Top Five Two-Wheeled Movie Stars

14

By Jim Blackstock

Kawasaki Ninja GPz900R – Top Gun

In 1986, when Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell got his shot and arrived at Miramar air base having saved Cougar in the Indian Ocean, he chased an F-14 jet down the runway, punching the air and expressing his love of all things that eschew speed. The angular machine he was riding was the Kawasaki GPz900, then the fastest production bike in the world and a fitting ride for the best of the best. 

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He used the same bike throughout the movie, including the scene where it magically sprouted a 17-speed gearbox for the ‘chase’ with Kellie McGillis and the famous ‘kiss-stood-on-a-box’ scene. 

The GPz was the first bike that Kawasaki used the ‘Ninja’ moniker for. Nowadays, that has been taken to mean fully-faired examples of the manufacturer’s sports bikes but the GPz was the first full-on water-cooled sports bike. It was the first bike to feature a 16V four-cylinder motor, with 908cc and 115bhp, and the motor was a stressed member, to improve rigidity. Its bodywork, while undoubtedly mid ‘80s, was sleek and helped it to achieve another first – breaking the 150mph maximum speed barrier and cementing the Japanese manufacturer as a major player. 

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Of course, it had nothing on Maverick’s F-14 and the GPz makes a welcome appearance in the trailer for Top Gun: Maverick, the 2020 follow-up (sequel is probably a bit of a stretch, 34 years on), as does the modern equivalent of the Ninja, the monstrous H2 supercharged sportster, though some believe it to be the H2R, the even-more bonkers track-ready H2R. Both use a 200bhp supercharged inline four that would probably give one of the F-14s a run for its money. Great balls of fire!

If you want to recreate a bit of 80s retro chic and the pattern isn’t full, there is a very nice original example of the Ninja GPz900R on the site at the moment, for around £7000. 

BMW R1200C – Tomorrow Never Dies

Some things are never meant to be; Harley-Davidsons were never supposed to jump 13 buses in Wembley stadium and a huge, meaty BMW cruiser was never supposed to jump over a helicopter or low-side underneath it with a British secret agent handcuffed to his Chinese counterpart in Saigon. But unlike Evel Knievel, who announced he would never jump again after crashing at Wembley, Commander James Bond, 007 managed to get away with multiple feats on the BMW cruiser and live to fight (or die) yet another day.

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Launched at the same time as the movie and forming part of the BMW product placement at the time (Bond also drove a 750iL in the film) the R1200C was BMW’s take on a cruiser, attempting to tap into the laid-back, feet-slightly-forward market. It used BMW’s trademark flat-twin 1170cc boxer engine generating decent torque for easy cruising. It also used BMW’s trademark Telelever front suspension and paralever rear, unconventional and unique but providing pretty decent handling for a big lazy cruiser. 

Having gone through several updates and special editions, and despite reasonable press thanks to its better-than-average build quality and finish (for a cruiser), it was quietly phased out in 2004, with BMW citing a disunity between the engine and what riders wanted at the time. 

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However, that’s not to say that Bond and Wai Lin didn’t make a splash with it. The magic of movies meant that they were able to not only jump it, slide it and even wheelie it (none of which were possible with the real bike), they were able to do it either with Lin sitting ahead of Bond and facing backwards or with Bond using just one hand to jump from one building roof to the other, as they were handcuffed together. Some boy, Mr Bond. 

If you feel like a little cruiser action and like the look of the R1200C, there’s a nice one available for just shy of £6000 here.

Ducati 996 – The Matrix Reloaded

When it comes to motorcycle movie chases involving a pillion passenger, few are less suited to the bike used than when Trinity boosts a Ducati 996 to escape the chasing Twins after rescuing the Keymaker with Morpheus in the second of the Matrix Trilogy movies. Thus ensues one of the most adrenaline-charged and action-packed bike chases ever committed to celluloid. 

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The 996 used in the movie was a green example taken from the top of a transporter housing several, more familiar red examples. It was a pretty serious piece of engineering, using a 996cc V-Twin engine pushing out 112bhp and built for speed. It used Ducati’s desmodromic valve train, which sees the valves opened and closed mechanically, rather than opened by a cam and then closed by a spring. It existed at perhaps the golden age of sports and superbikes, the early 2000s, before the category began its gradual descent into irrelevance. But its weight-forward, arse-in-the-air riding position was pure racetrack. 

Which made its choice as a getaway vehicle for Trinity and the Keymaker an odd choice. Perched precariously on the token pillion pad, the 996 carried the pair of them in and out of LA’s freeway traffic on a 1.5-mile stretch of fake highway created specifically for the movie. The bike itself was ridden by Carrie-Ann Moss’s stunt double, Debbie Evans.

