Motorcycles appear in plenty of movies, often symbolizing a character’s rebellious nature or adding extra excitement to a chase sequence. In fact, so many actors ride bikes that sometimes their contracts have clauses preventing them from doing so when not on set (just in case of an accident that could set production back).
But what are the most notable appearances of motorcycles in movies—the ones where bikes were either an integral part of the story or used in such a way that they created an incredible on-screen moment? We’ve included some of our favourites below (including two “Legendary” bikes that aren’t really contemporary but are much too cool to leave out). Get the popcorn ready.
No, 1988 isn’t “contemporary” in 2022—and yes, this is a made-up bike. But bear with us, because if this sleek red supersport did exist in the real world, there’s no way you wouldn’t want one.
Akira is widely regarded as one of the greatest anime movies ever—and one that helped popularize the genre in North America. Based on a manga from 1982, it was thematically dense and visually stunning, bombarding audiences with ideas as massive as its bold neon images and percussive soundtrack. Make no mistake: this was not your average “cartoon”.
Some of the film’s central characters belong to a biker gang—called a “bōsōzoku” in Japanese, which literally translates to “out-of-control tribe”). The main character, Kaneda, rides the bike pictured above—a low-slung monster that looks kind of like a Honda CBR500R had a baby with a ballistic missile. It was more than a prop; it was a character in its own right, featuring a reclined, aerodynamic riding position, articulated, suspension, and an in-your-face paint job that all exuded major attitude.
It’s also been referenced in more recent (if nowhere near as groundbreaking) films. In Ready Player One (2018), during one sequence involving a race, one of the characters rides a replica of the bike.
The other massively-influential bike to earn a place on this list as a perennial pop-culture icon came from a live action movie only a few people saw. Not many. You know that little movie with a shoestring budget about a fighter pilot named Maverick who flies F-14s? Don’t know if anyone else has seen it, but it was a decent flick!
Top Gun was one of those movies everyone and their mother can quote at least a few lines from. You didn’t need much of a brain to enjoy it, but that hardly mattered. It was just too cool not to like.
But for bike lovers, one scene in particular stands out: Maverick riding to his first day at Top Gun on his Kawasaki GPz900R as “Highway To The Danger Zone” blasts out on the soundtrack. An F-14 Tomcat takes off from the runway near the highway as Maverick waves his fist in the air, tucks down over the bike, and rockets down the road. Just like that, a popular rock song and Tom Cruise’s rising star power made an instant classic of Kawasaki’s first real supersport for North America. Need we say more?
Check out Kawasaki’s lineup of new bikes for 2022 right here.
Honda CRF250R, “SkyFall” (2012)
It’s an unwritten cinematic rule that all Bond movies start out with an eye-popping action sequence, but 2012’s Skyfall was in an entirely different league. Riding what looks to be an incredibly well-used Honda CRF250R, Agent 007 rides through the streets and across the rooftops (!!!) of Istanbul, chasing down a bad guy at breakneck speed to get his hands on a mysterious list.
The bike—one of Honda’s modern classics in the dual-sport category—definitely lends itself to rough use. With a featherweight 230 lbs, a gutsy single cylinder, and Showa shocks in the front and rear, the bike was—incredibly—not tricked out that much for the film.
There were a few scenes, such as the bike flip at the end of the chase, that required stunt bikes (motorcycles that have been heavily modified to be one-use bikes and are often meant to explode or break apart spectacularly). But the lion’s share of the chase was ridden by stuntmen (and in a few scenes, Daniel Craig himself) on bikes that were mostly factory stock.
While many bikes from many Bond movies could have made it here, it’s the pace and intensity of SkyFall’s opening that makes this sequence pop. This is no basic bike-on-road chase; it’s dynamic, complex, and it shows what a professional stunt rider on a mostly factory stock bike can really do.
For a full list of Honda’s 2022 motorcycles, click here.
BMW R nineT Scrambler, “Mission Impossible: Fallout” (2018)
We mentioned earlier that many actors have contracts limiting their use of motorcycles on big-budget productions. But clearly, the rules are different when you’re a producer on your own movies. As the controlling owner of United Artists, Tom Cruise can ride what he wants, when he wants (and he has quite the collection—including a super-rare, customized Vyrus motorcycle).
He does plenty of riding on-screen as well. In almost every Mission: Impossible movie, you can spot Cruise’s Agent Ethan Hunt astride some form of two wheeled speedster. For Fallout, it was the then-new BMW R nineT Scrambler, used in an adrenaline-pumping chase scene that included riding around l’Arc de Triomphe in Paris the wrong way.
While it was only a short part of the movie, the boxer-engined R nineT Scrambler was used in all but the most dangerous of the film’s stunts, with Tom Cruise himself performing many of them. Several other bikes were used in the movie as well, including a Triumph Speed Triple, several BMW R1250GT Police Editions, a BMW S1000RR, and many more.
Click here for a full list of BMW’s new bikes for 2022.
Kawasaki ZZ-R250, “Kill Bill Volume 1” (2003)
When people talk about motorcycles in movies, they don’t mention Kill Bill: Volume 1 all that often. But maybe that’s because it’s a Tarantino movie, and there’s just too much else going on to talk about. Still, the bike features heavily in an important part of the film, where Uma Thurman’s character rides a Kawasaki ZZ-R250 through the streets of Tokyo in pursuit of a baddie in a Nissan 300ZX.
