Top 10 best motorcycle names

Why do we put up with riding XYZ1200Rs when there are so many better alternatives?

IF you’re a parent then you probably understand the difficulty of selecting a name for your offspring. Unless you take the George Foreman option and call all your offspring George, that is.

You’ll probably want something that stands out a little, but at the same time you have to think carefully to minimise the risk of playground taunts (like the person who legendarily named their daughter Chlamydia because they thought it sounded pretty…)

Then there’s the complication of what happens when you combine the seemingly perfect Christian name with your existing surname. It’s all very well to call your kid Hazel, unless you happen to be Mr and Mrs Nutt…

Now consider the difficulty that any manufacturer has when it comes to branding its range of products. As well as the problems of finding a fitting – and not embarrassing – name, it’s got to be unique, as unlike kids, products get trademarked.  

Given those issues it’s easy enough to see why so many firms end up reverting to alpha-numeric codes for their bikes. Once you’ve established that ‘YZF’ isn’t offensive or embarrassing when read out in every language around the globe, why not stick to it and just add another number for each different model?

But then again, sometimes it’s the name that turns the bike into a legend… Here are our picks for the best 10 out there. Let us know if we’ve missed any other blinders.

10: Black Shadow

Back pre-war era, bike names were far more descriptive than today’s often made-up titles and Vincent was arguably the best at choosing them. Its range includes the Meteor, Rapide, Comet and Black Lightning after all, and each of them could have merited a place on this list. But Black Shadow wins out because it’s somehow such a perfect fit for the bike that carried the name.

9: Katana

Suzuki has come up with some real clangers on the naming front in the past, but Katana’s samurai connections hit just the right note. The connotations of a sharp edge and a huge amount of skill needed to wield one well (a real katana, that is) were a perfect fit. Shame the title was later used on less worthy machines.

8: Blackbird

Blackbird should really have been a rubbish name for a bike. Like Magpie. Or Great tit. But because it had already been applied to a legendary, shadowy, super-fast military aircraft, the Lockheed SR-71, it instead turned out to be ideal for the bike that was, for a while, the fastest production two-wheeler on the planet. Particularly given that the launch models in 1996 were usually painted in that stealthy dark grey.

7: Hayabusa

You’ve got to love it when firms take an intentional pop at each other in names. Here’s one that’s not only named after the Japanese word for peregrine falcon because it was intended to match the bird’s top speed of close to 200mph but also because falcons like to snack on smaller, slower birds. Like blackbirds…

6: Ninja

To be honest, if the Ninja name hadn’t been used before and only now did a firm decide to slap it on the side of a bike, we might think it was a bit ridiculous. But back in the 1980s it was brilliant, and now it’s virtually unimaginable that Kawasaki could have a sports bike that didn’t fall under the Ninja banner. That’s how good naming should work.

5: Monster

Ducati’s naming record hasn’t been great. Most of its bikes get confusing three-digit titles that may or may not relate to engine size, and those with names have included rather weak ones like ‘Paso,’ undecipherable ones like ‘Desmosedici’ and ‘Panigale’ and simply unsuitable ones like ‘Bronco.’ But Monster is such a great name, and so simple that it’s amazing it hadn’t already been snapped up and trademarked by someone else before 1992.

4: Daytona

Here we can include pretty much any bike that’s named after great race tracks or events. Daytona sounds particularly good, but Bonneville and Thuxton are decent examples too. Of course, both Triumph and Moto Guzzi have laid claim to Daytona before, and on four wheels its been applied to both fabulous Ferraris and dicey Dodges. But beware, not every race track sounds so inspiring; we wouldn’t suggest naming your next bike ‘Oliver’s Mount’ (unless you’re called Oliver, that is), or ‘Bedford Autodrome,’ for instance.

3: Tiger

You’ve got to give it to Triumph when it comes to names, because Tiger is another great one. Plus it gave the chance to offer a smaller Tiger Cub, too, which also worked well. The connotations of a growling, sleek, muscular cat just seem to work well for a bike.

2: Hurricane

A name so good it’s been used by more than one manufacturer, even if it’s fallen out of favour at the moment. In the UK, the name is most closely associated with Triumph, and they were in there first with the X75 Hurricane (pictured), but more recently it’s been used by Honda on its American-market CBR600 and CBR1000 models. Given Hurricane’s stormy sound, it’s probably worth giving an honourable mention to some of Buell’s old machines, too – the Thunderbolt, Lightning and Cyclone were all models that could have been worthy of this list.

1: Fireblade

You might have noticed that every name on this list so far has been borrowed from an existing thing; it’s easier to do that, because it gives a mental image as soon as the name is heard. But plenty of bikes also get made-up words as their names, and arguably the best of all is one of those – the Fireblade. Whether the name is good on its own, or simply because we’ve become used to associating it with great bikes for the last 22 years is up for debate, but we can’t imagine the ’Blade would have made quite such an impact if it had just been called the CBR900RR.

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