Four More Killer Cartoon Motorcycles
Or, well, three killer bikes and something so strange I had to include it
So, you guys remember the article I did last week about four iconic cartoon motorcycles, yeah? Well, it turns out you guys really liked that one so I decided to do a follow-up! I drew the following four cartoon bikes from your recommendations – never let it be said that I can't take a suggestion – and there are some really awesome bikes in here. There's some anime again, but also a sprinkling of Saturday Morning Cartoons and early-80s Disney weirdness in here, too. So just sit back, crack open a cold one, and let the nostalgia wash over you.
Monobikes - Venus Wars
Venus Wars, if you're not familiar, is a 1988 anime based on a long-running manga series wherein the human race terraforms and colonizes Venus – then the colonies almost immediately declare war on one another. Cheery, no? The movie follows our man Hiro and his pack of fellow Battlebike riders (I'll get into Battlebike in a sec here) as they reluctantly get involved in the bloody occupation of their home city Io by enemy forces.
Despite having some pretty interesting things to say – most of it sotto voce, as it were – about the human condition and the hopeful optimism of space exploration and colonization, it's not all that good a movie. The plot is a bit of a mess, the music's lackluster, there are too many characters and most of them have zero discernible motivation, and the animation could be better. It also his this kind of "Full Metal Jacket" thing going where it feels like two really different movies shoehorned into one title, but where FMJ is one really good movie and one so-so movie, Venus wars is just two mildly incomprehensible so-so movies.
Although it's a solidly C-tier 80s anime, Venus Wars does have one really standout feature – the monobikes. Apparently, at some point in Venus Wars' version of the 21st century, monobikes became a thing. So much so that on Venus just about all the bikes are monobikes (those that aren't weirdo trikes at least). The movie is lousy with monobikes. The first thing we see on screen is a game of Battlebike, which introduces us to both our characters and a racing model monobike. Later on, we're introduced to a light armored cavalry monobike called the Hound when our heroes are dragooned into the army in an attempt to drive the enemy out of their city. Since both bikes are so different, I decided to give a little rundown of both here for your edification.
So, after the opening credits scene, the first action scene of the movie takes place in a huge stadium hosting a game of Battlebike. (It's also cut with scenes of another character arriving on planet, but we'll ignore them 'cause they don't matter here). Kind of a cross between rollerball, flat track, and Roman chariot races, Battlebike consists of two teams, led by a "Queen", racing for points on extremely treacherous tracks. The Queen rides in a sidecar rig, and leads her battlebikers who are out to pass opponents, knock them off their bikes, and create as much vehicular havoc as they can to both rack up points and satiate the fans.
As for the bikes themselves, well, I'm gonna go into a bunch of theorycrafting here like I did with the Condor in the other article. I think these things are two-strokes based on two things – the noise used for the bikes in the movie is clearly from a two-stroke, and that exhaust pipe totally has an expansion chamber on it. The engines have at least four cylinders, since there's a line about one of the bikes losing cylinders 1-3 after a breakdown. There's a line here about valves hitting pistons, which might disprove my two-stroke theory, but I'm going to just chalk that up to a bad translation or something. There's a quick shot of the mill as the guys in the pit are working on it, and damned if it doesn't look like a V-4. Now, where have we seen a fast, two-stroke V-4 before?
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THAT'S RIGHT! I'm pretty sure these things are based on the venerable Yamaha YZR500. Now, I don't have a lot of evidence for that, and the fact that I think they're Yamahas says more about me than the original artists, but there you have it. Whatever they are, they're fast, fragile, loud, and extremely rad. I'd totally watch Battlebike if it were a real sport.
The second half of the movie, wherein Joker goes to Vietnam Hiro is dragooned into the resistance army, features a different monobike called the Hound. Apparently built as a highly-mobile light assault tank buster, the Hound is an up-armored monocycle with a bigger engine, better handling, and an assortment of offensive and defensive weaponry. It has "the horsepower of a Jeep", so I'm gonna assume it has a four- or six-cylinder four-stroke mill in it, and a caged rear-mounted cockpit with rear armor. For weapons, the Hound mounts a large-caliber railgun for anti-armor purposes, a three-barreled rotary cannon for anti-personnel use, and a quartet of forward-mounted smoke launchers for when the pilot needs a convenient "get out of the line of fire right now" card.
Honestly, there's less Hound action than there is Battlebike action in this movie despite the Hounds being important to the final battle. They're really cool, but again like so many other things, Venus Wars introduces them and then doesn't seem to know how to best use them. I feel like the whole movie should have just been the Battlebikes and using skill and scrounged weapons to take out the bad guys instead of the whole army plot. I mean, there's even a scene earlier in the film where they do just that and it's amazing!
This kind of became more a movie review than a story about the bikes, but since the bikes are so integral to the movie's plot I couldn't really help it. It's still a decent enough movie, and the bikes are great, so you should check it out. Sadly, it's not streaming anywhere I could find it (there are butchered versions on YouTube but don't watch them, they're terrible), but I grabbed a BluRay on Amazon for less than twenty bucks.
Wreck-Gar - Transformers
Back in 1986 – before anyone had even heard of Michael Bay – Transformers the Movie hit American theaters and it was the biggest, greatest joke ever played on the American moviegoing public. Millions of nerdy kids, including yours truly, pestered their parents for months leading up to the premier to take them to the theater. We all filed in expecting 90-minutes of the usual fun, light hearted, mildly corny weekday afternoon claptrap with a side order of the old hard sell for some new toys. What we got was the graphic deaths of many of our cartoon heroes, a totally weird but extremely rad hair metal soundtrack, a completely bored and checked out Orson Welles doing one of the most chilling bad guys in cartoon history completely by accident, blatant stunt casting (I'm looking at you Leonard Nimoy) and some surprisingly good visuals.
