Marlon Brando is recognized as one of the greatest — if not the greatest — movie actors of all time. He is lauded for his contributions to film, acting, and society, but rarely is he noted for his contributions to the motorcycle community.
Brando became a cultural icon because of his distinctive acting style. He defined American culture for decades to come because he acted as if he had no code, only instincts, and that amazed and influenced American society immensely. Brando was a rebel with a cause: he was rebellious, antisocial, and took no shit. He made himself free. He was a maverick, through and through.
Brando gave the impression of being a gangster leader and an outlaw because the characters he portrayed were raw expressions of a love and respect for freedom.
As such, Brando was an avid motorcyclist, and rode a Triumph Thunderbird. When he was asked to star as gang leader Johnny Strabler in The Wild Ones, he chose to ride his own bike in the movie. Brando’s performance as the character became iconic, and helped define the rebellious motorcycle rider image. This was aided by his sporting a leather jacket, tilted cap, jeans, and his sweeping moody glare. The look and persona he created went on to inspire the likes of cultural icons for generations to come, including contemporaries James Dean and Elvis Presley.
The archetype he created paved the way for fellow actor Steve McQueen to carry forward and further refine the role of red-blooded, adventure-seeking, tough-but-good-at-heart motorcyclist in American cinema, and for the motorcycle community to express itself.