10 Most Famous Motorcycles In Movie History

There’s one thing you can pretty much guarantee with any blockbuster action movie worth its salt: there will be a car chase, no matter how realistic or implausible. But movies that feature a motorcycle as a central motif are much rarer and, consequently, we tend to take much more notice of the action sequences in which they are involved. Happily, there are many great movies which include motorcycles in the plot (although there are equally many that get it so, so wrong) and they are worth celebrating, if only for the fact that they bring something different to the big screen. Here’s our list of ten of the best motorcycles in movies.



Related: This Harley-Davidson Just Made A Cameo In The Latest Fast & Furious Movie

10 Captain America

Movie: Easy Rider

Captain America static shot
Los Angeles Times

The ultimate motorcycle movie and a landmark counterculture film, Easy Rider explored both shifting and ingrained attitudes in America of the late 1960s – of the country itself, the tensions towards adolescents and anyone who dared to step outside the regimented norms of a conservative population. Henry Fonda and Dennis Hopper were the actors but the real stars were the choppers they rode, Captain America and Billy’s Bike, two Harley-Davidson choppers that Fonda had built for the movie. After filming had wrapped, Captain America was stolen from a lock-up and never recovered, most likely having been broken up as, at that point before the movie had been released, it was just another chopper and not the icon it would become.

9 BSA A65 Lightning

Movie: Thunderball

BSA A65 Lightning Publicity Shot

In the early years of James Bond movies, starring roles for motorcycles were thin on the ground and gave second best to the cars and, even when they did appear in later movies, were largely devoid of the gadgets that would become a signature of the franchise. The notable exception came early on in the series, in Thunderball, when for once it wasn’t Bond who was the center of attention for a BSA A65 Lightning-riding assassin. The bike had a full fairing – unusual for the time but more understandable when you realize it had rocket launchers installed, which SPECTRE agent Fiona Volpe used to blow up a car that was chasing Bond. Was she aiming for Bond or did the dreadful handling of British bikes at the time cause her to miss?

8 Triumph Thunderbird 650

Movie: The Wild One

Marlon Brando Triumph
Marlon Brando

The first movie to portray, in gloriously exaggerated form (or was it?) the so-called ‘biker’ culture that was springing up after the Second World War and inspired by a Life magazine story about an American Motorcyclist Association motorcycle rally that got out of hand in Hollister, California in 1947. The lead was played by a mean and moody, black leather jacket-wearing Marlon Brando and his choice of motorcycle was a Triumph Thunderbird 650, a choice that the American Triumph agents objected to, not wanting to be associated with such a portrayal of bikers. Ironically, the publicity did Triumph no harm whatsoever. The movie was banned in the UK for 14 years because of the violence.

Related: Here Are The Best Triumph Motorcycles Ever Made

7 Kawasaki GPz900

Movie: Top Gun

Man riding Kawasaki GPz900

Tom Cruise was early into his career when Top Gun was released in 1986. The movie would go on to be a huge hit and Kawasaki gained equally huge publicity for its then two-year-old GPz900 sports bike, which featured heavily in the movie as transport for Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell in several iconic scenes. The GPz900 was it was Kawasaki’s and the world’s first 16-valve, liquid-cooled inline four cylinder motorcycle engine and set impressive new standard for performance and handling for the day, making it the perfect choice of motorcycle for a young hotshot fighter pilot in the U.S. Navy.

6 Harley-Davidson XR750

Movie: On Any Sunday

Harley-Davidson XR750 Race Bike

The Harley-Davidson XR750 motorcycle was at the beginning of an incredibly long and successful career in AMA Grand National racing when the movie On Any Sunday was released in 1971, eventually winning a total of 29 out of the 37 AMA Grand National Championships between 1972 and 2008. On Any Sunday is an account of all the different types of motorcycle sport that you might see on a typical Sunday around the world, but the best sequences in the movie involve the likes of Mert Lawwill, Gene Romero and Dick Mann hurling their flat track racers around the dirt tracks of America, with the Harley XR750 taking center stage against assorted Triumphs and BSAs (although Dick Mann won the title in 1971 on his BSA, narrowly beating reigning champion Mert Lawwill on his Harley).

