20 heroes of the motorcycle

bmf joey dunlop motorcycle hero

Published on 19 May 2016 by Mike Waters


Filed under Category: The world of motorcycling

After more than 7,000 votes were cast, here are the top 20 riders of the National Motor Museum's Motorcycling Icons Wall of Fame, as voted for by the public.

1. Barry Sheene (1950-2003)

Barry Sheene Motorcycling Champion 1975

Barry Sheene

One of the most popular riders in the history of motorcycle racing. In a glittering racing career that spanned from 1968 to 1984, Sheene won 22 Grands Prix - 19 in the 500cc class alone. He was 500cc World Champion in 1976 and 1977, continuing to carry his lucky number seven on his Suzuki even when he was entitled to display the World Champion’s number one. After retiring, he began a television career and later emigrated to Australia.

2. Joey Dunlop (1952-2000)

Legendary Irish road racer Joey Dunlop is best remembered for his string of 26 Isle of Man TT victories between 1977 and 2000. During his career, he won 230 road races including the Ulster Grand Prix 24 times and the North West 200 13 times. He also won five consecutive TT Formula One World titles between 1982 and 1986. He was a tireless charity worker, supporting Romanian orphanages, and was renowned for his modesty despite his many accolades. Sadly, he was killed in Estonia in 2000 while leading a 125cc race.

3. Valentino Rossi (Born 1979)

What can be said about 'The Doctor' that hasn't already been said a thousand times? The high-spirited Italian racer, famously identified with the number 46, has been the dominant Grand Prix rider of the 21st century. He has won nine World Championships since 1997, seven in the 500cc/Moto GP premier class and one each in the 250cc and 125cc classes, and has probably won something else as well by the time you reach the end of this sentence. Widely considered among the most successful riders of all time, his total of 106 Grand Prix victories is second only to his countryman, the great Giacomo Agostini.

4. Mike Hailwood (1940-1981)

Between 1957 and 1967, 'Mike the Bike' Hailwood won nine World Championship titles and 12 Isle of Man TT races. He turned to car racing, competing in 50 Formula One Grand Prix races up to 1974. In 1978, aged 38, Hailwood made a dramatic return to the Isle of Man TT and rode to victory in the Formula One race, following this up with victory in the Senior TT in 1979 to prove it wasn't a fluke. Tragically, Hailwood died in 1981 following a car accident.

John McGuinness motorcycle hero - BMF

John McGuinness

5. John McGuinness (Born 1971)

A road racing legend and one of the most prolific Isle of Man TT winners with 20 victories (up to 2013), second only to Joey Dunlop. In 2007, McGuinness became the first rider to lap the TT course at 130mph. In 2009, he broke the record again with a speed of 131.58mph. Other notable successes for the ‘Morecambe Missile’ include being British 250cc Champion in 1999, six wins in the North West 200 and two Ulster Grand Prix victories.

6. Giacomo Agostini (Born 1942)

Giacomo Agostini's international career began in 1964. Riding for MV Agusta and later Yamaha, his successes include 10 Isle of Man TT wins and an astonishing 122 Grand Prix victories. He won 15 World Championships in the 500cc and 350cc classes between 1966 and 1975. In the 1980s and 1990s, he went on to manage racing teams for Yamaha and Cagiva.

7. Carl Fogarty (Born 1965)

The most successful rider to have competed in World Superbike racing, ‘Foggy’ was Formula One TT World Champion three times in 1988, 1989 and 1990 - riding Hondas every time. Together with Terry Rymer, he was World Endurance Champion in 1992 on a Kawasaki. He dominated the World Superbike Championship in the 1990s, usually riding for Ducati, achieving 59 wins and 108 podium finishes. He was Superbike World Champion in 1994, 1995, 1998 and 1999.

8. Steve McQueen (1930-1980)

American movie star Steve McQueen was also a motorcycle and car enthusiast. In the early 1960s, he competed in off-road motorcycle races in California and was a member of the US team in the 1964 International Six Day Trial. His collection of classic motorcycles numbered around 100. Whenever possible, McQueen would do his own motorcycle stunts. Although the famous jump over the fence in The Great Escape was performed by stunt double Bud Ekins, McQueen did most of the riding in the film himself.

9. John Surtees (Born 1934)

Evel Knievel motorcycle hero - BMF

Evel Knievel

The only man to have won World Championships on two and four wheels. Between 1956 and 1960, Surtees won seven motorcycle World Championships and six Isle of Man TT races. In 1960, he switched from motorcycles to car racing, winning the Formula One Championship with Honda in 1964, and he was the Can-Am sportscar champion in 1966 at the wheel of a Lola.

