“Ya know what, my job is great. I get to ride to work and no one is watching. It’s my Zen – it is part of who I am."
When your father is Academy Award-winner Anthony Quinn, one of the Hollywood greats, life would be far from the norm. Growing up in the limelight can do strange things to people, just look at half of the celebrities these days – it’s almost embarrassing. But Francesco Quinn, or Frankie as his friends call him, gets away from the madness by living his life on two wheels.
Down to earth and a genuine gearhead, Quinn has owned and ridden just about everything under the sun. “The only time I drive a car is if I have to,” Quinn says as we wait for a coffee at the famous Rock Store motorcycle hangout just north of Los Angeles off Mulholland Drive. “The rest of the time I ride. It’s been something I’ve done since I was five-years-old and it’s the way I live my life.”
Like his father, Quinn is a successful actor. Best known for his role in Platoon, the Italian has played in countless hit TV shows including, most recently, The Shield, which just wrapped. He has two movies currently in the works, one by Quentin Tarantino called Death Race puts his motorcycling talents to good use, as well as a major TV series that is a male-based spinoff of Sex in the City. Quinn is a busy guy, though never too busy to ride.
It’s Sunday morning and packed wall to wall with bikes at the Rock Store. Quinn rides his Moto Guzzi and parks it right in the middle of the crowd. No precautions, just another passionate motorcyclist stopping for a coffee on his Sunday ride. I pull Ducati’s uber-trick GP-replica Desmosedici from the van and his eyes light up like the Fourth of July. A crowd quickly gathers. He is no longer the celebrity, the motorcycle is, which Quinn has no problem with whatsoever. In fact, he probably prefers the spotlight be off him for awhile, so he sits back and admires the beautiful lines of the MotoGP-inspired machine with the rest of the crowd.
"On a motorcycle, you live more in that one hour going to work than most live all week, or all month, or all year."
“This bike is amazing,” he says after a couple passes down Mulholland Drive, a road he’s ridden on since before it saw pavement. “I didn’t really expect it; it’s docile and controllable but still extremely powerful. I think it would make for an awesome race bike, though it’s a little harsh for the street. But it’s not made for the street. It’s like having the world’s best toy. It’s beautiful and fast, and the sound – the sound is amazing. It’s poetry in motion.”
The Hollywood Hills truly were Quinn’s playground as a child, growing up and riding motorcycles with some serious A-list characters. “My brothers and I and my father all got motorcycles when I was five and we rode way back when Coldwater and Mulholland (two of the most famous roads in L.A.) were mostly dirt. Chad McQueen, Steve McQueen – all the boys – they were all out here on the top of what is now Bel Air and Beverly Hills riding dirt bikes with us.”
“It’s kind of funny ‘cause right where my kids now go to school is where we all used to dirt bike,” Quinn adds. While his obsession started at age five on dirt bikes in California, once back in his family’s native Italy he was riding on the street and causing havoc in no time. “I went back to Italy when I was 10-years-old and was riding there right away. I got my first speeding ticket riding on the street at about that same time. It was on a Honda Monkey.”
Quinn started riding young and still enjoys a ride or two on a mini bike.
That didn’t slow him down in the slightest. “I have been riding motorcycles ‘legally’ on the street in Italy since I was 14 – first on a 125 then up the ladder as I got older. I moved to New York when I was 21 or 22 and got myself a KLR that I used to ride right into the lobby and up the elevator into my 17th-floor apartment. That is until the New York Fire Department said, ‘Um, no, that’s not going to fly’,” he recalls. “Once they denied me that privilege I left, came out here to L.A. and got myself a place. Then came bikes and bikes and bikes and more bikes. Now some 60-plus bikes later here we are.”
But while most consider motorcycling as a hobby, Quinn has embraced it as a way of life. “I motocrossed for 12 years, road raced, desert raced – I did a lot of racing. Been to Freddie Spencer’s School nine times, California Superbike School four times, did Reg Pridmore’s school – I’ve been around,” he laughs.
“I ride wherever I go, even work – either on a motorcycle or my bicycle – because it gives me a perspective on life-lived before I even get to where I’m going. Ya know, ‘I did that once,’ might come out of some other people’s mouth, but, ‘I do that now,’ comes out of my mouth. I have it fresh in my heart and in my feelings. Be it riding in traffic or riding in the rain or whatever it may be, on a motorcycle you live more in that one hour going to work than most live all week, or all month, or all year,” he adds.
"It’s like having the world’s best toy. It’s beautiful and fast, and the sound – the sound is amazing. It’s poetry in motion.”
As an Italian who road raced one may think Quinn would switch places with the great Italian road racer Valentino Rossi in a heartbeat. But motorcycles aren’t about the spotlight for him. “Ya know what, my job is great. I get to ride to work and no one is watching. It’s my Zen – it is part of who I am. Being Rossi would be great, but I ride every day because that’s who I am. It’s not a publicity stunt. So I’d rather have my job and still get to pretend I’m Valentino Rossi.”
What does this famous actor who lives life on two wheels have sitting in the garage? A trio of Italian machines, of course. “I still have my original Ducati Monster and a Moto Guzzi Griso and the Vespa scooter,” says Quinn. “I can’t ride all the bikes all the time, but the Vespa comes out every day. It’s got a windscreen on the front and you can ride it to dinner, throw your jacket under the seat and it just plain works. The Guzzi is my machine for when I want to travel further. And the Ducati has such sentimental value I could never sell it. It has a full Ferracci engine and lifts the wheel in every gear, kind of like this Desmo. It’s a little harsh and you can’t ride it every day, nor would I want to – nor would I want someone to tip it over,” he chuckles.
While his obsession started at age five on dirt bikes in California, once back in his family’s native Italy he was riding on the street and causing havoc in no time.
Someone once told me that a true reflection of one’s self is through the actions of their children, thus it is with little surprise that Quinn is quick to tell stories of his six-year-old son and daughter and their motorcycling adventures.
“I take them to the go-kart track already and my son Max is an animal there – he just loves it,” Quinn says with a smile. “They already have bikes as well. Max has a Honda CRF50 and the two share it. They ride horses and race go-karts, it’s hard to keep up with all the toys.
“I’ve been riding them to school on the Vespa scooter since they were tiny. It’s taught them to learn where to be on the road, which to me is the most important thing. It’s not so much how fast you are, but knowing where to be on the road and being safe is the key. They know to stay wide before a right-hander until you can see through it and they know that yellow line is their enemy. And they are really good at it. My daughter calls it the dance; the way we let off the gas and the bike turns, then rolls through the corner and gets back on the throttle. She’s six-years-old and she gets it. It’s great, I love it.”
Some people say they ride. Some ride recreationally, putting on a few miles every weekend when the weather is nice. Others, they truly have motorcycling in their blood. Five minutes into meeting Francesco Quinn, I could tell he was one of the latter. He really does live life on two wheels.