No Mr Bond, I expect you to bike:
After an unexpected delay the 25th James Bond film, No Time to Die, is finally due to be released in September 2021, just a few months away from the 60th anniversary year of the series. In anticipation of this, Bikesure renews its license to thrill and takes a look at the marvellous motorcycling moments the series has served up.
Surprisingly, the first use of motorcycles in the Bond films was in the third film of the series, 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 without their permission.
The sequence involves Fiona Volpe saving Bond from a SPECTRE assassin by blowing up the assassin’s car with missiles. Her intentions weren’t good, because as a SPECTRE operative herself she was just trying to stop the main bad guy Largo from giving the plot away to MI6 by killing their agent. 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. In classic “Sixties British motorcycle” style, aiming it at the American market mainly meant attempting to stop it leaking oil, but the oil warning light they fitted was prone to turning on for no reason meaning you had to learn to ignore it.
Fitted with a gold fairing and working prop missile launchers, the scenes it appears in were filmed at Silverstone, as can be seen in the behind the scenes promo made 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 (1969)
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) following 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, as well as roundly annoying cast and crew throughout the production process. Afterwards, he became convinced that the counterculture was where it was at and that Bond would soon be obsolete. So he quit the role and decided to make the semi improvised anti-war film Universal Soldier (not that one) instead. It is fair to describe this as not one of the greatest career moves in history, but you have to respect him for sticking to his principles. After all, one of the big clichés of writing about motorcycles is that bikers like to play by their own rules, which undoubtedly applies to Lazenby. Legend!
Diamonds are Forever (1971)
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 goons on Honda ATC 90s. This was the first mass-produced all-terrain vehicle, with distinctive balloon tires that made light work of travelling over uneven ground. They’re also featured in the Doctor Who story Day of the Daleks, starring in another leisurely-paced chase. Those big tyres were not really designed for fast travel over solid ground, and were prone to throwing riders off if they hit any uneven ground or took a corner too fast.
Live and Let Die (1973)
Seeing the debut of the third Bond in as many films, Live and Let Die features three Aermacchi Harley Davidson SS350’s. Aermacchi was an Italian aerospace company that branched out into motorcycles after the Second World War, before being 50% purchased by Harley 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, but it’s unlikely this had anything to do with Harley’s decision to sell their share.
The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
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 Z1-900 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. The sidecar was controlled by a stuntman lying down inside, with a smoked perspex nosecone to let them see where they were going.
For Your Eyes Only (1981)
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 more grounded 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 incorporated in to the indicators. They almost make sidecar torpedos seem plausible, because if you think too much about where the bullets are coming from it obviously makes no sense but hey, it looks cool! The XT500 had a few adventures of its own, for example the first winner of the Paris-Dakar rally in 1978 was riding one.
Deep in the “too old 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.
Never Say Never Again (1983)
1983 was the year of Duelling Ageing Bonds, as the fallout of the Thunderball case lead to the baffling decision by Kevin McClory to remake 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 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 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.
The stunt was filmed during winter in Switzerland, and the bikes had just enough gas that they would run out of fuel when they went over the edge in order to prevent any petrol contaminating the ground once they hit. The wreckage of the bikes used to film this was recovered the following spring when the snow had melted.
Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
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 BMW R1200C cruiser. It’s a bigger bike than you’d expect to see in 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 the next Bond Bike sequence. Fifteen bikes were used filming the sequence, and twelve were destroyed during the process.
Quantum of Solace (2008)
Daniel Craig’s era was the third and most successful attempt to cut out the campier aspects of the franchise, following on from the 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 2007 writer’s strike. This meant that the script couldn’t be significantly changed from its first draft, and while the cast did their best through improvisation it’s a bit underdeveloped. The bike here is a Honda Montesa Cota 4RT, an off-road trials bike modified to look like a road bike. Montesa is Honda’s Spanish subsidiary. In the part where the Bond drives the bike onto a boat, you can see the special track put down to make this stunt 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 on a Honda CRF250r. Like in Quantum of Solace the crew built special tracks for the bikes to ride on, which are very obvious once you know to look out for them.
Bond is one of the most successful franchises in the world, and has been at the forefront of product placement. The films are masterclasses at how to showcase some of the most popular brands. While Spectre doesn’t have any motorcycle-based stunt sequences, the scene where Bond visits Q Branch has a number of motorcycles being tinkered with in the background. These are the Norton Dominator SS, a production version of Norton’s racing bike of which only 250 were made. In the scene you can see Rory Kinnear going over to chat to the engineers about the bike, before the focus changes giving the Norton a few seconds of exposure.
No Time to Die (2021 hopefully!)
Following the writer’s strike and the legal issues that delayed Skyfall it seems somewhat appropriate that Daniel Craig’s final outing as Bond got pushed back by over a year thanks to the Coronoavirus pandemic. If everything goes as planned we’ll finally get the chance to see No Time to Die this September, although whether that’s sat in a cinema or streaming from the comfort and safety of our homes remains in the lap of the virus.
This time round Triumph are taking the spotlight, with Tiger 900s and Scrambler 1200s heavily involved in big actions scenes. Back in December 2019 Springhouse, the production’s concept designers, shared some behind the scenes footage of the stunts being filmed in Italy which give a glimpse of what we can expect from the final movie. The motorcycle was also showcased on the IMAX poster as those scenes were specially shot for that format, which means they will be something to look forward to when we’re finally allowed back inside cinemas.
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.Insurance