The Motorcycle: Iconic designs


Co-curators Charles Falco and Ulton Guilfoyle welcome you to the exhibition ‘The Motorcycle: Design, Art, Desire‘ — their videos featured here explore the absolute highlights from the motorcycles on display. 



Showcasing 100 spectacular motorcycles drawn from Australian and international collections, ‘The Motorcycle’ spans the history of this dynamic and versatile vehicle, from its humble origins as an engine bolted to a bicycle to the cutting-edge electric prototypes of the twenty-first century. The motorcycles on display trace this history of innovation, and have been carefully selected for the technical achievements and aesthetic merits they represent.

The world’s first steam-powered motorcycle was assembled in the late 1860s, more than a decade before the first automobile was designed, and by the early twentieth century all the elements of the modern, internal combustion engine–powered motorcycle had developed. Over the next 120 years, changes in design reflected developments in technology, engineering and manufacturing, as well as the motorcycle’s evolving functions as an inexpensive mode of transportation, racing and on- or off-road vehicle and as an expression of individual creativity. These innovations changed the face of transportation, and the motorcycle has not only become an enduring design icon, but also established its place in society through popular culture, literature and film.

This exhibition offers a rare opportunity to see geographically and historically diverse motorcycles together in one place. From the hubs of motorcycle manufacturing in the United Kingdom, the United States and Japan to less likely sources of unique designs in New Zealand and Australia, ‘The Motorcycle’ showcases a machine at the pinnacle of design excellence and evokes a world of innovation, excitement and desire.

‘The Motorcycle’ exhibition was in Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) from 28 November 2020 until 26 April 2021.

1 Perreaux Steam Velocipede 1871

The steam velocipede, designed by Frenchman Louis-Guillaume Perreaux, is one of the first motorcycles ever made, with different sources citing the date of its creation between 1867 and 1871. This incredible feat of mechanical ingenuity is a modified ‘boneshaker’ Michaux bicycle powered by a steam engine. With wooden wheels, flimsy handlebars and a high seat perched precariously above the boiling steam engine, the Perreaux would have been an uncomfortable, yet revolutionary, mode of travelling Paris’s streets.

2 Spencer 1906

DELVE DEEPER INTO THE SPENCER: Brisbane Born — The Spencer Motorcycle Story

The 475 cc single-cylinder engine of this 1906 Spencer is belt-driven and its brake system is operated by a lever under the handlebars that presses a block onto the wheel rim. The parts were designed by David Spencer while he was employed at Ipswich railway workshop, and cast by a Brisbane stove-manufacturing company.

3 Crocker 1938

Built for speed and often referred to as ‘the Duesenberg of motorcycles’, the Crocker is an American classic. This handcrafted, limited-production sporting motorcycle was designed by Albert Crocker and Paul ‘PA’ Bigsby. The standard Crocker V-twin was the fastest production motorcycle in the United States for its era, and its engine could be tailored to meet each owner’s needs. The Crocker represents a milestone in motorcycle design and was the forerunner of the modern superbike.

4 Ariel Model F 1929

When Ariel’s Models A–F were introduced from 1925, they became an instant success, not for their technical innovation but for their design and styling. The Ariel models had a high saddle-shaped fuel tank and lower, wider seat, diverging from the style of other British marques that positioned the rider high over the handlebars. The Model F was a larger, more luxurious model for a comfortable road-riding experience. This model introduced many new features, most importantly a dry-sump lubrication system which provided increased reliability and oil capacity for better performance. The exhaust pipes were also completed with fishtail silencers, giving them a high-end finish.

5 Indian Scout Special 1920 (engine)

DELVE DEEPER INTO THE INDIAN SCOUT SPECIAL: Bert Munro’s Indian Scout Special Still The Worlds Fastest

New Zealander Burt Munro rode this heavily modified motorcycle in 1967 on his final speed run at Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah, United States, at the age of 68. On this run, Munro set the land speed record of 296 km/h for a motorcycle under 1000 cc, a record that remains unbroken. The original 1920 Scout was barely capable of a top speed of 96 km/h, but Munro continuously tuned the engine, making every single component as light as possible by hand, and installed it in a streamlined chassis of his own design.

Two original ‘Burt Munro Special’ machines were built – one in New Zealand and one in the United States — with one engine travelling back and forth according to Munro’s racing schedule.

6 Socovel Electric 1942


The Socovel Electric was the world’s first mass-produced electric motorcycle. The company was founded in Brussels in the 1930s by brothers Maurice and Albert de Limelette. With more than 1000 units produced, these electric motorcycles were successful, but on a small scale. Three crossways-mounted, 12-volt batteries powered a 48-volt motor that was bolted on behind.

7 Aermacchi Chimera 1957

Italy, after WWII, was a desperate place, the industrial production was completely destroyed. Yet, out of the ashes came two of the most amazing designs of the post-war era — the Vespa, a famous design that met its need absolutely perfectly and is still in production today — the other was the Aermacchi Chimera. The Aermacchi Chimera features an enclosed engine hull, an air intake resembling the airstream of fighter aircraft and was one of the first motorcycles to incorporate industrial plastics as key lightweight and durable materials. Although it received rave reviews on its release, and today is recognised as a design icon, from 1957 to 1964 barely 120 sales of the first Chimera were recorded, making intact and pristine examples very rare and all the more prized as design classics.

