Top 10 things movies get wrong about motorcycles

Visordown picks out the most annoying mistakes films make about bikes

Posted: 19 September 2013
by Steve Farrell

1. Low-siding is not a quick way to stop

Remember that bit in the motorcycle test where the examiner raised his hand and you had to throw the bike sideways, low-side and fall off? No? That’s because it never happened. If it had, we dare say it would have constituted an instant fail. It’s not part of the test because it doesn’t work. Begging the question: where did Dirt Harry learn to fling his bike on its side in the closing moments of Magnum Force?

Watch Magnum Force clip

2. Road tyres do not transmorph into knobblies

Just as well really. Think of the inconvenience. Countless touring holidays ruined by the spontaeious acquisition of motocross rubber. Not to mention the impact on the industry. It’s struggling enough without putting tyre fitters out of business. Didn’t think of that, did you, Tom Cruise, with your implausible antics and ludicrous storylines in Mission: Impossible II? 

Watch Mission: Impossible II clip 

3. Dirt bikes are not four-cylinder

Nor do they sound like multi-cylinder four-strokes, except when ridden my Michael Douglas in Black Rain. Douglas chases a gangster through a farmer’s field (a bit anti-social). Both are riding what look like Suzuki TS250Xs. They would be single-cylinder two-strokes, then. There’s obviously another chase going on nearby, just out of shot, because we can distinctly hear GSX-R1000s.

Watch Black Rain clip

4. Jumps require ramps

Evel Knievel wasn’t known for fastidious jump preparations but he at least always made sure he had a ramp. Caesars Palace with no ramp would have been an entirely different show, if equally spectacular and injurious. What we’d really like to see, though, is Vanilla Ice attempting to jump those fountains without a ramp. He manages it over a fence in Cool as Ice, after all. Go on, Vanilla. Give us a laugh.

Watch Cool as Ice clip

5. Motorcycles don't make tyre-squeal in corners

Well, they might, but only as an immediate precursor to a devastating crash, with traction lost and wheels locked. Hope as we might (and believe us we do), Pierce Brosnan does not suffer a devastating crash in Tomorrow Never Dies. The tyres of his BMW R1200C can clearly be heard to squeal as he takes a corner. He doesn’t die at all. It should be called Pierce Brosnan Never Dies.  

Watch Tomorrow Never dies clip

6. Parking isn't just a matter of getting off and walking away

There are procedures to follow. Steering locks to engage. Keys to be removed from ignitions. Disc locks or security chains to be put on. Sometimes tank bags and soggy waterproofs to be removed. Not for Garrett Hedlund in Tron: Legacy. After losing the police, he pulls up, hits a button to kill the engine, removes his helmet - without undoing a strap - and walks away, leaving his Ducati Sport Classic 1000 as a gift to thieves. He’s the reason insurance is so expensive.

Watch Tron: Legacy clip

7. Ratchet straps don't undo themselves

Trinity jumps onto a lorry carrying Ducati 996s and asks her accomplice in the Matrix for a “download to hotwire a motorcycle”. She must also get a download to make ratchet straps evaporate. There was clearly a set holding the Ducati in place, yet she starts it and wheelspins away. No good at all. We’d like to see five minutes of knuckle chafing with fiddly ratchet mechanisms, please.

Watch Matrix Reloaded clip

8. If you get hit by a lorry, you fall off

Few things a more guaranteed to knock you off a motorcycle than getting hit by a lorry. Being struck by a wrecking ball would possibly come close. We can’t think of anything else. Yet a juvenile John Connor stays on his dirt bike despite being smashed more than once from behind by a lorry in Terminator 2: Judgement Day. Why didn’t the T-1000 just get a gun and shoot the little twonk? 

Watch Terminator 2: Judgement Day clip

9. You can't do a 50ft jump two-up

Not unless you want to untie a tangle of broken limbs and suspension parts afterward. Motorcycle jumps place huge stresses on body and machinery. You don’t simply look at some stairs and say to your pillion “Hold on”. "Goodbye" would be more fitting. Unless you’re Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz in Knight and Day, who land their Ducati Hypermotard with no more than an “oomph”.