10. Nick Sanders (Born 1957)

Adventurer and author Nick Sanders has completed seven motorcycle circumnavigations of the world, one in the record time of 19 days. He has also ridden bicycles across the Sahara, the length of South America and twice around the world. Other achievements include riding the length of the Americas eight times, including a double-transit, return journey in just 46 days. Bucking the trend for dual-sport bikes, Sanders’ preferred ride is a Yamaha YZF-R1.

11. Evel Knievel (1938-2007)

Robert ‘Evel’ Knievel was an American daredevil and stunt rider who became a 1970s icon. Famous for spectacular jumps and horrendous crashes, highlights included jumping the Caesar’s Palace fountain in Las Vegas and the Snake River Canyon in Idaho. His 1975 jump over 13 buses at Wembley Stadium in front of 90,000 people (resulting in a broken back, one of the 35 bones he is alleged to have broken), was broadcast on American TV by ABC Wide World of Sports and remains their highest-rated show ever.

12. Jenny Tinmouth (Born 1978)

The first – and, so far, only – woman to compete in the British Superbike Championship and the only female superbike team owner. On her first appearance in the Isle of Man TT in 2009, Tinmouth broke Maria Costello’s lap record - a feat she repeated in 2010 with a new record speed of 119.94mph. She is also a pioneer in electric bike racing. In 2010, she won the first UK Electric Bike Racing Championship and finished third in the World Electric Bike Championship.

bmf kenny roberts motorcycle hero

Kenny Roberts

13. Kenny Roberts (Born 1951)

‘King Kenny’ to his fans (‘Kenny Robot’ to his early rivals in the USA), Roberts was the first American to win a World Championship, taking the 500cc title in 1978, 1979 and 1980. Like many American riders, he started his career on local dirt tracks in his native California. Roberts applied dirt track riding techniques to road racing, sliding the rear wheels round corners, and changed the face of the sport forever. Following retirement, he moved into team management.

14. Maria Costello (Born 1973)

Road racer Maria Costello entered the record books in 2004 when she became the fastest woman to lap the Isle of Man TT course with a speed of 114.73mph. In 2005, she was the first woman to record a podium finish in an Isle of Man road race when she finished third in the Ultra Lightweight class at the Manx Grand Prix. In 2010, she became the fastest woman to lap the Ulster Grand Prix circuit, recording a speed of 114.32mph.

15. Dougie Lampkin (Born 1976)

Following in the footsteps of his father Martin and uncle Arthur, Dougie Lampkin is a multiple World Championship-winning trials rider. Since his first British Schoolboy title in 1991, he has gone on to win numerous National, European and World titles. These include five consecutive World Indoor Championships and seven consecutive World Outdoor Championships. He has also won four World Team Championships, six British Adult Championships, two Spanish Adult Championships and the Scott Trial on four occasions.

Charley Boorman16. Sammy Miller (Born 1933)

A legend in his own lifetime, Miller has won more than 1,400 events and has been the British Trials Champion 11 times. Today, he’s a distinguished patron of the National Association for Bikers with a Disability and still rides in demonstration events.

17. Ewa
n McGregor (Born 1971)

Although most famous as an actor, director and humanitarian, McGregor has also been a biker since childhood. With his friend Charlie Boorman and cameraman Claudio von Planta, he went around the world on a BMW R1150GS Adventure as part of the famous Long Way Round series, then did it all over again to go from John O’Groats to Cape Down for the Long Way Down tour. As as-yet-unnamed South American tour is in the planning stages too…

18. Charley Boorman (Born 1966)

This actor and writer can usually be found gallivanting somewhere on two wheels, supporting a worthy cause or both simultaneously. In addition to the famous Long Way Round and Long Way Down series, he has also competed in the Paris Dakar Rally 2006. He is the President of Dyslexia Action, and is a longstanding supporter of Partnership for Literacy and the United Nations Children’s Fund.


19. Becky Cook (Born 1986)

Star of the women’s trials circuit and now making waves in the Enduro MTB world too, Becky Cook has eight British Championship titles, a European Championship and seven gold medals from the Trial Des Nations to her name – so far.

20. Ted Simon (Born 1931)

The British journalist’s 63,000-mile odyssey around the world on a much-repaired Triumph Tiger 100 from 1973-1977 would ultimately become one of the best books about motorcycling ever written – Jupiter’s Travels. Getting mistaken for both a spy and a god (it’s complicated) and somehow surviving war, revolutions and various disasters evidently didn’t put him off because he went back and did it all over again on a BMW R80GS from 2001-2004.

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Main Image: Joey Dunlop, image cropped to size, author Christof Berger under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported licence. Image Right: Barry Sheene, author Lawson Speedway. Image First Left: John McGuinness, image cropped to size, author Phil Long under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic licence. Image Second Left: Kenny Roberts, author Stephan Gross under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported licence.