Last Updated on
With the release of the 25th James Bond film, No Time to Die, in April, Bikesure renews its license to thrill and takes a look at the marvellous motorcycling moments the series has served up.
The first use of motorcycles in the Bond films was 1965’s Thunderball. This had originally been planned as the first film, but two of the co-writers sued Ian Fleming after he wrote a book based on their screenplay. The bike, a BSA Lightning A65, was a sports model primarily aimed at the American export market, making it one of the earlier examples of product placement in the series. Fitted with a gold fairing and working prop missile launchers, the sequence was filmed at Silverstone, as can be seen in the promo by Ford Motors’ internal film unit, called “A child’s guide to blowing up a motor car”.
Thunderball itself ended the first phase of Bond history, with the breakneck pace of production of one film a year easing up in an attempt to stop Connery from leaving. While the initial legal dispute had ended, the rights situation wouldn’t finally be resolved until much later.
On her Majesty’s Secret Service
While there aren’t any actual motorcycles in OHMSS we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention George Lazenby, who is a keen motorcyclist. After Connery quit the role (for the first time) after 1967’s You Only Live Twice, Lazenby basically managed to bluff his way into the role through his natural charisma and good looks, despite having no acting experience at all. He then proceeded to enjoy all the benefits of being the new James Bond, including a free Triumph motorcycle. He then left the role and decided to make the semi improvised anti-war film Universal Soldier (not that one) instead.
Diamonds are Forever
After Lazenby decided to prioritise peace and love over being the star of the most popular film franchise in the world, Sean Connery was tempted back to the role for an at the time astronomical amount of money – over $1 million. During the film, Bond escapes in a moon buggy and is pursued by enemies on Honda ATC 90’s. This was the first mass-produced all-terrain vehicle, with distinctive balloon tires that made light work of travelling over uneven ground and light work of throwing the rider off if they turned too hard. They’re also featured in the Doctor Who story Day of the Daleks, starring in another leisurely paced chase.
Live and Let Die
Seeing the debut of the third Bond in as many films, Live and Let Die features three Aermacchi Harley-Davidson’s. Aermacchi was an Italian aerospace company that branched out into motorcycles after the second World War, before Harley-Davidson bought 50% of the company in 1960. Harley went on to sell their share to Cagiva in 1978. The company continued to go from strength to strength, buying up other Italian bike companies including MV Agusta. In 2008 history repeated itself, with Harley-Davidson buying the company, before retiring the Cagiva brand to focus on Agusta. In the film they do not acquit themselves particularly well in terms of stopping Bond as he escapes via a double decker bus.
The Spy Who Loved Me
The Bond film that finally asks the question everyone had been wondering until then; what would win in a fight between a Lotus Esprit which can turn into a submarine vs a Kawasaki Z1 with a sidecar that can be launched like a road torpedo. Without wishing to spoil it for you, it doesn’t end particularly well for this bike-bound assassin, although it’s not the fault of the bike per se.
For Your Eyes Only
Throughout its run there’ve been a few attempts to bring the series down to earth, with the first, appropriately enough, following from the space adventure of Moonraker. For Your Eyes Only is a cold war thriller played out on a smaller scale than the previous films of Moore’s run. That said, it does feature the most impressive motorcycle chase of the series to date, with Bond on skis escaping from assassins on Yamaha XT500s, set to a stirring disco soundtrack. As with The Spy Who Loved Me these bikes also have concealed weapons, with machine guns somehow incorporated in to the indicators. They make sidecar torpedos seem plausible, as there’s no way you’d be able to fit as many bullets as they fire into them.
Deep in the Roger Moore era, the motorcycle content here is slim, with a BMW R100 joining two West German police cars who immediately start chasing James Bond after he steals a car to get back to the US army base under threat of being nuked. It’s almost like they know he’s an important protagonist in an action movie rather than a common or garden car thief, because endangering so many members of the public would otherwise be considered dreadfully unprofessional. The chase is short, showcasing lots of bouncy early 80s car suspension and gigantic turning circles, and is filmed in a part of Germany that looks suspiciously like the area around Pinewood studios.
Let’s also give an honourable mention to the tuktuk chase.
Never Say Never Again
The fallout of the Thunderball case lead to the baffling decision by Kevin McClory to remake the story using the parts that had legally been determined to belong to him, which meant the very specific depiction of James Bond from that particular story. Luckily Connery was once again tempted to return to the role upon receipt of giant stacks of cash, giving the world a second go at what is undeniably one of the most mediocre entries in the series.
The requirements of not using story elements established outside of the story to Thunderball meant that instead of a gadget packed car, Bond gets given a gadget packed motorcycle by Q branch. It’s supposed to be a modified Yamaha XJ650 Seca Turbo, but it’s a bit difficult to confirm with the custom fairing. Look out for the gigantic chunk of fairing falling off it after the jump at 2.36 in this video.
Skipping forwards to 1995, through the motorcycle-free Dalton films, through the end of the cold war, the Brosnan era kicked off with an amazing bike stunt where he uses a Soviet military motorcycle to jump off a mountaintop airstrip to catch a runaway aeroplane. One interesting thing to note is that despite being a flashback to 1986, the Soviet military are respectful enough of Western copyright to leave the brand name, Cagiva, visible.
Tomorrow Never Dies
The bike stunt in this film adds an extra level of difficulty, with Brosnan being handcuffed to Michelle Yeoh as they try to escape through Ho Chi Minh City on a BMW1200C cruiser. It’s a gigantic motorcycle for Vietnam, although as it is outside the regional headquarters of bad guy Elliot Carver’s Vietnam offices it’s possible they’re all imported. This is the final appearance of motorcycles in the Brosnan run, and it would be almost a decade until there was a Bond Bike sequence.
Quantum of Solace
Daniel Craig’s era was the third and most successful attempt to cut out the campier aspects of the franchise following on from the abortive attempts of For Your Eyes Only and License to Kill. Sadly the momentum built up by Casino Royale stumbled when production of Quantum was hit by the writer’s strike, meaning the script couldn’t be significantly improved from its first draft. The bike here is a Honda Montesa Cota, an off-road trials bike that’s been modified to look like a road bike, to make some of the stunts slightly more possible.
Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the release of Dr No, Skyfall wasn’t originally planned as the golden anniversary film but development hell and schedule creep caused several long breaks in pre-production. This was also the first film to be produced after the McClory legal situation was finally resolved, allowing them to use plot elements like SPECTRE and Blofeld again, as well as sparing the world from a mooted third Thunderball remake. The bike scene is one of the most impressive sequences in the series’ history, with Bond chasing a baddie through the streets and across the roofs of Istanbul.
No Time to Die
Spectre was motorcycle light, with its focus on retroactively changing the plots of the previous three films, and everyone thought it was going to be Craig’s final film, but he’s back for one final go around. While the full extent of the motorcycle involvement isn’t known yet, we know that Triumph is the official Bond Bike this time around and indeed sent prototypes of their new Scrambler to help with the shoot. We do have a few tantalising clips shared by the company that worked as concept designers to the production. The shooting of one part of the bike scenes suggests they’re working hard to keep the bike stunts as one of the highlights of the series.
Like 007, the team at Bikesure love a challenge and are able to offer a whole host of insurance policies to best suit your motorcycle needs.