Last week at Comic Con, the trailer for the new Top Gun film was dropped. While waiting for a plane at LAX, I watched it for the first time, and the second, and the third. If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend you check it out:
This got me thinking about the impact the original had on me. The more I thought about it, the more it dawned on me how significant the impact was. In fact, I can trace back my obsession with motorcycling to the first time I watched it. There was no one in my family that rode. I don’t come from a long line of riders, in fact, quite the opposite. So, what was it that impacted me so much in Top Gun? I had certainly seen plenty of movies with bikes in them, why do they not get the credit that Top Gun does? I can narrow it down to two main things; the bike, and the character.
There had never been a bike like the Kawasaki GPz900R. In America it was called named Ninja, and it was the first time Kawasaki used the name. The name badge was stuck on a plastic fairing, which was part of what made the Ninja 900 commonly thought of as the birth of the modern superbike. The big headline here: in 1984 it was the fastest production motorcycle on the market. The revolutionary 908cc, 16 valve, liquid cooled, inline four cylinder engine would power the bike to a top speed of 150mph using all of its available 115 horsepower. The engine was mounted lower in the frame than previous sport-themed bikes, which added to its performance. The year it was released, three were entered in the Isle of Man Production TT: one of them took second, another first. Let’s be honest though, in 1988 (ish) when I first saw Top Gun, none of that meant anything to me. The Ninja looked like nothing I had ever seen. As I’m sure the movie makers were well aware, the bike looked like a fighter jet. It also didn’t sound like any bike I’d ever heard. The way it was screaming as it flew along that runway was intoxicating. This was my motorcycling singularity.
It was more that just the bike though. As all motorcyclists know; the relationship between you and your bike is like nothing else. At the young age of 8, growing up in a middle-class Canadian suburb, the only connection I had to motorcycle riders was the old outlaw cliché. It didn’t entice me. Maverick was a different class of biker. He was a clean cut, naval aviator. Sure, he was a bit nuts, dare I say dangerous, but I connected to him. He could have been your neighbor, a self-esteem-crushingly handsome neighbor, but a neighbor nonetheless. It made my 8-year-old brain realize that lots of different people ride bikes. I think though, more than all of that, was the image of him flying down that runway, big smile on his face, aviators on, wrenching on that throttle, flying. I wanted to feel that. I wanted to know what it was like to go that fast. I was always obsessed with speed, and Maverick made that something attainable.
Whenever I brought up Top Gun (which was often), my mom used to tell me that it was just a recruitment video for the Navy. She was trying to keep my adolescent wonder in check when it came to war. Interestingly enough, she was right (smart woman). The movie makers had to make a deal with the Navy to use all their equipment [Editor’s Note: the same is true with the sequel]. Part of the sales pitch the movie studio made was the movie was going to increase enlistment. They were close. Of course I loved the planes, but Top Gun got me to enlist in motorcycling. Besides, the Canadian Navy didn’t have Tomcats.