Adrien Brody’s other passion

By Susan Carpenter

Times Staff Writer

Adrien Brody is best known for two things: his Oscar-winning performance in “The Pianist” and his nose. The 34-year-old actor is less known for his interest in motorcycles, which recently came to the fore in “The Darjeeling Limited,” where he rode through India’s Rajasthan Desert on a 100 cc motorcycle packing co-stars Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman on the back. We caught up with Brody to talk bikes.

Q: What’s it like to ride three up?

A: That’s a good question. There’s a lot of responsibility, especially when you’re riding down the opposite side of traffic in India and have the other two lead actors in a movie onboard. But it was fun. I think a lot of what this movie was about was the characters gaining trust of one another, and I earned their trust.

Q: You were riding a Hero Honda. How does that bike fit with your riding experience?

A: I’ve had worse bikes than that. I think that Honda was actually pretty great for the movie and was very much like what you saw everywhere. There would be whole families on a 125 cc motorcycle.

Q: I heard you had a motorcycle accident over in India?

A: No. I almost literally rear-ended a cow’s ass with my face. Out of all the places I’ve ridden or driven, India is by far the most insane. At one point we were driving, and there were two semi-trucks coming at us on our side of the highway, which has a divider, so I don’t even know how they got on our side. They were flying at us, and we had to pull over to the side of the road. It was literally a might-makes-right society as far as driving rules are concerned, so there were these tuk-tuks there. I’m passing a tuk-tuk, and as he moved, there was a cow walking in the highway. Just walking, and I literally skidded to a stop inches before a very comical demise.

Q: You crashed a bike in 1992?

A: Yeah. I had a bad accident.

Q: What was that about?

A: That was about people making a left in L.A. when the light turns yellow and they don’t look. I broadsided the car and ended up in the next crosswalk, and it was pretty severe. I didn’t ride for many years after that. I didn’t own a bike for a long time until a buddy of mine gave me one of the nicest presents I’ve ever gotten in my life for my 30th birthday and for winning an Academy Award. It was a Ducati Monster, which I couldn’t say no to, so I began riding again.

Q: What was your first bike?

A: Motorized? The first motorized bike I had, it probably should have been running on some kind of oil and gas mixture, but I had kerosene, so I put kerosene in it. I was young. I had convinced a really nice neighbor to give me her son’s bike who had moved away. It was a really cool antique motorized bicycle, and it took me forever to get it to work. When I got it started, it was a major achievement in my life. I just went all over the neighborhood. It was so fun.

Q: How old were you?

A: I was probably 13 or 14.

Q: So you were in Queens?

A: Yeah. And then what did I have? I had a crappy Honda that never really worked. An old CB. And then I bought a Ninja ZX900. It had already crashed. It looked like something out of Mad Max. All the fairings were cracked. I took those off and fibered it all black. The whole core of the exhaust was broken off, so it was so loud. It was like an open muzzle. It had a hole so big you could put your hand into it. It was insane, and then I loaned it to a guy and he stole it from me. So that was that.

I didn’t have any money at all then. I was much more of a car racer than a biker. I grew up drag racing cars and completely loving cars, and bikes kind of came as a bonus. It wasn’t what I had ever really focused on partially because I could never have a bike at my house and use it with any regularity because my parents wouldn’t go for it. And when I lived under their roof, they somehow let me do whatever I wanted with my cars, but bikes were out of the question.

Q: What’s in your personal collection now?

A: I have a Vino scooter that I just jet around with, but my new prize is this bike I’ve been building for a long time, which is a Star motorcycle. It’s a Roadliner, but it’s entirely customized. It’s an 1,854 cc engine beefed that is really fun. It’s kind of a classic cruiser that’s entered the future.

Q: How did you customize it?

A: I just really stripped it down. Everything’s black, and all the wiring is internal and all the extraneous stuff is kind of removed. It’s just nice and clean and very simple. All my bikes I’ve kind of made as lean as possible. I have an R1, too, which is really customized.

Q: What did you do to that one?

A: Well, that bike I felt like I had to be responsible and not put anybody else on it, so I made it a solo seat and put on Performance Machine wheels and anodized black everything that wasn’t black. It has carbon fiber fenders, chain drive, hidden signals -- all the bells and whistles I could find that kind of made it sleeker. I have a laughing skull air-brushed on the back, laughing at all the people I pass.

Q: All of your bikes are Yamaha. What’s that about?

A: I keep it pretty simple. I’m a huge fan of the R1, and Yamaha was helpful in getting me the R1 I wanted. It was sold out, and they helped me get it, and they also helped me get some performance parts. I have a GTYR racing exhaust, so they just helped me, and I’m a fan of the brand. They make good bikes.

Q: Didn’t you also buy a bike in India and try shipping it back to the U.S.?

A: I’d taken a trip to India on my own a year or so before “The Darjeeling Limited” and bought an Enfield Bullet 500. I bought a sidecar. I was going to ship them back because I thought it would be really fun to cruise around L.A. with an old-school bike and bring that ex-pat flavor home, make the commute to meetings a little more interesting, but it turns out that the bike I bought wasn’t an export model. I couldn’t bring it here, but miraculously I got “The Darjeeling Limited” and was back in Rajasthan where my bike was to be shipped. I just asked them to delay shipping it, so I had a bike while I was there and that was my transportation. It was so fun riding around India on that bike. Now it’s gone. It’s no longer mine. Bought and sold.

Q: How often do you ride?

A: I ride a lot. I use a scooter just because it’s fun, and you can put in $5 worth of gas and you’re riding everywhere all week. It’s amazing. So I like that. And it’s kind of effortless. I get a kick out of tooling around on it. But weekends, if I’m in L.A., I’ll go up PCH and carve some canyons and not use the bike as much for commuting. I’ve got a buddy who’s going to get married in Santa Barbara this weekend, so I’m probably going to take that new cruiser up because I haven’t had a chance. I’ll probably go ride up with my girl.

Q: I hope you’ve got saddle bags.

A: No. We’re going to have to backpack it. She’ll have to wear her dress, and I’ll put my suit on and we’ll wear leathers. I really don’t know how we’re going to do that, but it’ll be more fun to show up on the bike than get there and get changed. We’ll just ride right to the church.