The motorcycles used in the series were supplied by Harley-Davidson (according to the closing credits of the episodes); Sportsters (883cc) were used for the road shots and close-ups, with a Harley-Davidson Sprint SS350 and a Czechoslovakian CZ, and possibly a Harley Rapido 125, used occasionally for hillclimbs, beach scenes and other rough-terrain riding.
According to Bud Ekins, the stunt coordinator for the movie and the series, MGM bought two or three Sportsters for the pilot movie (which was filmed in the fall of 1968; the bikes were probably the 1969 model XLH). The bike used in the hill climb and beach scenes was a CZ, provided by Bud, who was a CZ dealer at the time. The bikes were sold after the movie was completed.
After the movie proved popular, and the series was scheduled, Harley-Davidson provided three Sportsters, one of which was customized with a side-car for close-up shots. H-D also provided a Sprint 350 and later a Rapido 125 (used in the moto-cross in the episode entitled Mating Dance For Tender Grass). The Rapido crashed before the shooting of the episode was finished, putting the stunt rider into the hospital. In that episode, the race's first prize was a green 1970 H-D Sportster, with the new "boat tail" seat/fender assembly. (It was first prize for a real race that was actually held for the episode, and was donated by Harley - even though it had been previously promised to another, paying customer of H-D! The customer did get his bike a week or so later.) In the episode entitled The Great Motorcycle Fiasco, the motorcycle, a "1937 Rudge Ulster with a bronze head," used by actor Keenan Wynn, was owned by either Keenan or Bud Ekins, who recommended Keenan for the part.
Bud said he was the one who customized the Sportsters and other cycles, and said the sissy bar came off of a Schwinn bicycle. He also said that no Triumphs, Yamahas or other cycles were used in the movie or episodes in place of the "Bronson" Sportsters, except the CZ (in the pilot movie) and the H-D Sprint and Rapido (in the episodes).
Bud said he trained Kurt Russell, who appeared on one TCB episode, to ride a cycle with a sidecar for the movie Swing Shift, which also starred Goldie Hawn. Click here for a look at a lobby card from that movie.
One thing Bud said was that, toward the end of the series, one of the Sportsters was dropped repeatedly in a studio to create sound effects of a crash. I tend to think it was for "THE FOREST PRIMEVAL" episode (aired in March 1970), where the bike crashes down the hillside.
In place of the Harley-Davidson logo on the gas tank, the bikes had a decal of a pyramid with an eye in the center. (When asked where the design idea came from, Michael Parks said to look on the back of a dollar bill. Bud Ekins thought it was designed either by someone in MGM or by one of the show's producers.)
The following comes from Cycle magazine for February 1970:
"The Bronson Bike"
MGM Press Release
For afficionados, the changes are as follows. The front wheel was replaced with a 21" aluminum rim carrying a 3.00 x 21 ribbed tire. The front fender was changed to a chromeplated, bobbed piece and the headlight nacelle, or housing, was removed and a chrome sports light(*) replaced it. A Harley-Davidson CH gas tank replaced the standard tank, and the oil tank and rear shock springs were chrome plated. A kickstarter was added although the Sportster carries an electric starter. (What the kickstarter does, is to enable the actor to look like he's turning over the big engine while the starter button is being pushed-Ed.)
The seat was replaced with a custom leather unit(**) and a short chrome hand-hold (***) was mounted behind the passenger seat. The chain guard cover and the voltage regulator cover were chrome plated. The rear fender was bobbed 5 inches and the tail light replaced with an old style English light. The motorcycle was repainted with a specially mixed formula which is called, from this point on, Bronson Red. The final touch was the addition of the Bronson "Eye" insignia to the gas tank."
* Bud Ekins said it was a Bates headlight.
** Possibly the "Cobra" seat (see ad on page 77), although Bud said it wasn't. It sure looks like the one, but maybe they "cloned" it after the show became popular.
*** A.k.a. "Sissy bar." Bud told me that he got that item off of a Schwinn bicycle.
An observant fan told me that the air cleaner cover was not a stock item for the 1969 Sportster - it was from an earlier Harley - and Bud agreed.
Bud also said that he didn't do the chroming that was listed in the press release, so maybe the cycles came from H-D with the modifications mentioned in place.
I've also talked with others from the show, and been told that the crew that handled the motorcycles for the pilot movie were from MGM, whereas the crew that handled the bikes for the series were different guys (the MGM guys didn't want to go on the road for extended periods of time). The only one who stayed with both the movie and the entire series was Bud Ekins.
Also, the 2 or 3 Sportsters used in the pilot movie were not used for the series - Harley provided the series' bikes on condition that they be returned. (This may indicate that the Sportster that was dropped for the crash sound effects was one from the movie - the effects may have been needed for the scene where the bike crashes into the cargo of the overturned truck. However, it may have been the series episode, entitled The Forest Primeval, where Bronson's bike crashes down a hill. But why they couldn't have used some other brand of cycle, I don't know.)
And the article in Cycle, for February 1970, states that there were "five" bikes, but lists only four: "Two Bronson street semi-chopped Sportsters, a hillclimb bike and the stunt bike." The hillclimb bike is probably the Sprint 350, and the stunt bike is a Sportster with a sidecar and a seat mounted on the front fender, the additions being for cameramen or the director and one cameraman. I will have more on this, as well as more details on the customized "Bronson Bike" in future updates - which can be presently found in the Newsletters section of the site.
Bud also told me that he was a Triumph dealer at the time, and had the largest sales worldwide. To "repay" him, Triumph gave him a dinner and a pin and put in two more dealerships in his area (thereby cutting Bud's sales - and profit - level). So he decided to go with Harleys for the tv show. (What's that expression, something about snatching defeat out of the jaws of triumph?)
Click here for the filmography, etc., of Bud Ekins.
Here's something interesting... If you look closely at the cycle on the model cycle box and the one on the book cover for "... THEN CAME BRONSON" (unfortunately you really need the original box and book to see it clearly), you will notice two things: 1) the photos were from the same photo-shoot (look at the background thru the wheel spokes, and also the reflections off various chrome parts - the camera angle is just a few inches or so different from one photo to the next, so it's the same bike and same shoot), 2) there's something strange about the front tire. To illustrate this, I created an animated gif file that cycles (pardon the pun) back and forth between the two views. Just look at the front tire. An artist has superimposed a street tire image over the knobby tire that was actually on the bike.
Click on the following links for photos of the real Sportster (from the model cycle box - not in good shape! - and from one of the TCB novels).
[Note: The first two are the same photo links as are in the "model cycle" page.]
(photo 8 - from the book)
More info on the Bronson motorcycles can be found in the newsletters on this site.
Click here to go to the "EYE" gas tank decal web site: click here
Click here to go to Harley-Davidson's web site: Harley-Davidson
To go to "The Harley Sprint Parts Shack,"
Visit Kirk Kelley's Sportster parts site, Sporty Specialties (714-879-0500), in Fullerton, CA. He may even be able to help you with your Bronson Sportster customization project:
Visit Motodirectory.com (click on the image), "the Rider's Masterlink to the Web":
Visit 2 Wheels Directory (click on the image), a "Directory of Motorcycle & Bicycle Manufacturers, Dealers, Retailers and Services (clubs, magazines & more), Over 23,000 companies in 87 countries,
Classified by countries, cities and search terms":
This page updated November 16, 1999 . . . . . . . . . this web page copyright 1998, 1999 firstname.lastname@example.org, except for the photos in the links.