5 BMW R1150 GS

Movie: Long Way Round

Long Way Round publicity shot
Long Way Round

Not only is it a hugely entertaining account of two friends riding from London to New York, via Europe, Russia, Alaska and the American mainland, but it was the catalyst for the domination of adventure bikes in the motorcycle market and one bike in particular: the BMW R1150 GS. Both KTM and BMW were approached to supply bikes and back-up, with Ewan McGregor preferring the BMW and Charley Boorman wanting the KTM. KTM famously passed up on the opportunity, leaving BMW to reap the rewards as the subsequent film and book became huge global successes and the GS became the adventure bike that everyone recognized and wanted. BMW never looked back, although KTM hasn’t done too badly, either…

4 Harley-Davidson Fat Boy

Movie: Terminator 2

Harley Davidson Fat Boy studio shot
Harley Davidson

Another example of a new motorcycle getting an enormous publicity boost thanks to a starring role in a blockbuster movie. The Harley Davidson Fat Boy was launched in 1990 and, in 1991, it played a starring role in the biggest movie of the year, the Sequel to the 1984 movie The Terminator, Terminator 2: Judgement Day. Again starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as the T-800 cyborg sent back from the future, this time to protect John Connor from a more advanced T-1000 cyborg, Arnie’s character walks naked into a biker bar and proceeds to ‘acquire’ a Harley Fat Boy, on which he rides around L.A., trying to find Connor before the T-1000 does. The Fat Boy was the perfect bike for Arnie’s character and Harley’s resurgence after the management buyout in the early 1980s was sealed.

Related: 2023 Harley-Davidson Fat Boy 114: Performance, Price, And Photos

3 Indian Scout

Movie: The World’s Fastest Indian

Munro Special Promotion image

Although the titular bike in this great movie about Kiwi Burt Munro doesn’t resemble any motorcycle that came out of Indian’s Springfield, Massachusetts, factory, its basis was a 1920 Indian Scout that Munro developed and modified over 20 years before he finally achieved his life’s ambition to take the Munro Special to the Bonneville Salt Flats for Speed Week. Over the course of ten years, he set numerous speed records on his Indian in several classes, as the engine grew in displacement over the years. Munro’s Scout was originally 650cc with a top speed of 55mph but ended up being 950cc, with a top speed of over 190mph (officially: unofficially, he exceeded 200mph).

2 Triumph TR6

Movie: The Great Escape

Steve McQueen on set

A bit misleading, this one. When Steve McQueen’s character in this German Prisoner of War camp escape movie, Virgil Hilts, steals a German patrolman’s motorcycle to escape across the fields, we are supposed to think that it is a German motorcycle. In actual fact, it was a (very) thinly-disguised Triumph TR6 Trophy, something that was immediately obvious due to the lack of two cylinder sticking out on either side of the engine, as they would be if it was a BMW. The chase sequence and the jump over barbed wire and subsequent crash is one of the most famous scenes in movie history, although McQueen himself didn’t perform the stunt: that was his friend and professional stuntman Bud Ekins.

1 Ducati 998

Movie: The Matrix Reloaded

Ducati 998 studio shot

In many movies where a motorcycle has a starring role, the audience has to suspend their sense of belief and pretend not to notice the glaring inaccuracies. The Matrix Reloaded was the second in the series and continued the theme started in the first movie. In one sequence, Neo’s ally Trinity finds herself on a truck loaded with motorcycles and chooses a Ducati 998 with which to escape. Somehow she manages to ride off the truck without first undoing the tie-down straps that are securing the bike but the following chase, riding the wrong way along a crowded highway is so well done that you can forgive them that small slip.

Sources: MCN And Cycle World

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