Perhaps even more so than their four-wheeled cousins, motorcycles evoke a certain rebelliousness and freedom of spirit, thanks in no small part to their depiction in some defining movies. So next time you’re daydreaming about Honda bikes at Metropolis Motorcycles or chomping on a burger amid the rockers at the Ace Cafe, keep an eye out for the models made famous by these movies.
1 Easy Rider
Born to be Wild, counter-culture, the great American roadtrip. So many classic images; it’s easy to see why this movie became a landmark in US cinema. Alongside Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper – or more accurately, underneath them – the Harley-Davidson Hydra-Glide was the undoubted star of the film. Two of the chopper style bikes were ridden by Fonda and Hopper through the southern states of America, bound for New Orleans. Put Steppenwolf’s Born to be Wild on now, and you’re instantly transported to a world of psychedelic experimentation, free love and long hair.
2 The Motorcycle Diaries
A battered yet ruggedly handsome 1939 Norton 500 carried Gael Garcia Bernal as Che Guevara and Rodrigo de la Serna as Alberto Granado across South America in Walter Salles’ biopic of the young, soon-to-be revolutionary. Nicknamed The Mighty One, the Norton used by Guevara survived an eight-month roadtrip. In the film shoot, Suzukis were used as stunt doubles, though Salles considered the British bikes more dependable.
3 TT: Closer to the Edge
The twisting, turning road circuit on the Isle of Man tackled every year by the world’s best and bravest (or most foolhardy) riders was the subject of this 2011 film. Featuring the fearless Guy Martin, who now graces TV screens with his wondrous mechanics exploits, the film put you millimetres from the road surface and the thin line between serious harm and glory.
4 The Great Escape
Steve McQueen was a motorbike nut, so much so that the famous escape attempt scene, in which McQueen’s character Virgil Hilts vaults a barbed wire fence on a German BMW motorcycle in a bid for freedom, was added to secure the star’s services. He did the bulk of his own riding, although his bike wasn’t strictly genuine: it was a Triumph TR-6 Trophy, altered to look like a BMW R75.
5 The Wild One
Marlon Brando’s Johnny, a rebellious biker gang leader, caused such a stir in 1953’s The Wild One that the film was banned by the British Board of Film Censors for 14 years. The film certainly seems fairly mild these days – but the menacing growl of Johnny’s Triumph Thunderbird 650cc is worthy of its own 18-certificate.
6 Terminator 2: Judgement Day
The second Harley-Davidson on this list, stolen from a bewildered biker by Arnold Schwarzenegger’s T-800 Terminator, had to be robust enough to withstand the android’s considerable bulk. The FLSTF Fatboy was the apt choice, and it starred in a spectacular chase sequence through Los Angeles’ storm drains.
Okay, it’s not strictly a real bike, but Shotaro Kaneda’s ultra-cool ride has inspired countless anime and motorcycle fans to create their own replicas. In the animated thriller set in a grim, dystopian Tokyo, Kaneda’s bike stood out thanks to memorable effects such as the flare of its taillight as it roared down the city’s streets.