Top 10 Best Mad Max Motorcycles

As the latest film in the Mad Max franchise arrives, we're looking back at the series' best motorbikes 

BMW R18 chariot

Friday 24th May sees the UK cinema release of the latest instalment of the Mad Max movie series. Strictly speaking, ‘Furiosa – A Mad Max Saga’, isn’t actually a Mad Max movie at all, as the Max concerned isn’t in it. But forget that, in every other respect – apocalyptic setting, lots of loony bikes and cars, George Miller direction – it ticks all the boxes.

It’s a prequel to the previous instalment, 2015’s ‘Mad Max Fury Road’ and is the ‘origin story’ of renegade warrior Furiosa (played last time by Charlize Theron) before her team-up with Mad Max (played last time by Tom Hardy).

This time round it stars Anya Taylor Joy as the young Furiosa whose nemesis, Dr Dementus, leader of a wild biker gang, is played by Chris (Thor) Hemsworth.

And as the latest, fifth instalment of the Mad Max series, dating all the way back to 1979’s original, it promises just as many wild bikes and stunts as ever. So, in anticipation of all that, here’s our pick of the best Mad Max motorcycles over the whole franchise’s history, in chronological order…

1. Mad Max (1979) Goose’s KZ1000

The original Mad Max may have been low budget (costing just $350,000) but the Australian production not only thrust Mel Gibson to stardom,  its vision of a future wasteland marauded by criminal bikers made it one of the most iconic and influential biker movies of all time, prompting a series of sequels.

Although star Max drives a car, his police buddy in the MFP (Main Force Patrol), Jim Goose, rides a bike which itself becomes one of the film’s stars. It was based on a 1977 KZ1000 donated by Kawasaki Australia famously modified with café racer fairing and tail moulded by Melbourne-based La Parisienne finished off with Lester mags. It's so iconic that more than a few replicas have been built over the years since. 

2. Mad Max (1979) Toecutter’s Kawa

The main baddie in the original flick is ‘Toecutter’, the leader of an outlaw biker gang who rides a black Z1000 with a similar La Parisienne fairing to that of Goose (see above). In fact, La Parisienne reportedly modified a total of 13 bikes for the movie. The gang themselves were played by members of a local Victoria-based motorcycle club, The Vigilantes, who had responded to a local ad, while Toecutter himself was played by Hugh Keays-Bryne, who first found fame in biker movie ‘Stone’ and subsequently also played the lead baddie Immortan Joe in 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road. He died in 2020.

Interesting trivia: in preparation for his 1979 role, Keays-Byrne, already an accomplished biker, decided to ‘get into character’ by riding, with several others, the 550 miles from Sydney to the Melbourne shoot fully dressed in costume!

3. Mad Max (1979) Goose’s KH250

Although nearly all the bikes in Mad Max were Z1000s, due to Kawasaki Australia donating 10 machines for the production, there is the odd exception. One of the most notable being early in the film when, following an accident, an injured ‘Goose’ is seen using crutches and riding away from the police station not on his usual MFP pursuit bike but on a lightweight 1976 Kawasaki KH250 two-stroke triple.

4. Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981) Wez’s Kawa

The success of the original led to a bigger budget sequel in 1981 with both the film and its vehicles being far more apocalyptic (sorry, there’s that word again). Sadly, there are also fewer bikes. One, however, stands out. While the chief baddie this time is Lord Humungus, leader of the Marauders gang, his most trusted lieutenant is Wez, played by Vernon Wells, whose Craig Vetter fairing equipped Z 1000, reportedly inspired by the then new Suzuki Katana, was as distinctive as Wez himself, with his mohawk and chaps. Amusing sidenote: Wells revived his Wez character in a frankly bizarre scene in 1985’s Kelly LeBrock vehicle Weird Science…

5. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) Charlize gets on a bike, too

Although there are no bikes in the third film in the series, 1985’s Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, which also sees Gibson’s final portrayal of Max,

They more than makeup for it in Miller’s belated reboot in 2015. That said, although Fury Road is dubbed a ‘Mad Max’ movie, to be entirely accurate its hero is not Max, but Imperator Furiosa, a skin-headed alpha female with a bionic arm played by Charlize Theron. The plot centres on her mission to return to her homeland, crossing a post-apocalyptic desert in an 18-wheel truck, rescuing slave women as she goes. Oh, and she gets on a BMW bike, too. Albeit briefly.

6. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) Max’s R1

Although Max doesn’t ride a bike in the first three Mad Max films, being associated most with his modified Ford Falcon police interceptor, he does, briefly, in Fury Road. Filmed mostly in the deserts of Namibia, it featured reportedly 150 bikes and cars conceived by production designer Colin Gibson. Among them are a series of Yamaha R1s and YZ250s, many fitted with US hillclimb-style extended swingarms, one of the former being ridden – again briefly – by star Tom Hardy. In truth, although an accomplished biker today, back in 2015 the Brit was a raw novice and the bike proved hugely demanding to control, so his ‘riding’ was done by a body double.

7. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) The Rock Riders

Although overshadowed cars and trucks, bikes do feature prominently in Fury Road. One of the leading gangs in Fury Road is the Rock Riders, whose vehicles of choice are customized dirt bikes, such as this Yam YZ, and on which they attack in one of the most dynamic sequences of the movie. 

To deliver the action, stunt coordinator Guy Norris enlisted five-time Australian MX champ and leading freestyle coach Stephen Gall. Said Norris: “We wanted to create action that’s never been seen before, and Stephen has his fingers on the pulse of all the best motocross racers and freestylers out there. And what his guys did on this film was just above and beyond. It was amazing.”

8. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) The Vuvalini

In Fury Road, bikes are also the vehicle of choice for the Vuvalini, a tribe of older warrior women (led by Megan Gale as ‘The Valkyrie’) who ride into battle on modified bikes to wreak havoc with explosive-tipped spears and guns, as production designer Colin Gibson has explained: “We wrapped some feminine detail and nomadic styling around the leather seat of a repurposed Harley or BMW to give you the last thrill of your last ride before these lovely old bikie chicks took you out with a single shot.” Nice.

9. Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga (2024): Dr Dementus’ radial chopper

We can’t be certain as we haven’t seen the movie (it’s not out yet, doh!) but we have seen the trailers and some of the publicity still which shows some of the bikes – and it looks like we’re in for a treat. One of them is this radical, radial-engined chopper straddled here by anti-hero Dr Dementus played by co-star Chris Hemsworth. Quite a lot is actually known about it. It’s basically a modified JRL Cycles’ ‘REM’ (for radial engine motorcycle), one of just six built 20 years ago powered by the 2800cc, radial seven-cylinder Rotec R2800 aero engine which was bought specifically for the film’s production.

10. Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga (2024): Dr Dementus’ R18-powered chariot

Radial chopper apart, Hemsworth’s character’s usual vehicle of choice in Furiosa is reportedly a wild, motorcycle-pulled chariot using not one, not two, but THREE BMW R18s. In fact, it appears a variety of modified BMWs appear in the new movie and BMW has confirmed its involvement in the flick. Maybe the slow-selling R18’s good for something after all, other than powering the boxer Mini we saw recently...