Watch Knight and Day clip

10. Motorcycles do not have 20 gears

The relevant clip may have been removed from Youtube for copyright infringement, or possibly to save the makers further embarrassment. It cannot be erased from our memories. Laurence Fishburne and some other bloke are having a drag race, strangely on a dirt track, in Biker Boyz. They open their throttles. They open them again. And again. And again. And…

Watch Biker Boyz clip

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Discuss this story

On a point of order, regarding point #1, the low-side stop IS now part of the module 1 test. I believe they call it the swerve test, or something like that.

Posted: 19/09/2013 at 15:45

another one: wringing the throttle from fully open to a point even further past maximum, does not create another instantly available 50BHP/50MPH

Posted: 19/09/2013 at 17:18

And movie bikes always start first kick or press of the magic button, starter motors can never be heard, the bike never needs any warming up, selects 1st without a clunk or a jerk on cold oil, and is away instantly, most likely to be thrown at a corner with cold tyres.

Locks and chains do feature, mostly as a device to tell us where the stolen bike was.

Posted: 19/09/2013 at 17:45

What about when the bike that's pulling a massive wheelie is 10x faster than one that has both wheels on the ground?

Posted: 19/09/2013 at 22:13

How about all the riders who can shoot with a gun in their right hand, and the bike doesn't slow down? They can even manage a wheelie sometimes.

Posted: 20/09/2013 at 00:30

What makes me shake my head is the fact that on TV, riders always wear helmets - but never bother with the strap.

Posted: 20/09/2013 at 01:59

You forgot a lincoln town car keeping up with a pair of ducati 916s in Fled, Laurence Fishburne and Stephen Baldwin.

Posted: 20/09/2013 at 09:13

To be fair, #6 is completely believable, IMHO. I've lived in North America(riding around Seattle/Portland/Vancouver mostly) for 10 years now, and I've never locked a bike up during rides around the city, nor do any of my mates here lock up. Took a while to get used to, though.

Posted: 20/09/2013 at 09:15

And lets not talk about Torque!

Posted: 20/09/2013 at 09:16

To be fair, #6 is completely believable, IMHO. I've lived in North America(riding around Seattle/Portland/Vancouver mostly) for 10 years now, and I've never locked a bike up during rides around the city, nor do any of my mates here lock up.
However, that jump on the Sport Classic did look more than a little suspect.

Posted: 20/09/2013 at 09:26

Most realistic bike chase ever: two up on a Suzuki GP100 being pursued through Edinburgh at speeds of up to 30 miles in the hour (downhill).

Posted: 20/09/2013 at 10:09

How about always riding of with wheelspin without using the front brake or getting the front wheel in the air? Are they using very crapy tyres drenched in oil?

Posted: 20/09/2013 at 10:11

G.I.Joe Another classic motorcycle scene not mentioned here

Posted: 20/09/2013 at 11:20

How about Mission: Impossible II, where Tom Cruise picks up a Triumph Speed Triple with one hand whilst running. Cracks me up every time!

Posted: 20/09/2013 at 11:59

Tom Cruise has magical space powers though, they just film his normal commute and then write a film around it.

Posted: 20/09/2013 at 12:50

In one of the Transformers films where a soldier jumps on an Aprilia RSV1000 twin and.... it sounds like a four cylinder screamer!

Posted: 20/09/2013 at 17:27

Stupid movie directors and equally stupid tech consultants aren't the only dunces when it comes to media coverage/TV shows/movies/news reports/commercials concerning motorcycles. "Reality" shows that have all the people in the shop acting like children on a playground, commercials that show any motorcyclist as a dumb-ass, Harley portrayed as the only motorcycle people know about, motorcycle clubs that are pseudo biker gangs, the whole lot of it is ridiculous. It is NOT reality if they know the cameras are there! Producers encouraging participants to create fake drama just for the sake of "good television". Look at how motorcycle racing goes largely unrecognized, at least here in the USA. Just when American enthusiasts think we've got some good coverage and a bit of athletic respect, the broadcaster screws us over, in the middle of races for Nascrap "talk"; or with beIN Sports in the US, all of a sudden since Germany, they cut back on the WSBK coverage, axing the Supersport races completely so we won't get to see the title fight in WSS for the remaining races. With the treatment the media gives us riders and racers, no wonder movies can't get it right and reality shows offer nothing but a bunch brainless idiot-sticks assembling choppers.

