Street racing has a brand new face

Star Derek Luke had never even sat on a motorcycle before he started filming “Biker Boyz,” a new action drama about the world of motorcycle racing.

And while he jokes that he now rides better than his co-stars, including Kid Rock, he developed a genuine respect for the American biker subculture that he says is rarely shown on film.

“It (the movie) exposes the way people live, what drives them, the adrenaline,” says Luke, 29, in Detroit last week to promote the movie, which opens Friday. “There will be a different awareness that there’s a humanity, a fraternity, a community to these people brought together by a love of bikes.”

Last week’s preview brought members of that local community out to Detroit’s Phoenix Theatres, as much to see the bikes in the movie and the display bikes in the lobby as to see stars Luke, Brendan Fehr and Rick Gonzalez.

Colin Filthaut, 28, an engineer at Chrysler, attended the screening with friend and co-worker, Senthil Rajan, 27. Both own Yamaha R1s similar to the bikes used in the film.

“You mention to people that you ride a bike, and they say, `You’re clean-cut. You dress nice. What are you doing on a motorcycle?’ They immediately assume that you’re doing wheelies and causing trouble,” Filthaut says.

“Biker Boyz” co-star Fehr agrees. “You see six, seven, 10 bikes outside a restaurant and you think, ‘I don’t want to go in there; it’s dangerous.’ But think about it, you can only fit so many guys on a bike. You want six guys to go hang out, you’re going to need at least five bikes.”

Luke, Fehr and Gonzalez spent a weekend at motorcycle boot camp to prepare for their parts as the charter members of a Southern California club. The action centers on Kid (Luke), who challenges Smoke (Laurence Fishburne), the unbeaten King of Cali, in a motorcycle drag race.

The first feature from director Reggie Rock Bythewood, the movie has been called “The Fast and the Furious” with motorcycles, but the actors think it has heart along with the high-octane thrills.

“Take away the bikes and you still have a story,” says Luke, who was last year’s biggest Hollywood Cinderella story when he landed the starring role in “Antwone Fisher,” Denzel Washington’s directorial debut. Standing in the lobby at the Phoenix, he smiled as patrons filing out of an “Antwone Fisher” matinee did “Is that really him?” double takes.

Not everyone is excited to see “Biker Boyz” come to town, though. Ron Sangster, president of the Michigan Motorcycle Dealers Association and owner of Honda-Suzuki of Warren, says any movie about street racing is bad for the motorcycle industry.

“Even if there is some good surrounding it, like the family relationships, it will only work for me if it says to make illegal racing stop,” he says.

But Luke prefers to view the movie as a chance to dispel myths.

“If anything, it will make people more conscious,” he says. “Biker gangs in real life aren’t about color, race or creed. It’s about getting together for the love of the bike, the thrill of the ride. It’s about camaraderie, getting together for a little slice of heaven on earth.”