The partnership was a success and the following year, Ducati launched a Matrix edition of the 996’s replacement, the 998, as this had taken over by the time. Visually similar, it was available in dark green like the movie example but unlike the difficult second movie, the 998 was a good example of the breed. 

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There were reports of up to 30 bikes being prepared and used in the movie with several examples coming up for sale following the release of the film. One was for sale in the USA in 2018 for $12,500 while it is also reported that Keanu Reeves, who played hero Neo in the trilogy and is a renowned bike fan and founder of the ARCH motorcycle company, also owns one of the movie bikes. 

There are several for sale at the moment, including this stunning example in bright red. Not a movie replica admittedly but a Ducati in red is a beautiful thing, if your back will allow you to lean that far forward. 

Harley-Davidson Fat Boy – Terminator 2

Even though the bartender told the Model 101 terminator; “I can’t let you take the man’s wheels, son” after the cyborg told the owner he needed his boots, his clothes and his motorcycle, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s most-famous character went ahead and threw a leg over the then almost new Harley Fat Boy anyway and headed off to search for ten-year-old tearaway John Connor, the saviour of the human race. 

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Arnie, a bit of a Harley fan himself, did much of the street riding himself, the big gutsy 1340cc V-twin suiting his and the character’s nature perfectly. Cruising the streets of LA searching for Connor, the Fat Boy, one of Harley-Davidson’s softail designs meaning the rear featured suspension as well as the front, was the epitome of cool. 

Things started to get a bit more frantic when the shape-shifting T-1000 ‘bad guy’ caught up with Connor and nicked a wrecker (a truck recovery truck) before trying to squash Connor as he took flight on a 17-speed two-stroke dirt bike. One of the most iconic moments was when the Terminator jumped the Harley from street level down into a storm drain to overtake the semi, using the Harley’s huge torque before going on to scoop Connor up to safety. 

While the bike did actually make the jump, it was helped by cables to reduce its not-inconsiderable 300-odd kilos weight. The softail suspension might give a compliant ride unfamiliar to most Harley owners but it wouldn’t handle that sort of abuse.

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While many feel T2 is one of, if not the best in the franchise (they’re wrong, by the way, the original will always be the best) the Fat Boy holds a special place as playing its part in the continuation of the human race in the war against the machines. In fact, the T-101 sitting astride the Fat Buy became the iconic poster image for the movie. Properly bad to the bone.

Incidentally, one of the bikes used in the movie resides in the Harley-Davidson museum while another was sold to a private collector in 2018 for almost $500,000. A slightly less-expensive example of the Harley-Davidson Fat Boy can be found in the classifieds. 

Triumph TR6 Trophy – The Great Escape

There are few more iconic tunes for an idle whistle for men of a certain age than the theme from The Great Escape. Memories of dirt being dropped out of trouser legs, Gordon Jackson being tripped up by his own training method while on the run and of course the ‘Cooler King’, Virgil Hilts and his incessant baseball throw-and-catch in isolation are all vivid for anyone who saw the hit film on a Sunday afternoon. 

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Of course, another iconic moment had audiences holding their breath as Hilts, played by the irrepressible Steve McQueen, tries to evade capture having escaped from Stalag Luft III on a stolen German Army BMW R75 motorcycle. Having managed to get into no-man’s land between the German and Swiss walls of barbed wire, he gets himself strung up and resigns himself to more time with his ball and glove. 

Except, of course, that the bike in question wasn’t actually a BMW at all but a heavily-disguised Triumph TR6 Trophy, a model that McQueen was particularly fond of. In fact, he regularly rode them near his California home, as the TR6 was developed for the US market, Triumph’s biggest export route and specifically, for desert racing. 

It was also used in trial competitions and McQueen and fellow racers Bud and Dave Ekins competed in the 1964 International Six-Day Trial on TR6s. In fact, it was Bud Ekins who filmed the actual jump for the movie, as McQueen, though an accomplished rider who did most of the flat work, was prohibited from making the jump itself by the movie’s insurers. 

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The same jump would later be re-created by Guy Martin using a modified modern Triumph Scrambler for Channel 4 in the UK, using two eight-foot walls of wire in the same field (actually in Austria) that was used for the movie. 

You can watch how he got on over on Channel 4.

The actual bike that was used in the movie was found and restored, valued at £1.5million and is now on display at the Triumph Visitor Experience in Hinkley, UK. If you fancy recreating a little of the magic for yourself, then there’s a very nice Triumph for sale here.

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