When you can’t enjoy the adrenaline-filled thrills of riding a motorcycle yourself, watching someone else do it in a movie is a great alternative. The high-speed races and action-packed stunts have kept us on the edge of our seats for decades. We’ve previously reviewed modern motorcycle movies, but films featuring bikes and biker culture have been prominent themes in cinema since the 1950s. To celebrate that nostalgia, Cycle Trader has now put together a list of the seven most famous motorcycles from classic movies.
1. The Wild One (1953) – Triumph Thunderbird 6T
“The Wild One” stars Marlon Brando as the leader of a motorcycle gang, the Black Rebels. Brando’s outlaw character, Johnny Strabler, would ride into small towns on his Triumph Thunderbird 6T, create havoc, and get into fights with rival gangs. The Triumph was featured in several action-packed scenes, along with some more tender moments with the movie’s love interest, played by Mary Murphy. “The Wild One” is considered to be the first outlaw biker film and one of the earliest films to explore American motorcycle gangs.
Fun fact: The Triumph motorcycle that Brando rides in the movie was his personal bike.
2. The Great Escape (1963) – Triumph TR6 Trophy
Based on a true story, “The Great Escape” is about allied prisoners during WWII and their daring plan to escape from a German camp. The prisoners, led by actor Steve McQueen, race through the German countryside on modified Triumph motorcycles disguised as German BMW R75s. While McQueen used a stunt double, it was a 1962 Triumph TR6 that made the iconic 12-foot jump over a barbed-wire fence in the film.
Fun fact: After the movie, the Triumph Trophy was sold to a farmer who used it to herd cows. In 2017, the bike was restored and displayed in an exhibition at Triumph’s manufacturing facility in the U.K.
3. The Wild Angels (1966) – Harley-Davidson Panhead
The 1966 film “The Wild Angels” put actor Peter Fonda on the map. Fonda stars as the leader of the Angels, a motorcycle gang known for partying and wreaking havoc in San Pedro, California. The Harley Panhead ridden by Fonda in the film established him as a Harley-Davidson icon. Fonda’s character is shown cruising the dust-covered streets of southern California on his Panhead. The motorcycle earned the name Dragon Bike for its lizard-like tank graphic.
Fun fact: The Dragon Bike is on display at the National Motorcycle Museum in Anamosa, Iowa.
4. Easy Rider (1969) – Harley-Davidson Hydra-Glide
One of the most noteworthy American motorcycle movies, “Easy Rider” follows two bikers’ journeys from Los Angeles to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. Actor and motorcycle enthusiast Peter Fonda drives a Harley-Davidson Hydra-Glide, known as Captain America, in the film. The famed bike was custom built and heavily modified with stars and stripes painted on the fuel tank. While the movie was incredibly controversial during that time, Captain America’s eye-catching design helped make it a classic.
Fun fact: The Captain America motorcycle sustained damage in the film’s finale, but was later rebuilt by actor Dan Haggerty.
5. On Any Sunday (1971) – Husqvarna 400 Cross
“On Any Sunday” is a documentary that showcases the lives of motorcycle racers and racing enthusiasts. The Oscar-nominated film was co-produced by actor and former motorcycle racer Steve McQueen. In the documentary, McQueen can be seen riding his 1970 Husqvarna 400 Cross for a 10th-place finish in the Elsinore Grand Prix off-road race. “On Any Sunday” is regarded as one of the best motorcycle documentaries ever.
Fun fact: McQueen’s Husqvarna was sold at auction for $230,500 in 2018.
6. Electra Glide in Blue (1973) – Harley-Davidson Electra Glide
Regarded as an underrated motorcycle classic, “Electra Glide in Blue” is about an Arizona motorcycle cop, played by Robert Blake, who gets assigned to a murder investigation. Blake’s character can be seen racing across the desert roadway on his Harley-Davidson Shovelhead FL Electra Glide in an action-packed motorcycle chase.
Fun fact: The film is named after the Harley-Davidson Electra Glides that were issued to traffic cops during the 1970s and ‘80s.
7. Mad Max (1979) – Kawasaki KZ1000
While the Mad Max movie franchise has produced several films, including a recent reboot, there’s nothing like the original 1979 movie. Set in a dystopian future, Mel Gibson stars as a highway patrolman seeking revenge on a dastardly motorcycle gang. A fellow officer named Jim “Goose” Rains, played by Steve Bisley rides the film’s most-notable bike, a 1977 Kawasaki KZ1000. Goose’s bike was modified with fairings, reaching top speeds of 120 miles per hour, by Melbourne-based La Parisienne.
Fun fact: Kawasaki lent the film crew 10 brand-new KZ1000s, but only three were returned in complete condition after filming.
Conclusion: While modern motorcycle movies are great, we’ll always have a special place in our heart for the classics. These vintage bikes and film stars are some of our biggest inspirations when it comes to riding. If you’re now motivated to get a classic bike of your own, check out the nationwide inventory of motorcycles on CycleTrader.com.