Freedom, adrenaline, excitement… motorcycles have long fuelled our desire to hit the open road and experience something special. Since the birth of motorcycling more than a century ago, we’ve seen an incredible number of talented riders push themselves and their machines to the limit — with their achievements often elevating them to “legendary” status in the 2-wheeled community.
From record- (and sometimes bone) breaking stunts to perilous adventures around the world, these riders made their way into history, onto our TVs, and into our hearts. Now sit back and relax, as we take a daring journey to discover…
The 12 Most Legendary Motorcyclists Of All Time
Image Credit: CX500 Forum
Steve McQueen, the charismatic screen legend was a skilled rider. He had no qualms with performing his own stunts in the movies he starred in, such as “The Great Escape,” “Bullit,” and “Le Mans.” Maybe McQueen’s most notable contribution to motorcycling is his classic portrayal and even arguable creation of the “cool biker” persona. To this day we’re pretty sure that most riders (including ourselves) and striving to be half this cool!
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Few have experienced the terrifying speed of a motorcycle in the way Burt Munro has. Burt has an incredible story of persistence and perseverance. He spent more than 20 years modifying his Indian Scout to conquer the land speed records in the mid-1900s, and he did — an incredible three times. To think he was clocking in at speeds of over 170mph in the 1960s with no modern safety equipment or devices is awe-inspiring, and more than a little frightening. Want to watch Burt’s story?
Image Credit: LA Times
Kickstarting this journey is a man that redefined what everyone thought was possible on a motorcycle. A stunt performer, natural daredevil, Knieval was often remembered for his spectacular accidents more than his actual achievements. With more than 75 death-defying jumps during his career he claimed an unexpected Guinness World Record for most bone fractures (over 430)!
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Arguably sporting the most recognizable hairstyle in the world of motorcycling is the comedic road racer, Guy Martin. One-part truck mechanic, two-parts thoroughbred racer, and unmeasurable amounts of crazy, Guy Martin is a thrilling rider to watch tackle the Isle of Man TT circuit. When he isn’t confusing all of us with his thick Northern accent, he’s attempting to break as many high-speed records as he can. His documentary Closer to the Edge will have you on the literal edge of your seat as it follows Guy’s journey to the Isle of Man, and beyond.
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“Jupiter’s Travels” is a spellbinding book about Ted Simon’s 4-year motorcycle journey around the world in the 1970s. Sharing with us his innermost thoughts on everything, Ted Simon tells a compelling narrative about self-exploration and overcoming adversity. The best-seller successfully created and convinced thousands of riders to get out there and start having our own adventures on motorcycles.
Image Credit: Kentucky Living
A fantastic racer and extremely likable character off-track, Nicky Hayden was one of MotoGP’s most-loved and respected riders. Racing under the iconic number “69”, the lightning-fast “Kentucky Kid” took the 2006 MotoGP World Championship in style, beating none other than the legendary Valentino Rossi. Though the motorcycling world lost Hayden to a traffic accident in 2017, he has since been inducted into the American Motorcycle Association’s Hall of Fame — and charitable endeavors committed in his name continue to persist even today.
Image Credit: CarThrottle.com
The Britten V1000 is the bike many motorcycle enthusiasts consider to be the greatest and most desirable motorcycle of all time, with the man behind the machine being nothing short of a genius. A hyper-focused visionary, John Britten designed futuristic motorcycles like no other with features like a ‘frameless’ chassis, carbon suspension, and an alloy 999cc V-twin engine that he cast with his bare hands!
Image Credit: Racing Elite
MotoGP in the 1990s was exhilarating and dangerous. Powerful 500cc 2-stroke racebikes were notoriously hard to handle, let alone win races on. Nobody did this better than Australian legend, Mick Doohan. In a nasty crash during the practice of the 1992 Dutch GP, Doohan narrowly escaped his leg being amputated! Not only did Doohan recover, but he also went on to win 5 consecutive world titles.
Charley Boorman & Ewan McGregor
Image Credit: The Times UK
Ok, we realized that technically they’re 2 different people, but what happens when they’re on a 2-wheeled adventure together is nothing short of a masterpiece. If you haven’t seen “The Long Way Round” or “The Long Way Down” yet, then it’s time to cancel any plans you have, grab some snacks, and prepare to watch one of the best motorcycle movies of all time!
No list naming “the most Legendary Motorcyclists of all time” can be taken seriously without talking about the Northern-Irish road racing icon, Joey Dunlop. The Ballymoney legend amassed a massive 26 Isle of Man TT wins, setting numerous records onboard machines from 125cc to Superbikes. There was truly nobody able to race the unforgiving island course like he did, with many considering him to be the greatest TT rider of all time.
Image Credit: Hindustan Times
No other rider in the history of motorcycle racing has a widespread following like Valentino Rossi. Known as “the Doctor” for his near surgical precision, he has won a staggering 9 world titles (including 7 in the premier class). Rossi has ridden with some of the best racers of all time, fighting tooth and nail to give us some truly unforgettable moments.
The magic of Valentino Rossi derives from his remarkable ability to adapt to anything – from class changes to different teams and increasingly tougher rivals, he’s never short of tricks up his sleeve to come out on top. Even at 42 years old Rossi is still pushing hard, race after race, with no signs of giving up on the dream of a 10th world title. Will he retire when his age catches up with his racing number, “46”? We’re honestly not sure.
What did you think of our list? We want to hear from you! Who do you consider to be the most legendary motorcycle rider of all time? Sign up below for more great motorcycling content, and like us on Facebook to join in on the conversation! Ride safe, have fun, and be your own legend.
Header image: Gentlemen’s Journal