Ace Classics builds a faithful replica of Bud Ekins’s desert sled…
James Sherwin “Bud” Ekins was an accomplished motocross, desert, and enduro racer from Southern California who would become one of Hollywood’s most famous stuntmen, best-known for performing the over-the-fence jump at the end of The Great Escape — the most iconic motorcycle stunt in cinema history.
Bud owned a Triumph dealership in Sherman Oaks, California, where he first met a young Steve McQueen, who took karate lessons nearby. He would help McQueen learn the ropes of off-road racing and the two would form a strong friendship, competing together in the 1964 International Six Days Trial (ISDT), the “Olympics of Motorcycling” — a competition in which Bud would earn a total of four gold medals throughout the 1960s.
What’s more, Bud and another SoCal racer, Bill Robertson Jr., made a pioneering run down the Baja Peninsula in 1962 on a pair of lightly modified Honda CL72 scramblers — a 40-hour trip through a tierra incognita of burro trails, farm spurs, dry lakes, and broken tarmac that would evolve into the legendary Baja 1000:
“Four years later, in 1966, the two Ekins brothers made the same trip on a pair of Triumphs. The very next year, NORRA (the National Off Road Racing Association) organized the first official race, the Mexican 1000.” —Cycle World
Enter Cliff and Kevin Rushworth, the father/son team behind London’s Ace Classics, a shop started 30 years ago when father Cliff was restoring his 1960 Bonneville and couldn’t find any parts that would fit.
“He decided to start to have a few parts made to help with his restoration and then the idea of opening a shop that would eventually be a ‘one stop shop’ for parts developed. The shop’s original slogan when it first opened in 1991 was ‘Triumph parts that fit!'”
Kevin went to work in the shop when he turned 16, and after two decades in business, Ace Classics was busy enough that Cliff gave up his day job in roofing to work in the shop full-time:
“Our business is now stronger than ever and we are best known in the industry for manufacturing parts that fit classic Triumphs, building high-quality classic Triumph restorations and specialist bikes such as the Steve McQueen inspired bikes.”
The bike you see here is a 1963 Triumph T120 Bonneville TT, built for a collector who wanted a replica of Bud Ekins’s own desert sled. Southern California desert racing was a passion for both Bud and McQueen, and most of the riders modified British street bikes to survive the rough, high-speed races through the desert — sometimes 500 competitors starting on the line at one time!
Bud was one of the very best at setting up the desert sleds of the era, and this bike celebrates the Motorcycle Hall of Famer’s pioneering efforts in the sport of desert racing. The Ace Classics crew did a ton of research to discover just how Bud set up his Triumphs in order to create this replica, scouring the internet for photos of this particular bike and other sleds that Bud built.
The bike has different rear shocks, throttle cables routed over the top of the tank, high pipes for ground clearance, braced handlebars, off-road tires, a Bates desert race seat, a giant air filter, skid plates, and an early front wheel from a 1957 bike:
“Bud liked to use the 8” half width hub front brake in most of the bikes as can be seen on this bike…. This front brake was a lot lighter than the newer full width hub!”
You can follow Ace Desert Parts for more information on the Ace Classics desert sled builds, and most of the parts needed to build your own Triumph desert sled are available through their online shop. Below, we get the full story on this Bud Ekins desert sled!
Bud Ekins Desert Sled Replica: Builder Interview
• Please tell us a bit about yourself, your history with motorcycles, and your workshop.
Ace Classics started back in 1991, when my dad (Clifford Rushworth) was restoring his 1960 Bonneville and couldn’t buy any parts that would fit it anywhere! He decided to start to have a few parts made to help with his restoration and then the idea of opening a shop that would eventually be a “one stop shop” for parts developed. The shop’s original slogan when it first opened in 1991 was “Triumph parts that fit!”
Back then the shop was only open two days a week because my dad was a roofer during the day and would only be able to come into the shop in the evenings to pack up orders. As soon as I was sixteen I left school and started to work in the shop full time. We then opened from Tuesday to Saturday and Cliff would come in and help me in the evenings. This happened for 20 years until the shop was finally busy enough (10 years ago) for Cliff to give up roofing and come into the shop full time. Our business is now stronger than ever and we are best known in the industry for manufacturing parts that fit classic Triumphs, building high-quality classic Triumph restorations and specialist bikes such as the Steve McQueen inspired bikes.
• What’s the make, model, and year of the bike?
1963 Triumph T120 Bonneville TT. Bud Ekins Desert Sled Replica.
• Why was this bike built?
We built this bike to order for a big collector in France.
• What was the design concept and what influenced the build?
We love building desert racers and I suggested to our customer this bike would be a good one to have in his collection with other Steve McQueen bikes we had built him already.
• What custom work was done to the bike?
This bike has been built as Bud Ekins’s Desert Sled: different rear shocks, throttle cables going over the top of the tank, high pipes for ground clearance, braced handlebars, off-road tyres, Bates Desert race seat, big air filter to cope with the desert, front footrests plates to make them stronger. Early front wheel from a 1957 bike.
• Can you tell us what it’s like to ride this bike?
The bike is great to ride, a lot of run and sounds great.
• Was there anything done during this build that you are particularly proud of?
This is the sort of bike we’re building all the time and we have now made a whole range of parts for them, so it’s now quite easy for someone to build their own Triumph Desert Sled using all of our parts: www.aceclassics.co.uk/product-category/ace-desert-parts/
Bud Ekins Desert Sled: Video
Our friends at The Bike Shed in London made a video of the bike with lots of additional info — enjoy!