What is it about motors that inspires such awe? Is it the science and technology behind it, the romance and freedom of the open road, or the simple, raw power? Whatever it is, iconic vehicles capture the popular imagination like very little else. And while the four-wheeled variety has the E-Type Jaguar, the Ferrari Daytona and the Ford Mustang, plenty of motoring’s biggest icons have been bikes. Here are our favourite five.
1. Vincent Black Shadow
First built in 1948, this all-black marvel of motoring quickly established itself as a true great, boasting serious good looks, a host of ground-breaking designs, and a design intended to allow injured war veterans to get in on the action. Appearance, durability and ease-of-use helped make this the most desired bike of the age but speed is what established it as the two-wheeled legend it has become. In 1948, Rollie Free, wearing only a helmet and swimming trunks, lay straight as an arrow on the seat of his souped-up Black Shadow and hit 150.3 mph on the Bonneville Salt Flats. Its record as the world’s fastest bike stood for over 20 years. Attempting similar today might void your Bikesure motorbike insurance.
2. Triumph TR6 Trophy
James Dean and Peter Fonda might run him close, but the movie star who has done most for motorbike lore is Steve McQueen. McQueen was an extremely accomplished motor racer and rider, even playing the parts of some of the German soldiers chasing him in The Great Escape’s famous scene. In the WWII classic he succeeded in immortalising the TR6, his favourite bike, which only began production in 1956. It was disguised as a BMW R75.
3. Harley Davidson XR750
Come to think of it, maybe the modified Harley-Davidson Panhead of Easy Rider fame might just be the most famous bike of them all, but as it required so much modification, we’ll give the title of greatest Harley to Evel Knievel’s dirt bike. Such was the stunt rider’s stature, Harley gave him the first three XR750s while actual racers had to wait. The world-famous American brand struggled with reliability well into the 80s and Knievel could have got better elsewhere, but that just adds to the legend.
4. Britten V-1000
In the early 90s, a handful of men went into a New Zealand garage to build their attempt at a superbike, engine and all. Led by John Britten – a man whose mechanical mind was matched only by his ability to spend money – the Kiwis succeeded in creating the Britten V-1000. Nowadays it looks like most other superbikes, but that’s because this 165-horse power, V-twin-powered racing bike inspired everything that came after it despite only ten models being produced.
5. Kawasaki Z1
If the Britten inspired the angular, streamlined beauty of modern superbikes, the Kawasaki Z1 is the perfect example of what went before. When it was released in 1973, the Big Zed was the fastest, most powerful bike of all time. The legend of the bike that could reach over 130mph was intensified by its gorgeous looks and tricky steering that only the best riders could tame.