If the world is locked down, the weather’s rubbish or the Christmas weight gain is just too much to let you climb on the bike but you still want a fix of motorcycling action, then settle in and grab a bag of popcorn, as we’ve got the top motorcycling films and TV programs for you.
We’ve got a selection of some of the most engaging and significant films based around the world of motorcycling, ranging from tales of cultural separation and misunderstanding to straightforward comic-book hero feel-good watches. There is also a range of non-fiction, all intended to get into the head of the motorcyclist to understand what we do and why, particularly as we approach the extremes of our passion.
Some are only available on DVD while much is also available to stream, so you can watch instantly should the mood take you So kick back, put the heating on and enjoy some on-screen two-wheeled action.
Best motorcycling TV
1. No Limit
For a film that would already have had its vaccine jab if it were a human (it was made in 1935), No Limit is surprisingly modern. It tells the story of George Shuttleworth, played by George Formby, who is convinced he has what it takes to win the Isle of Man TT races. So, in this story of underdog achievement, he heads across the Irish Sea to the island on a wing and a prayer on his home-made bike, the Shuttleworth Snap and takes it to the works racing teams. Sure, the racing effects are a little prehistoric and the songs are 'of their time' but it's a reminder of Britain several generations ago.
2. The Wild One
Perhaps the first bad-boy biker movie, The Wild One is Johnny Strabler, leader of the Black Rebels Motorcycle Club which has just ripped-up a race meeting and stolen a trophy none of them were entitled to. The gang rides on to Wrightsville and proceeds to stomp around, causing much tutting from the locals but not too much resistance, as they're spending plenty of money with the local businesses. A tale of anti-establishment angst, Johnny starts to fall for a local waitress before coming up against a rival gang and a weak and resentful sheriff. The Wild One set the scene for countless movies and shows about bikers and can legitimately lay claim to inspiring everything from James Dean's Rebel without a Cause to the more modern Sons of Anarchy. You can also stream it on Amazon Prime.
3. On Any Sunday
This 1971 documentary looks at the world of off-road racers in the USA in the late 1960s. It look at various forms of sport, including motocross and desert racing and interviews riders to find out what the attraction is and why they ride. Hollywood legend Steve McQueen features in the film, as he was an avid motorcycle rider and racer, having done all the ground-riding during the famous border scene in The Great Escape – the producers didn't allow him to do the jump itself. So successful was On Any Sunday that is spawned a series of sequels.
4. Silver Dream Racer
Following a similar vein to No Limit, Silver Dream Racer follows aspiring motorcycle racer Nick Freeman, played by 1970s heart-throb David Essex as he struggles to find a break. Luck, if you can call it that, goes his way when his engineer brother dies and he inherits the innovative racing bike he was developing. He eventually enters the British Grand Prix at Silverstone on the bike – the Silver Dream Machine (the similarly title song by Essex went to No.4 in the UK charts in March 1980 – which gives rides to some excellent imagery. Two different endings were produced and this DVD features both.
5. Ghost Rider
Nicholas Cage is Jonny Blaze, the indestructible stunt rider who inadvertently made a pact with the devil, Mephisto, to cure his father of cancer in this movie spin-off from Marvel comics. As a result, Blaze becomes the Ghost Rider, the Devil's henchman, tasked with preventing his son, Blackheart, from creating hell on earth. It's an enjoyable romp with Cage's trademark intensity and uniqueness and benefits greatly from Sam Elliott's voiceover and appearance. It also includes a delightful nod as Mephisto, played by Peter Fonda, compliments Cage on his chopper (see Easy Rider).
6. Easy Rider
Easy Rider is the story of two hippies – Wyatt, played by Peter Fonda and Billie, played by Dennis Hopper – crossing the USA from California to New Orleans after a particularly lucrative dope deal. They stash the money and take to the road on a pair of Harley-Davidsons – Wyatt's 'Captain America' full chopper and Billie's hog. Along the way, they get arrested, pick up lawyer Jack Nicolson and experience some of the good and the bad of the USA at that time, from hard knocks to free love to bad trips. Things inevitably start to go wrong for the pair, who stand out from the establishment and are feared and resented in equal measure as they travel through rural America. As much a journey through 60's American culture as a road-trip.
7. Race To Dakar
Two years after he sprung to fame riding around the world with mate Ewan McGregor in The Long Way Round (see separate entry), Charley Boorman decided to enter the most gruelling motor race in the world, the 2006 Dakar Rally. This documentary follows Boorman as he attempts his lifelong dream of competing on the event, pairing up with veteran off-road racer Simon Pavey. A three-bike team was put together, with Matt Hall joining to film the competitive elements of the event. It turned out to be an arduous task and there is much insight into not just the physical but also the emotional and psychological demands that are put on the rider in the run-up to, during and after the event.
8. TT: Closer To The Edge
We all know just how intense the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy, or TT, races is; a two-week period of practice and racing over a 38-mile circuit lapping the island in the Irish sea. It's been going on for more than 100 years and while advances in technology have meant we can virtually ride with the stars of the event as they thread their way through the narrow public roads, until Richard de Aragues's documentary, we've rarely seen any further into the riders' psyche than the sponsor-pleasing TV interviews. Filmed at the 2010 event and featuring now-celeb Guy Martin as well as numerous other riders, the film looks at what drives them on an event that has claimed more than 200 lives since its inception.
9. The Long Way Up
It started with The Long Way Round in 2004, where Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman rode from the UK to New York by heading east around most of the world on BMW R1150GS motorcycles, after KTM infamously declined to supply bikes in case they proved unreliable. Three years later, the pair remounted their bikes for The Long Way Down, from John o'Groats in Scotland to Cape Town in South Africa, this time on R1200GS BMWs, these having replaced the 1150 models. Then, in 2019, they reformed once again to ride Harley-Davidson Livewire electric motorcycles from Ushuaia in Argentina to Los Angeles in the USA, stopping constantly en route to recharge the bikes from support vehicles and strangers' homes.
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