One of the most iconic and outgoing riders in motorcycling, Malcolm Smith became famous for his starring role in “On Any Sunday” in 1971. But that’s only one chapter of a life spent getting the most from adrenaline, speed and a neversay-die outlook.
n three separate occasions, Malcolm Smith has sworn off motorcycles entirely. Lucky for Malcolm—and for us—he’s always come back. Blame adrenaline. Because without that craving, which only could be ﬁlled by riding off-road motorcycles with blazing speed through some of the world’s most challenging terrain, Malcolm Smith may never have become one of motorcycling’s most highly regarded icons. That means there would be no appearance in the legendary movie “On Any Sunday.” Or nine medals in the International Six Days Enduro. Or six victories in the Baja 1000, and four more in the Baja 500. There would be no Malcolm Smith Racing gear, or Malcolm Smith Motorsports dealership in Riverside, Calif, no induction into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame. And he wouldn’t be this year’s grand marshal at AMA Vintage Motorcycle Days, July 9-11, at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio. And this particular afternoon, there would be no easy-going guy relaxing at his comfortable home in the hills above Riverside, reminiscing on how he somehow accomplished all that despite giving up on motorcycles three times. “It’s almost like it was fate,” he says, offering the trademark smile that millions of motorcycling fans remember from “On Any Sunday.” I’ve been extremely lucky, and it’s all come from riding motorcycles. I have no idea what it’s like to be a normal person. I’d be bored out of my mind as a normal person.” The key, he notes, has been a lifelong love affair with motorcycling that was jumpstarted when he was 13 by, of all things, a scooter that wouldn’t even run. Born on Salt Spring Island in British Columbia, Malcolm ﬁrst noticed motorcycles on trips into Vancouver, but it wasn’t until he moved with his family to Southern California at the age of 5 that the obsession took hold. “I had always loved working on things that were mechanical—ever since I can remember,” Malcolm says. “I was walking home from school one day, and there was
a garage on the way that was open, and I noticed a Powell motor scooter, all apart and in pieces. I had always loved working on things that were mechanical, and my interest was in putting it back together and hearing it run. I don’t even remember thinking about riding it.” The man said he’d sell it for $50, so Malcolm went out and earned the money by mowing lawns and pulling weeds through the neighborhood. Only problem is that when he came back to buy the scooter, the guy had changed his mind and said he wouldn’t sell. It broke the young boy’s heart, and he did what anyone else would do in that situation. “I went home and cried, and my mother took pity on me,” he says. “She just spoiled me, and she took me down to a Lambretta dealership downtown, and we got a 125cc model, a stripped-down ’53 model that was a holdover from the year before.” After a brief lesson from the dealer, John Burr, in the alley behind the shop on the use of controls, a scooter rider was born. Living in a farming community near the San Bernardino National Forest, Malcolm rode the scooter through sand washes and orange groves, through the hills and everywhere. Things really got interesting when a friend bought a 150cc scooter, and the two would race. He learned how to work on the scooter, particularly the carburetors. Lacking knobby tires, Malcolm took screw-on athletic cleats leftover from the local high school football team and screwed them into the tires. They worked pretty well, Smith recalls. “We’d ride to the base of the mountains, and then ride up to the snow level,” he says. “I was up that way a few years ago on the same roads, and I just can’t believe I ever got that Lambretta up there. Some of it is pretty steep.” If the Lambretta taught him ingenuity, his next bike taught him riding skills. “It was a ’49 Matchless single with a rigid frame,” he says. “I was kind of a small kid, though, so I couldn’t kickstart the engine. I didn’t weigh enough. So I’d coast it down the hill to ﬁre it and go off riding. If I ever killed the
The Journal of the AMA Preview Version