Top 10 unsung yet iconic motorcycles

Fame, It's a funny old business. You'll find more talented musicians busking on the London Underground than you will at the top of the charts. Here's the motorcycling equivalent

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Ben Cope's picture
Submitted by Ben Cope on Thu, 25/03/2010 - 12:19

There are probably better actors mincing around your local amateur dramatics society than there are in the latest Hollywood blockbuster.

But the point is, no-one has heard of the grubby guitarist who busks on the Northern Line or the camp thespian who plays King Lear down the community hall, whereas everyone's heard of S Club Seven and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Being good at something doesn't necessarily make  you famous.

Same goes for bikes. Anyone who's ever ridden a bike has heard of a Yamaha R1, Honda FireBlade or Suzuki GSX-R750, but to the man in the street, those names mean nothing. But ask the same man if he's seen Steve McQueen attempting to jump that fence on his bike in The Great Escape or watched Marlon Brando rumble into town on his Triumph Thunderbird in The Wild One and you'll probably get a very different answer. Hell, there's even more chance that said man in the street knows what a Honda C90 is because his granny's got one than there is of him being able to pick a ZX-9R out of a biking identity parade.

As with so many cases of fame, it's not always talent - or in this case, brilliant engineering - that ensures a household name, it's more about looks, images, sales or just being on the right bike in the right place at the right moment that really counts. When it comes to bikes being famous, it's not anorak facts about makes and models which make a lasting impression on the minds of the general public, it's more that the bikes in question played a part in a bigger picture - they're not just mechanised two-wheeled vehicles, they actually represent something greater than that.

It didn't matter that it was a Triumph TR6 that McQueen rode in The Great Escape or that it was another Triumph which propelled Brando to fame in The Wild One, what matters is that those motorcycles were seen by millions of people doing really cool things and portraying a really cool image that someone who'd never even sat on a bike could identify with.

And it's not just bikes which have featured in movies that have become famous to millions outside the tight-knit and insular world of motorcycling - ask any self-respecting London style guru (or absolutely anyone in Italy for that matter) what  a Ducati 916 is and they'll tell you it's not just  a motorcycle - it's a design icon and a fashion statement.

In contrast, Honda's humble C90 step-thru can hardly be called a fashion statement but it's still one of the most famous bikes in the world, if only because almost 30 million people have bought one.

There's no set way for a bike to grab fame beyond its limited natural habitat in the world of motorcycling - it can be a brief appearance in a pop video, a role in a movie, performing a ridiculous stunt or just embodying a design so stunning that it strikes a chord with a mainstream audience. Whatever the reason, some bikes are destined to go down in history while others are destined just to go down the road. We reckon these are the top 10 most famous bikes ever to have turned a wheel and have enrolled them into the Visordown Hall Of Fame, accordingly. Bask, then in their collective glory...

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