8 Imme R100 1949

Designed by former German aircraft engineer Norbert Riedel, the Imme R100 provided practical and economical transport during Germany’s postwar reconstruction era. The Imme broke with design trends of the times, cleverly using fewer materials to keep costs low. Its exhaust pipe doubled as swingarm suspension, while the curved frame — made from the same tubular steel as the exhaust pipe – used less material than a standard triangular frame. The Imme’s engine and transmission were also bundled into an easily replaced modular cell, often called a ‘power-egg’, used in World War Two aircraft.

9 BSA Gold Star Catalina 1963

BSA (Birmingham Small Arms Company Limited) was a British group of businesses formed in 1861, manufacturing firearms for the military and sporting market, and added motorcycles to their product range in 1910. The aluminium-barrel Gold Star became a highly successful racing bike during the late 1950s and early 1960s. Because of the importance of the export market, the United States-only Catalina model was introduced in 1956, named after a famous off-road race on Catalina island off the coast of southern California.

10 Harley Davidson Sportster XL 1958

The Harley Davidson Sportster XL was launched in 1957 and represented a new era in American motorcycling. It was aimed at younger people who valued speed and performance above everything else, and provided serious competition to the British Triumphs, BSAs and Nortons that had become increasingly popular with American riders. The Sportster was also marketed as a great entry-level bike, as well as a great bike for women who wanted to ride. With its minimal but muscular profile, integrated engine and transmission and distinctive peanut fuel tank, the Sportster was a rousing success and became one of the first of the Harley ‘superbikes’.

11 Velocette Sportsman 1969, BSA Rocket 3 1969 & Honda CB750 1972

Family-owned and operated in Birmingham, England, Velocette was synonymous with technological excellence and precision engineering, and sold almost as many of its hand-built motorcycles during its lifetime as BSA (Birmingham Small Arms Company Limited) and Norton sold of their factory machines. The Sportsman was a bespoke ‘Aussie-only’ model requested especially by distributors Burling & Simmons of Auburn, Sydney. At under $1000 it was priced to compete with the recently released 1968 Honda CB750, which had sparked a Japanese motorcycle boom across the world.

12 Segway i2 SE PT 2006

The Segway was founded on a vision of eco-friendly, short-distance transportation alternatives. Developed at a cost of more than $100 million, this PT (personal transporter) is built on a state-of-the art dynamic stabilisation system of 5 aviation-grade gyroscopes, an accelerometer and a network of sensors that monitor the user’s center of gravity 100 times per second. An engineering marvel, the Segway mimics the human body’s ability to self-balance. To travel forward or backwards, the driver simply leans forward or backwards; and to turn left or right, the driver tilts the handlebars to the left or right. When the driver stands upright, the vehicle stops. Segway engineers call this ‘dynamic stabilisation’.

13 Aprilia Moto 6.5 1995

The Aprilia Moto 6.5’s provocative design is polarising among motorcycle enthusiasts. Innovative French architect and designer Philippe Starck was commissioned by Aprilia to create this stylish vehicle to appeal to a new urban motorcycle rider.

14 Britten V1000 1994

Created by design engineer John Britten, this may well be the greatest motorcycle ever made. The Britten V1000 was conceived, designed and built to be raced arrow-fast, and displays superb design features, such as the lipstick-pink-and-powder-blue colour scheme, unheard of in the world of motorcycles. Its lines flow effortlessly from the tip of its dragon’s nose, through the intestinal twists of its twin exhaust pipes to the end of its cantilevered tail. The front cowling, almost a mudguard, tightly hugs the front wheel and forks; the second cowling smooths the airflow past the engine; and the third hugs the rear wheel — all creating downforce as they do so. 

15 Savic C-Series 2020

The motorcycle industry is embracing electric technology, with electric vehicles entering the market at an increasing rate. Savic Motorcycles founder Dennis Savic describes the Savic C-Series – Australia’s first full-size electric motorcycle – as ‘a unique offering with the most advanced features and functionality that the materials, engineering, electronic controls, electrical technology and 3D printing can offer today’.

16 Custom Motorcycle Design

When did customisation start with motorcycles? Customisation goes back to the very earliest days of motorcycle design. Because things broke, you had to fix it, then you want to make it go faster, or bob the back mud guard, shorten it like a bob haircut and that became the bob job, the earliest recognised custom bike which evolved into the Chopper. And the Chopper then became a bed of inspiration and flair for today’s designers.

Watch as we install ‘The Motorcycle’ exhibition

Read more about Motorcycles / Subscribe to QAGOMA YouTube to go behind-the-scenes

Featured image: 1994 Britten V1000 on display in The Motorcycle: Design, Art, Desire

Show off your ride with #MotorcycleGOMA #QAGOMA