Basically, we showed up for this:
And got this instead:
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It wasn't all doom and gloom though. For all the death and destruction we got a ton of new characters like my man Springer, the galaxy's saltiest sergeant Kup, supremely annoying Blur (voiced by also supremely annoying John Moschitta) the arguable hero of the whole movie Arcee, and best of all, Wreck-Gar. Wreck-Gar? Oh yeah man, Wreck-Gar.
See, at one point in the movie our heroes end up on the Planet of Junk, a big old planet-sized junkyard (god I love a space junkyard) and run into the seemingly hostile Junkions. The Junkions are some flavor of non-aligned mechanoid species descended from Cybertronians who are pretty much built from bits and pieces of cast-off machines. To a man – or, uh, to a robot I guess – their alt-modes are futuristic Mad Max-style motorcycles. The Junkions are led by Wreck-Gar, a bright, aggressive, technically adept nutjob voiced here by Eric Idle. Yes, that Eric Idle. Remember what I said about stunt casting?
Anyway, after some initial hostilities, the Autobots gain the trust and affection of the Junkions via the Universal Greeting and a bit of TV-talk from Sgt. Kup. With their new friends, who are essentially horse-mounted Mongols in robot form, our heroes rebuild their friend Ultra Magnus – voiced by the Robert Stack – who was destroyed in the previous scene and go on to win the day.
It's ridiculous, I know, but it's also very, very awesome. See, I love a mechanic character, and a mechanic character who is also a robot that transforms into a motorcycle is directly in my wheelhouse. I've included the entire scene below if you haven't seen it. It features some great action and a soundtrack by none other than Weird Al Yankovic. Also, if you haven't seen Transformers the Movie, go do it right now. It's...man...it's something else.
Lightcycle - Tron
Greetings, programs! So, yeah. Tron isn't technically a cartoon, but most of it is heavily computer animated so I'm going to give it a pass here. As you may remember, Tron is one of those early-80s movies, like The Black Cauldron and The Black Hole, that Disney made during their post-Walt attempt at being all grim and dark and adult. Unlike Black Cauldron and Black Hole though, Tron is actually good and, thirty-some years later, is considered both groundbreaking and a cast-iron classic.
In the movie, The Dude plays a computer programmer who gets sucked into a video game of his own design and has to fight his way through a weird computer landscape while being terrorized by Sark and the Master Control Program. In one of the film's most famous scenes, Bridges' character is forced into a deadly game of Lightcycle in an effort to get rid of him. Unfortunately for the bad guys, our hero wrote the code for Lightcycle and uses an exploit to escape from certain death with his friends.
The Lightcycles themselves are super awesome. They're low-slung, fully-enclosed sportbike-like things that go a million miles an hour and leave behind a solid trail called a "jet wall". The whole point of the game is to lure your opponents into crashing into your jet wall while you avoid their jetwall. It's tougher than it sounds. They also make this amazing noise that, hopefully, will be the new "Loud Pipes Save Lives" when electric motorcycles eventually take over.
I've included a clip from Tron showing the woefully short Lightcycle sequence below, but you should really go see Tron.
The Chopper Bunch - Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch
You. Guys. I don't even know where to begin with Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch. One of the million or so completely disposable, ultimately forgettable cartoons Hanna-Barbera put out in the 70s, Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch follows the adventures of a plucky, anthropomorphic VW Bug named Wheelie, his lady friend Rota Ree, and a quartet of dirty, good for nothin' chopper hoodlums called The Chopper Bunch. Essentially Cars forty years before Cars was A Thing, the show takes place in a world of sentient vehicles. In the September, 1975 issue, our esteemed colleagues at Cycle World described the premise of the show thusly:
"Wheelie, a car, is the hero, and the villains are a bunch of choppers who do everything dirty to get Wheelie, the clean, all-American car."
Why Cycle World wasted their time reviewing this is a mystery for the ages.
Anyway, The Chopper Gang is made up of four characters – Chopper, the leader who wears a Kaiser helmet, Hi-Riser, who's basically a motorcycle version of Dumb Donald, the constantly muttering and sputtering trike Revs, and a kid minibike in a ball cap named Scrambles. Every week, these guys'd do everything in their power to steal Rota Ree's affections away from Wheelie, and every week hilarity would ensue. Well, for various metrics of "hilarity" at any rate.
This show is extremely dumb, even for a Hanna-Barbera cartoon. It lasted a single season, about thirteen episodes with three short episodes in each, and was almost immediately forgotten as soon as it left the airwaves. It did stir up a little controversy despite its short tenure, though. The usual pearl-clutchers and garment renders wailed about aggression and how it set a bad example for "the children", but there was also a not-insignificant set of motorcyclists who were mad because the show cast motorcycles, and therefore motorcyclists, in a bad light. I don't know, maybe that was the case in 1974, but today the kind of "badness" displayed by the Chopper Gang is pretty G-rated.
Now, I'd never heard of this show before I started this article. In fact, I decided to put it in after a friend of mine (Hi, John!) recommended it. Not knowing what to expect, I watched a couple of poorly cropped episodes on YouTube and immediately knew I had to put it in here. Not because it's good or the designs are interesting, oh no. I put it in so you all could see it and just bask in the weirdness. Below you'll find the best quality version of the show's opening I could find. If you're brave, watch a couple of the 20-minute episodes on YouTube to get a real good taste of this lunacy.
So, that's it my friends. I think I've played this cartoon bike thing out now, even though I'm sure I missed a bunch of your favorites. That said, I could always do real motorcycles in fiction, or expand into stuff like motorcycles from the heyday of 80s super vehicle shows (I'm looking at you, Street Hawk). Let me know. What kind of motorcycle-related pop culture stuff would you like to see?