Planes, Triumphs and Automobiles – A week in New Zealand with Riley Harper, for Deus Ex Machina FW19.
Riley Harper is a stuntman by trade; if you look closely, you may make out his face riding motorcycles in Hollywood blockbusters like The Avengers and Batman.
Riley comes from a family of motoring enthusiasts and has always felt a close connection to anything that goes fast. He’s carved out a career surrounding himself with all manner of machines, and his natural ability to pilot anything from vintage cars to the ‘Bat-bike’ is the reason he’s one of the best in the business.
Last year with the help of Jeff Zwart, Deus teamed up with Riley to produce a short film called Extremity, the story of a 1949 Bellytank Lakester.
When tasked with finding someone capable to not only drive the hand built machine, but also be the face of the campaign, Riley was the obvious choice.
(If you haven’t seen Extremity, check it out here)
12 months later – we’re headed to New Zealand, to shoot Deus’ upcoming Fall Winter collection.
A short phone call to Riley, with the mention of driving vintage Land Rovers and Triumphs around the snow-capped peaks of Wanaka, and he’s cleared his schedule to make it happen.
We sat down with Riley’s to talk about how much fun you can squeeze into one week in New Zealand.
Was this your first trip to NZ or have you been out there before?
Yeah it was my first time to New Zealand, it’s always been on my list of spots to get to and I have some friends that have been there a lot, so when Carby (Deus Founder) hit me up to come out I was so psyched! I was in Europe at the time so I flew from there – Stockholm to Qatar, Qatar to Sydney, Sydney to Queenstown – a fair bit of travel but so worth it.
How was your first day there?
I was super excited to see the landscape and the mountains and I literally landed from my 35 hour travel day, walked out of the airport and in comes Carby, in a ’59 Land Rover. I jumped in the back and we went and got a sausage roll, which I’d never had before … and I was blown away (laughs).
Then we met up with Thomas Walk, Harry Mark and the rest of the crew – they had an early 70’s Triumph that they’d borrowed from some guy there, so we got out of the Land Rover, I hopped straight on the Triumph and started cutting laps up and down this insane dirt road, in the middle of these snow capped mountains.
That was a good way to start the trip.
Invercargill, on the South Island, is home to motorcycling royalty Burt Munro (The World’s Fastest Indian). Tell us about your day at the Invercargill Speedway?
(Laughs) I first got told we were heading there to flat-track, so I was like “Oh cool, I’ve done some flat track” and then we get down there and I see the bikes and I’m like … “Dude, this is speedway! I’ve never ridden a speedway bike!”
It was a full race day there, and the locals were tripping out on us because we kind of stood out a bit, but they were all pretty friendly. The guy who’s bike I rode was really nice, he’s just like “Here’s how you start it, I can push you out there, but remember that there are no brakes”.
Those bikes are just so bizarre. They go against all of your motorcycling instincts, because nothing is where it should be … everything is just out to get you!
So far we’ve got Land Rovers, Triumphs and Speedway bikes – I also saw a plane somewhere in the shoot? How’d that happen?
We were out shooting at a few spots and we noticed this hanger, a big grass runway and this beautiful yellow plane sitting right there. So we asked to shoot a few photos next to it and they said go for it. We got some nice shots, but we kind of kept talking about how cool it would be to fly the plane over, super low and buzz my head, kinda ‘Great Escape’ style.
… Two minutes later the pilot’s there and he’s like, ‘‘What do you wanna do? Yeah sure, I think it’s illegal, but whatever”. The guy was so mellow, less than five minutes and the planes running, so we just went for it.
So did you recreate the Steve McQueen fence jump?
(laughs) Not quite. It was a misty morning, and I think we were all a bit over excited, there’s a plane flying over my head and I kinda forgot that I was on a borrowed Triumph with street tyres, in a grass field.
We get to the end of the runway and I’m cooking, fourth tapped on this old Triumph, so I clicked down a gear and start to slow down and as soon as I tapped that brake, the bike was on the ground I was rolling out of it at about 40mph (laughs).
It was a full accident, but it was a nice slick, green grass so it was OK, and doing this stuff for a living I usually know how to get myself out of those situations pretty cleanly.
Any bits of local New Zealand knowledge you picked up while you were there?
Sausage rolls mate! (Laughs)
That was one of my favourite things, I’d never had one before and I was tripping on how good they were! I just liked that everyone we came across was so friendly and cool and everyone just had this attitude of ‘go for it’, ‘do whatever you want’, like the guy with the aeroplane, no questions asked.
Finally, last year you helped shoot ‘Extremity’ in the L.A desert, this year was the New Zealand – if you could pick the next Deus shoot to be part of, where and what would it be?
Oh that’s a tough one! I’ve talked about riding from Milan all the way to Portugal, but along the way putting our bikes onto sail boats and island hopping some spots down the coast. There are such amazing roads to ride in that part of the world, we could ride for a few days, then jump back on the boats and maybe head for a surf.
Dirt bikes, surfing and sail-boats, that’s a dream combination.
We’re in. Let’s make it happen!
Check out the full video and shoot featuring Riley and the team in New Zealand, as part of the FW19 Collection.
Photos by Harry Mark, Luke Kneller & Thomas Walk.