The bike appears for barely 40 seconds of film, but Thurman’s sleek yellow riding suit was easily the film’s most iconic costume. Granted, maybe that’s because of a different scene entirely—where she dispatches no less than 88 members of the Yakuza with a sword before finally fighting the woman she came to Tokyo to kill.
2012 Harley-Davidson Softail Slim (original and modified), “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (2014)
Saying the Marvel Cinematic Universe had a minor impact on superhero movies would be like saying Harley-Davidson had a minor impact on cruiser bikes. So during the first Captain America movie, Marvel asked Harley-Davidson if they could use replica bikes that looked like 1942 H-D WLA Liberators. Harley-Davidson gave the go-ahead, and Steve Rogers got to ride through the film on a bike that looked like the classic Harley model.
When it came time for Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Harley-Davidson not only signed off on letting Marvel use modern bikes in the movie, but also went so far as to provide them directly to the set. The 2012 Harley-Davidson Softail Slim turned out to be the perfect bike, serving as a call-back to the WLA Liberator while also giving Cap’ a modern bike to ride.
While a modified version of the bike unfortunately ends up crashed and destroyed during a fight with Hydra forces near the middle of the movie, it still does its job well. It was even praised by actor Chris Evans, who holds a motorcycle license and did all the non-stunt riding in the film himself. Evans called the Softail Slim a comfortable and easy-to-ride model, and said he wished he’d had more time with it. An endorsement from Captain America himself ain’t nothing.
GasGas TXT250 and Yamaha YZF250F, “Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015)
Mad Max: Fury Road hasn’t been out that long—but it quickly earned a reputation as one of the best vehicle-based movies of all time. Building on the first series of Mad Max films in the 1980s and 1990s, Fury Road showed that director George Miller still knew how to make an iconic action movie with an industrial-fuel-storage-tank-sized amount of heart and soul.
One of the film’s key sequences involves a gang of bikers who rain hell down upon the protagonists while they’re trying to drive a fuel tanker across the post-apocalyptic Australian outback. If it sounds crazy, that’s because it is. Watching this movie is like chugging a four-pack of Red Bull by yourself at a packed nightclub where they’re playing the greatest hits of Cannibal Corpse on repeat.
But what’s really crazy about the bike stunts in Fury Road is that all of them were done practically. That means those bikes jumping over the rig from canyon wall to canyon wall were actually doing the jumps, using a combination of GasGas TXT250 trial bikes and Yamaha YZF250F trail bikes dressed up to look like they were slapped together from nuts and bolts.
The scene is nothing less than heart-pounding, and you can’t help but feel for the stunt performers who enacted some of the more spectacular mid-air bail-outs and landed in appropriately painful-looking manners. There was some minor wire work done near the end of the scene—and of course, mannequins were used for actual contact with the rig right at the end. But this scene (and the whole movie in general) is a testament to the value of stunt performers in Hollywood.
For those who don’t know, Keanu Reeves is an avid motorcyclist. So much so that when he’s not on a movie project, he’s busy being the face, promoter, and test rider for his own company: ARCH Motorcycles, which Reeves founded with his friend Gard Hollinger.
As such, when Keanu gets a chance to ride a motorcycle in a movie, you can quite literally see his eyes light up. Just watch the behind the scenes clips or “making of” documentaries about John Wick 3: Parabellum, and you’ll see what we mean. The film includes one particularly intense scene on a bridge where the titular hero is chased down by several sword-wielding assassins, all riding Yamaha MT-09’s. That includes Wick, who has recently stolen his bike from a baddie in an earlier scene.
The entire sequence took about a month to choreograph and film properly, as it required a heroic amount of storyboarding and camera work. The long shots of the bikes entering the bridge and forming up behind Wick were done practically, and some of the final portions of the scene were also shot on location. The rest of the fight was done on a green screen, with the bikes mounted on special rigs that allowed them to lean realistically—so that Keanu could punch, slap, shoot, and throw swords without actually putting anyone in danger.
Ducati Scrambler Pro, “The Matrix: Resurrections ” (2021)
Speaking of Keanu Reeves, he’s not the only actor appearing in the Matrix series who’s got a thing for motorcycles. Carrie-Anne Moss, who plays Trinity, also has a clear love for two-wheeled vehicles—judging by her numerous appearances on bikes throughout the original trilogy.
But the fourth installment in the series, The Matrix: Resurrections, takes things a step further. Not only does it make Trinity’s love for motorcycles an explicit part of the plot, but it features an incredibly-choreographed chase sequence near the end of the film that has Neo riding pillion as Trinity zips through a horde of malevolent AI “bots” who are hurling themselves into the path of her Ducati Scrambler Pro, sometimes from the tops of skyscrapers.
It’s a totally bonkers moment in a movie that wasn’t afraid to piss off longtime fans in the pursuit of big, new ideas—and isn’t that kind of freedom also a key part of what makes motorcycling so appealing?
For Ducati’s full lineup of 2022 bikes, click here.