In the here and now of 2009 -- 30 years after his breakthrough role as Navy gunner Clean in Apocalypse Now and 10 years after The Matrix made him an international superstar -- 48-year-old Fishburne also appreciates the break his bike sometimes gives him from the limelight. When he’s suited up with his visor down, he can move about town a bit more freely and more anonymously. Several times a week, he revs up his BMW-GS1100, cranks up “D-Boy” by the New Birth Brass Band on his bike’s killer sound system, and hits the streets. “It’s nice to just be the observer and not the observed,” he says.
But he’s not always riding solo. Back in 1999, just as The Matrix was breaking, Fishburne got a call from his friend Lauren Hutton, who invited him to follow her on an adventure. The much-ballyhooed “Art of the Motorcycle” exhibit was about to open at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in Spain. Thomas Krens, then the director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, was convening an all-star motorcycle club to rally in Bilbao as part of the festivities. Dennis Hopper -- the ultimate motorcycle all-star -- was in. Jeremy Irons was too. So was Hutton. And when the gang gathered in Bilbao for a group photo with renowned architect Frank Gehry in front of the museum he designed, Fishburne was there as well.
“On our first ride in Bilbao, it snowed the first morning,” he says. “It hadn’t snowed there in 17 years. We had these photojournalist guys on motorcycles in front of us, riding backward, hanging off the back, trying to shoot [pictures of] us.”
The snow and sleet forced the group to alter its rally route and abandon the highway for the winding streets of Bilbao. The trip forged a close bond between the riders, who vowed to continue their rides together to see not only the world’s most beautiful art but also its most beautiful places.
They’ve made good on that promise. In 2000, when the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao entered into a partnership with Russia’s State Hermitage Museum, the club rode through St. Petersburg, where Fishburne blared the Beatles’ “Back in the U.S.S.R.” on his speakers and carried Gehry on board as a passenger.
“I got on the back of his bike,” Gehry recalls. “On the bike, Laurence is very cool -- Mr. Cool. He’s very confident. He knows what he’s doing.”
Before long, club members had matching jackets (black, with blue-and-white stripes on the arms and Guggenheim Motorcycle Club in white lettering on the back) as well as unofficial titles. Founder Krens is the group’s president. Irons is the road captain. “Jeremy is by far the best rider in the group,” Fishburne says. “I’ve heard people who’ve ridden on the back of his bike say it is like riding on a couch. He’s really smooth, and he has great control.”
And Fishburne? He’s the club’s chaplain.
“Laurence has a very spiritual side,” Irons says, “and will often say something before we set off to calm and steady us and remind us of our good fortune.”
In 2003, Fishburne and his wife, actress Gina Torres, joined Irons and the other club members on a five-day Alpine trek through the Dolomites. After paying homage at BMW’s headquarters in Munich, Germany, they stopped in St. Moritz, Switzerland, and Lake Como, Italy, before ending up at the Formula One Italian Grand Prix, near Milan.
“One of the joys of motorcycling, strangely enough, is stopping -- either to visit places of interest or admire beautiful views or just fl ex the muscles and enjoy a cigarette and a cup of coffee,” Irons says. “To do this with friends adds to the pleasure, because we are all drawn to the club by our love of art and adventure as well as motorcycling. This makes our companionship even sweeter.”