For those that haven't heard of it, Kick Start was a British motorcycle trials TV series on the BBC channel. Aired between 1979 and '88, the show included a set of trials, against the clock, through water and over walls, oil drums and a Volkswagen Beetle (yes, honestly). You may ask what this has to do with Orlando Bloom and his love of motorcycles, but it's what started his passion. "I used to be obsessed with Kick Start as a kid," he admits. "I remember I went on this 'adventure for kids' programme called PGL, 'Parents Get Lost' we nicknamed it. When I was there I rode my first motorbike, a trials bike, and it was a bit like a Kick Start scenario, we had to ride up and over hay bales and around cones and over logs. I seemed to have good balance and poise, the guy teaching us said that I was a natural, not that I needed to be encouraged because I was obsessed, but I thought 'Oh, cool!'"
The more time you spend with Orlando, the more pressure you realise his time is under. Currently playing the title role in Tracy Letts' Killer Joe on London's West End for a 13-week run, the British actor's time is closely monitored.
"Riding a motorbike these days is a way for me to escape, to think and focus, and I make time for it. When I was 16 and moved to London it was my mode of transport, riding was a daily thing – rain or shine," he says as he cuts into a fresh slice of pineapple. "You can't be distracted by anything when you're riding. You shouldn't be, anyway. I always feel that it's a moment to myself." There's a long pause. "When I was about 17, I was knocked off my bike, I broke my leg, it taught me a lesson [he was knocked off his Suzuki RV125 by someone pulling out of a petrol station here in London]. Now I ride because I want to, not because I have to."
“Riding is a way to escape, to think and focus.”
Today is not about getting anywhere quickly – we're off to have a coffee, talk bikes, specifically his VITPILEN 701, and take a stroll up Primrose Hill with his dog Mighty. "He's a Poodle, a micro version, he was a gift." Mighty, who is far from mighty in stature but larger than life in character, goes everywhere with Orlando. As soon as the bag comes out, which is the one Mighty sits in on the motorcycle, he patiently waits beside it. He clearly enjoys the moments to himself as much as Orlando does.
Orlando's biking, after his trials experience, started properly with the Honda 125 at the age of 12, which was originally meant for the road, but it didn't stop him using it off road. "It probably wasn't good for it," he says with a grin. After that, it was a Suzuki 80 built for motocross, which he "busted up straight away. A friend and I took it out, he was sitting on the back. Unfortunately, the back tyre was flat and we wrecked the whole backend. My dad said 'I'm not spending another £800' – which was the cost to fix it and almost as much as the bike had cost to buy – and that was that". Orlando laughs at the memory.
"I didn't really ride again until I was legally old enough to ride on the road [the previous experience had all been off road]. I had a Vespa first, then, when I moved to London, I saw one of those Suzuki RV125s in the street, I think they called it a 'Monkey Bike'. It was a dirt bike, a moon bike... Big, fat, chunky tyres... I found one for sale in Autotrader and it was in mint condition. I bought it with my savings, everything I had at the time, and rode it to college every day. It didn't handle great, you had to really lean over into the corners because of the size of the tyres and how knobbly they were. It looked like it was just meant to ride over sand or dirt. But to me it was a thing of beauty. I loved the design, it felt like a 1970s or '80s throwback, which it probably was." It was this bike that met a sorry end outside the petrol station. "I couldn't afford another bike and I was devastated. I kept that bike, even though it was pretty much written off, in my father's garage for eight years because I thought that I'd rebuild it one day. Sadly, it got stolen."
"I got back into motorcycles when I was in my 20s and living in LA. It was a way for me to get around without being hounded by people. At the time, I was being followed by photographers, it was hectic. Not something I wanted to get used to. So, having made a bit of cash, I did that young impulsive thing and bought two motorcycles around the same time: a Ducati Sport 1000 and a Hypermotard 1100cc. I got spanked by the Hypermotard pretty quick. I came off down a hill as I downshifted from fourth to second and released the clutch too quickly, locking up the back wheel. The backend slid out... I was lucky there wasn't any oncoming traffic. I had the worst roadrash on my butt and knee. It took ages to heal and taught me a lot! I redid the bike and put a slipper-clutch on it!" He laughs at the memory today.
Today, Orlando is just as recognisable and within two minutes of arriving at the coffee shop he spots a paparazzo sitting in an Audi A4 Estate on the other side of the street. Londoners all take a second look when they walk past and one gentleman walked back, having passed us. My heart sank, with visions of us immediately having to escape to a more private location. "Is that a Husqvarna?" he asks. "Oh wow, it's a 701!" Orlando immediately starts chatting to him about bikes...
"I didn't have one of those dads that took me out biking," he says. "I've been wanting to do that with my son, but you either have a flavour for it or you don't and, so far, my boy has not shown the same interest as I did, which is fine. It's all I ever wanted from as early as I can remember. I feel like motorcycles are for loners. It's a lone-wolf kind of experience. You can be in a gang, but you're still on your own at least while riding. I mean it's not like a team sport, it's an individual freedom and your bike and its uniqueness is a representation of who you are and your authenticity."
Orlando is keen to do more biking when he gets the chance and to take on more proper road trips – this is coming from a man who passed his bike test and then immediately took his bike from the UK, to Paris, and then on to the South of France and Corsica. "Yeah, that was a little insane! At the time, it was like 'this is genius idea!' But looking back, I wouldn't necessarily recommend it. I think it's wise to get more miles under your belt before you take on a trip like that." As well as the road trips, he's also dabbled in Supermoto, with a KTM 500, and has pondered the Dakar Rally: he's not someone to shy away from things. "It's something I love," he says of the Supermoto. "I designed leathers, a full suit, with Alpinestars for the track – I really got into it. Part of [my relationship with bikes] is the world and design that goes with it. I love the smell, sound, and feel of it all. I'm into how things look – old and new. I have a BSA M20 that is all original and I'd never touch it except to keep it running and I have other new bikes that I have customised. I guess it takes me back to my childhood – bikes, watches, cars they're like toys for grown-ups.
“I feel like motorcycles are for loners. It's a lone-wolf kind of experience”
Almost all of Orlando's bikes have been customised in one way or another and his 701 may head down that route too. "I saw someone had customised the paint job on theirs and it was impressive. I thought about doing it but actually I don't feel I need to do anything to the 701, it's a beautiful design. I love Husqvarna, they have always had a unique look to me, individual, authentic, even the name... I had a friend who had one in London. I was about to buy it from him when I had another accident. I broke my back, not on a motorcycle, it's a long story... Anyway, he wouldn't sell it to me after that." Orlando looks genuinely crestfallen at the memory.
By now we're leaving Primrose Hill, with its amazing view of the London skyline, and Orlando is working out his timings in order to get back home and then onwards to the theatre for Killer Joe. "When I can, I ride to the theatre. I feel like it brings me into my body and into focus, it brings me peace, you know what I mean?"
“…it brings me peace, you know what I mean?“