Arts & Entertainment

Tricia Helfer, Katee Sackhoff rev up their motorcycles

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Some of this summer's biggest movies feature motorcycles in supporting roles. There's a Harley-Davidson in "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," an MV Agusta in "The Dark Knight," and multiple customs in the late-summer biker flick "Hell Ride," presented by Quentin Tarantino. While the two-wheel vehicles are all different, the riders are mostly the same. They're men.

One in 10 motorcyclists is a woman, but that statistic is rarely reflected on screens big or small. If an actress does "ride," it tends to be only for the camera and it's usually rigged, as it was for Renée Zellweger in "Leatherheads," whose Indian was operated by remote.

Enter Tricia Helfer and Katee Sackhoff -- stars of SciFi Channel's "Battlestar Galactica." Helfer, who plays the part of sexy cylon Number Six, and Sackhoff, a.k.a. combat pilot Starbuck, are both avid motorcyclists who will be taking their off-screen passion to guest roles on other TV shows when Season 4 of the space-age series ends.

Helfer, 34, is game for doing her own riding on an upcoming episode of the USA show "Burn Notice," playing Carla, a slinky spy who may have figured into the "burning" of ex-CIA operative Michael Westen. According to show creator Matt Nix, he's "trying to find an episode where we can incorporate Tricia's skills."

Sackhoff, 28, will do her own stunts when she plays an anesthesiologist with a fondness for body ink and bikes on four episodes of the FX show "Nip/Tuck." The love interest of Dr. McNamara, "My character rides a motorcycle to work every day," said Sackhoff.

"It's really interesting when writers and producers find out that you ride," said Sackhoff, a self-described tomboy. "They're so excited . . . like, wow. We need to use that."

Sackhoff, who's from Portland, Ore., and Helfer, who grew up on a farm in Canada, both rode all-terrain vehicles when they were young. They took up motorcycling last year because they were each "tired of being on the back of a guy's bike," said Sackhoff. "Then Tricia and I started working together, and we both started going, 'We should do this.' "

Helfer bought a Harley-Davidson; Sackhoff, a Honda Shadow. They signed up for a safety course and vroom, were off. On "Battlestar," Number Six and Starbuck rarely appear in the same scenes, so they were rarely in Vancouver at the same time for filming. But a girl fight between the two characters helped form a fast friendship. The two actresses now ride their motorcycles together any weekend they're in L.A..

"I kind of feel like I need to take on a role of getting it out there in public knowledge that women can ride," said Helfer, a lanky Canuck whose everyday hair color isn't Mansfield blond but a tawny brown. "People assume," she said, before Sackhoff finished her sentence, "that we're on the back of the bike making sandwiches."

susan.carpenter@latimes.com

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