Of course that’s a loaded question with the definition of a biker varying from rider to rider. But as with the variety in his music, Prince’s interest in motorcycles reflected not only on the times he took to the saddle, but certain challenges faced by riders.
While his on-screen appearance in the 1984 American rock musical drama ‘Purple Rain’ is the most famous Prince motorcycle-sighting, he and the bike made another high profile appearance in its sequel, ‘Graffiti Bridge’ released in 1990.
When a motorcycle appears prominently in a movie, there are several motorcycles on the set with at least one being the star, ridden by the film’s character. Other versions would be stunt motorcycles shot from a distance. Focusing on the motorcycle Prince is seen riding, interestingly enough it was the same for both movies.
Scenes from 1984's Purple Rain
The bike was a customized Honda CM400A ‘Hondamatic’ featuring a 356cc air-cooled parallel twin cylinder engine. Equipped with an electric start and though not completely automatic, Honda did reduce the number of gears from six to two, making the motorcycle a great ride for beginners.
Another feature which surely caught the eyes of Prince, the seat height was only 29.9 inches. Being 5’2” Prince faced a challenge more common than most would think, a rider being able to plant both feet on the ground while sitting in the saddle.
Overall, the Honda CM400A was smaller motorcycle which was perfect for the performer’s physical build and in a way, a great, early example of ergonomics and fit when choosing a bike. Other additions were a Vetter Windjammer fairing, special handlebars, a seat with hot pink velour inserts and even an early version of his symbol painted on a few parts on the motorcycle.
The more famous version of this motorcycle was painted purple for ‘Purple Rain’ but this color was revamped in 1990 for a black and gold appearance as seen in the movie “Graffiti Bridge”.
The stunt motorcycles were not automatic.
1984's Purple Rain Trailer - Warning, cliches ahead
Was Prince a biker? He did ride the customized motorcycle but it’s hard to find any references to Prince being bitten by the ‘biker-bug’.
According to a post on the forum ‘Prince.org’ by LovesexyIsTheOne Prince didn’t ride the motorcycle after 2001. Citing a discussion with a security guard watching a display of the customized Honda CM400A and a stunt motorcycle from ‘Purple Rain’ at a large tour event in 2001 LovesexyIsTheOne writes, ‘I asked the security guard if Prince still rode either of them and he said ‘no’.’
To further add to this statement, the motorcycle’s license plate stickers were dated 1984.
Placing Prince’s motorcycle encounters in the pop culture timeline, the mystique of motorcycles was definitely growing in the eighties and through the nineties. The popular television show CHiP’s rode into the eighties on a ratings high and Lorenzo Lamas would play Reno Raines in the series Renegade in 1992. It easy to understand how Prince was attracted to the biker image, initially taking it bigger and bolder with the flamboyance the artist was known for.
Indeed, pop culture trends are reflected in the two different motorcycle versions, one seen in Purple Rain and the other in Graffiti Bridge, with the latter leaning towards a grittier, unshaven look.
Regardless of whether he rode or not, the Purple Rain experience was a great example of the why Prince was remembered as fondly as he was and received the praise he did. In 1984, Prince’s rock opera Purple Rain grossed more than $80 million at the box office, earning $7.7 million in its opening weekend. Its accompanying soundtrack album would end up going platinum no less than thirteen times.
According to Wikipedia ‘It was a period of flamboyance, excess and perms, and both the diminutive musician and his breakout film came at exactly the right time’.
1990's Graffiti Bridge Trailer