Britain has an imperious record when it comes to British motorcycle legends and world champions and our pedigree of perfection goes back many years.
Bikesure has already run the rule over motorcycle legends post 1970, here the specialist motorcycle insurance broker assesses, in no particular order, eight great pre-1970 British motorcycle legends.
Mike Hailwood, MBE GM (April 2, 1940 – March 23, 1981) was known as Mike the Bike because of his natural riding ability. The British motorcycle legend first raced as a fresh faced 17 year old in 1957, at Oulton Park. He finished 11th but he was soon making the podium.
By 1961, Hailwood was racing for the up-and-coming Honda team and in June 1961, he became the first man to win three Isle of Man TT races in a week (125cc, 250cc and 500cc categories). He was also leading in a fourth race but his 350 AJS broke down.
Riding a four-stroke, four-cylinder Honda, Hailwood won the 1961 250cc world championship and in 1962 he signed with MV Agusta and went on to become the first rider to win four consecutive 500cc World Championships.
In February 1964 Hailwood set a new one-hour speed record on the MV 500cc recording an average speed of 144.8 mph at the Daytona.
The Irish motorcyclist was famous for 29 Grand Prix wins in the 1920s and 1930s, winning the Isle of Man TT races ten times in his career, plus wins at Assen and elsewhere.
Woods (1903 – July 28, 1993) was also a skilled trials rider, competing in the 1940s. He started racing in 1921 on a Harley-Davidson and had his début on the new Isle of Man Snaefell Mountain Course in 1922 as a promising 17 year old, finishing fifth in the Junior TT on a Cotton.
He more or less became an instant motorcycle racing legend, and therefore qualifies as a Bikesure British motorcycle legend, as the Cotton went up in flames during a pit stop. Mechanics put out the blaze and he finished the race without brakes.
He came back the next year and took the title. In 1968 experts named Woods the greatest TT racer of all time and in 1957 he returned to the island to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of the event, riding a 350cc Moto Guzzi round the course at just over 82 mph.
The “Flying Scotsman” Jimmie Guthries (May 23, 1897 – August 8, 1937) won 14 European Continental Grand Prix in a three year period from 1934.
While racing with the works Norton motorcycle team, he also won the FICM 500cc European championship three times and the 350cc in 1937.
Guthrie was victorious in the North West 200 on three occasions and recorded a further six wins at the Isle of Man TTs.
While leading on the last lap of the 1937 German Grand Prix, he crashed when trying to avoid a collision with another racer and died later in hospital from severe injuries. A tragic demise for this British motorcycle legend.
Two years after his death the Jimmie Guthrie memorial was paid for by public subscription and erected at “The Cutting” on the TT circuit — it was the spot where he was forced to retire in his final island outing.
Grand Prix Champions
Surtees, CBE (February 11, 1934 – March, 10, 2017) is a rare breed in that he was equally at home on two wheels as he was on four. He could as easily qualify as a motor racing legend as he could a British motorcycle legend.
He was a four-time 500cc motorcycle World Champion – winning in 1956, 1958, 1959 and 1960 – and Formula One World Champion in 1964.
He remains the only person to have won World Championships in bikes and in cars. In 1958, 1959 and 1960, he won 32 out of 39 races and became the first man to win the Senior TT at the Isle of Man three years in succession.
He founded the Surtees Racing team to compete as a constructor in Formula One, Formula 2 and Formula 5000 from 1970 to 1978. He was also the ambassador of the Racing Steps Foundation, a not-for-profit fund to finance, support and manage the futures of the country’s most promising drivers and motorcycle riders.
The “Prince of Speed” Phil Read (born January 1, 1939) was the first rider to win world championships in the 125cc, 250cc and 500cc classes and won seven FIM Grand Prix road racing world championships making him a must for our list of British motorcycle legends.
He started amateur short-circuit racing in 1958 on a Duke BSA Gold Star and two years later he won the Junior Manx Grand Prix on a Manx Norton at record speed, followed by the Junior (350cc) TT race in 1961.
He was second in the 350cc and 500cc races at the 1961 North West 200 in Northern Ireland on Manx Nortons. He was a two-time winner of the Thruxton 500 endurance race in 1962 and 1963 riding the Norton Dominator 650SS.
In 1972 Read joined the MV Agusta factory team and the following year he took the 500cc title which he successfully defended in 1974.
In 2013, Read, who had already received an MBE, was named an FIM Legend for his motorcycling achievements.
A former Team Sergeant in The White Helmets, the Royal Signals Motorcycle Display Team, Duke ((29 March 1923 – 1 May 2015)) won six world championships and six Isle of Man TT races during the 1950s.
He came to prominence after the 1949 TTs, finishing second in the junior race, after remounting due to a spill, and winning the senior race with a record lap and race-average speeds.
He also won the 1949 Senior Clubmans TT. He signed to the Norton works team for the 1950 TT, finishing second in the Junior TT and breaking both lap and race records in the Senior TT.
Famed for his one piece leather riding kit, Duke was named Sportsman of the Year in 1951, awarded the RAC Segrave Trophy and, in recognition of his services to motorcycling, was awarded the Order of the British Empire in 1953 earning royal recognition for this British motorcycle legend.
McIntyre (November 28, 1928 – August 15, 1962) secured his British motorcycle legend status by becoming the first rider to achieve an average speed of 100 mph for one lap of the Snaefell Mountain Course in 1957.
He also chalked up five motorcycle Grand Prix wins which included three wins at the Isle of Man TTs, and four victories in the North West 200.
McIntyre’s finest moments came in the 1957 TT on a four cylinder Gileras. After breaking the lap record in the junior event, he tackled the senior event over eight laps and more than 300 miles.
The Gileras pannier fuel tanks were built into the side of the fairings to carry extra fuel but the extra weight did not hold him back. Clocking two laps at more than 100 miles an hour he caught and overtook 1956 World Champion John Surtees and went on to win, after racing for three hours, two minutes and fifty-seven seconds.
He died in August 1962 nine days after injuries sustained at Oulton Park.
Belfast born Sammy (born November 11, 1933) won the British Trials Championship 11 times and won European Trials Championship twice.
He won more than 1,300 trials, nine gold medals and the International Six Days Trial. He also won three consecutive 250cc North West 200 events (1956-1958).
Miller won three 250cc North West 200 events (1956-1958) and during the 1960s he won the Scott Trial six times, twice on an Ariel and four times on a Bultaco.
He set up a motorcycle parts business in 1964 and restored old racing motorcycles which later became the Sammy Miller Motorcycle museum.
In 2007 he was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame. Now aged 86, Sammy still rides at exhibition events and is patron of the National Association for Bikers with a Disability — and that makes him a true British motorcycle legend.
Do you agree?
Champion motorcycle insurance
If you want to follow in the tyre tracks of any of Bikesure’s British motorcycle legends you will need suitable insurance — you can get that thanks to our exclusive discount scheme for members of Motorsport UK.
Bikesure can also offer track day cover from as little as £67.20. The best deals are only available over the phone: 0333 259 6347.
Now fread about Bikesure’s best of British motorcycle legends from 1970 onwards.