The World’s Most Famous Motorbikes

Motorbikes have long been synonymous with freedom and adventure. And thanks to those who rode them, James Dean, Steve McQueen, Elvis, Evil Kinevil, even the Fonz, they typify rebellion too. As rebels without a cause, it’s safe to assume that motorcycle insurance wasn’t high on their priority lists. But without these poster boys of cool, many marques like Enfield, Triumph, Harley Davidson and Indian wouldn’t be the sought after, must-have toy that they are today.

The world’s first motorcycle, named the Reitwagen (riding car) was built in November 1885, when Goitleib Daimler married an internal combustion engine to a wooden two-wheel frame with outrigger wheels. It reached a top speed of 12kmh, a far cry from today’s production bikes, capable of speeds in the vicinity of 320kmh.

While the most expensive motorbike on the market today tops the charts at $300,000, some of the world’s most iconic bikes come from much more humble beginnings.

The ultimate proving ground for many early motorcycle manufacturers was the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy, still one of the most prestigious motorcycle races in the world today.  In 1907, in the spirit of competition and advancement, the Isle of Man TT saw a field of road touring motorcycles compete for ultimate bragging rights. Success here translated directly into sales for competitors like Norton, Matchless and Indian.

As countries geared up for the World War 1, many motorcycle manufacturers found themselves starved of domestic availability. This made way for other brands to fill the post-war demand. In the early 1920s, Harley Davidson became the number one selling motorcycle in the world, and has been part of the American Dream ever since.


Sports bikes made their debut in 1959 with the emphasis being on speed, acceleration, braking, and maneuverability. When Honda opened its first dealership in the United States, engineer and founder Soichiro Honda wrote in the owner’s manual of the 1959 Honda CB92 that, “Primarily, essentials of the motorcycle consists in the speed and the thrill.”

1963 saw the release of the “The Great Escape’. While it may not be a motorcycle movie, strictly speaking, it contains what is arguably the most famous motorcycle scene in history, Steve McQueen’s escape attempt on a Triumph TR6 650 made to look like a wartime BMW. Not only did the scene crown McQueen as Hollywood’s King of Cool, it cemented Triumph in the history books as one of the most popular motorcycle manufacturers of all time.

Today, in Australia alone, there are over 700,000 motorcycles registered across the country. Proof that the popularity of two-wheeled transport is as strong as ever, making the motorcycle one of the 20th centuries most celebrated symbols of independence. And motorcycle insurance a key requirement for two-wheeled adventurers.

Joanne Lemke is a final year creative writing student at UOW, who is looking to break into the corporate copywriting space once she graduates and hopefully go on to eventually some day write a book around her other passions, namely cooking and travel.

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