Posted: 20/09/2013 at 19:21

The female fight scene in Torque. You can't clash the front wheels of motorcycles like swords.

Posted: 20/09/2013 at 20:01

Michael Winner said in a TV ad, "relax dear, its only a TV commercial".
Most films & TV is made up of bollocks, exploding things, so whats wrong with these?

Posted: 20/09/2013 at 20:52

The soundtrack thing is the only thing which puzzles me. why don't they just produce the sound track from the bike they're using?

Posted: 21/09/2013 at 13:07

#10 - because riding with your visor up at anything more than 30mph is not a problem....

Posted: 23/09/2013 at 16:21

#8 so it's perfectly ok to have a terminator robot sent from the future driving the truck, the problem is that the bike should've been trashed?
#7 it's completely acceptable to be inside a computer generated virtual reality program to use human beings for power but when they don't undo straps it becomes a problem? ( there is No Spoon, lol)

good little top 10 though :D

Posted: 24/09/2013 at 22:26

Fun article :)
Makes you wonder though - how much do the movie companies spend on fantastic life-realistic CGI etc, and how much do they save by using a bit of stock-sound recording badly dubbed over a bike.
It's almost like they don't care, and know that 90#9% of punters won't either. And THAT's the bit I don't like :p

Posted: 25/09/2013 at 20:49

i believe the answer to question#1 is this

Posted: 25/09/2013 at 21:45

To be fair, at least in America, low siding to a stop used to be considered a legitimate emergency maneuver. Back in the day, when brakes were bad and tires even worse, sometimes the fastest way to stop was really to just throw the bike down and let the steel grind against the pavement. They even taught it at the motor officer riding courses of American police departments at least into the 1950's. By 1973 however, when Magnum Force came out, keeping the rubber on the ground and braking was definitely the quickest way to shed speed.

Posted: 01/10/2013 at 06:29

In many movies featuring off road bikes, you can clearly see its a two stroke single, yet once its started it suddenly becomes an instant four stroke thumper.
As a previous poster mentioned, why not use the actual bikes sound or at least record sounds from the bike for the movie.
Is it laziness on the producers part or they simply could'nt care less.

Posted: 01/10/2013 at 13:49

The classic faux pas was Steve Mcqueens bike (s) used in The Great Escape . I think I saw him riding 3 different bikes in a single bike chase culminating in the 'big jump' I can admirehim really for realising that he needed a motocross bike to do the jump when in reality all he would had was the choice of a single or twin pot 4 stroke BMW or Zundapp or whatever in WW2

Posted: 01/10/2013 at 14:34

Then there's the scenes where the bike's engine is screaming along and you'd expect the rider to be doing 150mph+ and what do you see? The bloody bike doing around 30.


Posted: 14/10/2013 at 23:18

Great article though. Made me chuckle :)

Posted: 18/10/2013 at 14:44

I had a DR650 from Ebay with some weird and wonderful make of Chinese tyre fitted by the seller.They squealed like a good 'un when I thrashed it around a nice twisty Devon B road using my patent point and squirt style.To be fair the tyres weren't made for that kind of treatment neither was that bike so I sold it and kept the Fazer it was supposed to replace.

Posted: 12/11/2013 at 19:24

Yes, but to be fair, you never really see this anymore.

Posted: 03/12/2013 at 20:52

It was in one of the "Resident Evil" movies where Milla Jovovich is camping out in the desert and some unseen force lifts her BMW K1200R off the ground by about six feet. When the force releases its grip, the bike falls to the ground and essentially shatters into a thousand pieces. Ridiculous. Of my thirty or so bikes over the years, one of them was a K12R, and that thing was a tank. I'll forgive the ignorance of impossible motorcycle stunts, but that scene was near sacrilege.

Posted: 03/12/2013 at 20:59

If you get worked up about any of these points don't watch "The Place beyond the Pines". There is a four stroke single (possibly XR250) in that and the sound track can change in 1 journey from four stroke single to four stroke four cylinder to two stroke single. Drove me mad watching that.

Posted: 13/01/2014 at 13:30

Talkback: Top 10 things movies get wrong about motorcycles

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