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