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The Man Who Changed Motorcycling

Motorcycle Cruiser Logo By Sam Smith of Motorcycle Cruiser | Slide 1 of 8: Malcolm Smith

He needs to sit down. He looks around the little museum with his name on it, on the second floor of the California powersports dealership with his name on it, and he almost sits on a 1950s Lambretta. There is a sign on the seat of the thing asking people not to sit. He gives the sign a funny look and moves to put his weight on the seat, but our photographer, Julia, brings him a chair. His back bothers him lately, he says. Legs are okay though. His walk gives no small hint to this. Hands clasped behind his waist.

A left leg that moves in a narrow window while his right swings wide in a semicircle, canting his body with each step, as if his foot were trying to sweep the floor clean. Neither quick nor slow. Walking with him is humbling because it makes him seem fragile and human, and those words do not jibe with his reputation. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease a decade ago, but his motions are more tied to years of riding motorcycles off road because bikes aren’t easy on the human body. He has suffered disc herniations and nerve damage. His left knee is essentially bone on bone. He still rides, he says, but admits that it is not easy. Eyeglasses hang from a cord around his neck.

He wears a uniform resembling that of his employees: a long-sleeve shirt, gray pants, simple black shoes. Malcolm Smith Malcolm Smith Julia LaPalme In this building, as he weaves between rows of new bikes, the image recalls cliché—a general inspecting troops, an elder statesman making rounds. But mostly, he recalls himself, the picture you carry in your head, one of the most famous faces in motorcycling. He still has the prominent ears and wispy hairline visible in photographs taken in his 20s. He still smiles warmly, eyes like cut glass.

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