History is shaped by transformative road trips, life saving inventions, inspirational cinematic icons, innovative drug lords and motivations behind modern literature.

And once in a while, even great - and occasionally notorious - personalities need a ride into the history books. Since the invention of the motorcycle, this mode of transportation has been used to push the envelope. If it wasn’t for this vehicle of change, history, as we know it, would be remarkably different.   

Here are five examples where motorcycles have helped its passengers change history for the better – and sometimes worse.

 Inspiration: Lawrence of Arabia – Introducing the Safety Helmet

Inspiration: Lawrence of Arabia – Introducing the Safety Helmet

T.E. Lawrence is known for his key role during the Sinai and Palestine Campaign and the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire in 1916-18. He is also the inspiration behind Peter O’ Toole’s classic 1962, Lawrence of Arabia. But did you know he was also the reason behind the invention of motorcycle helmets?

An avid motorcyclist himself, T.E. Lawrence owned seven different Brough Superiors - a bike dubbed as the ‘Rolls Royce of Motorcycles’ at the time. Lawrence’s love for bikes and the subsequent unfortunate accident that took his life ended up saving millions of motorcyclists.  One of the physicians attending to Lawrence after his accident was the neurosurgeon Hugh Cairns. It was Cairns who initiated a study into motorcycle related fatalities due to head injuries. His research eventually led to the use of safety helmets by both civilians and military personnel.

What if: Imagine if T.E. Lawrence’s infamous Brough Superior did not exist and the crash never happened. Is it safe to say that the introduction of the safety helmet would’ve been delayed, resulting in more fatalities.

Revolution: Che Guevara – And the Motivational Journey to the Cuban Revolution

Revolution: Che Guevara – And the Motivational Journey to the Cuban Revolution

Che Guevara, the Argentine Marxist revolutionary, guerilla leader, diplomat and military theorist, is widely known for his contribution to the Cuban Revolution. As a young 23-year old medical student, he travelled throughout South America on the back of a sputtering single cylinder 1939 Norton 500cc. This road trip was transformative in many ways as it exposed the young Guevara to all kinds of social injustices. This included the exploitation of mine workers, ostracized lepers and persecution of communists. Five thousand miles later, Che Guevara made the historic declaration of his willingness to fight and die for the cause. This journey is what is believed to have inspired him to work towards the creation of a united Latin America and a better world for his countrymen. His memoir The Motorcycle Diaries traces this entire journey of self-discovery and how it acted as the catalyst for one of the biggest political upheavals of all time.

What if: Had the 1939 Norton 500cc not existed and the historic journey across South America not taken, maybe the conditions of Latin America would have been far worse than what they were before the revolution. Perhaps it would have taken years or maybe decades for another revolutionary to step up.  

 Literature: Hunter S. Thompson – Living with the Hells Angels

Literature: Hunter S. Thompson – Living with the Hells Angels

Father of the gonzo journalism movement, Hunter S. Thompson was an American journalist, who was a member of the United States Air Force before he got into writing. His frequent travels included trips to Puerto Rico, California and Brazil, before he eventually settled down in Aspen, Colorado in the early 1960s. His book Hells Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs (1967) was actually the one that gave the world a peek into his madness.

For the purpose of firsthand research, Thompson spent an entire year living and riding with the notorious California-based motorcycle gang, Hells Angels. Experiencing life from their perspective and hearing their fascinating tales, Thompson was able to translate all into his book. Result, the book was a critical and commercial success.

Even though, the relationship between Thompson and Hells Angels ended on a sour note, the book turned out to be a cult classic.

What if: this daring journalist had not taken up this monumental and dangerous project, readers all over the over world would’ve been deprived of his insight. Thompson’s motorbike coupled with his passion for journalism certainly left a significant mark on the world of literature.  

Cinema: Marlon Brando – And The Wild One

Marlon Brando was an American actor, activist and film director, who is often considered as one of the greatest and most influential artists of all time. Even though A Streetcar Named Desire got him his first break, many say that it was The Wild One that solidified his status as a Hollywood leading man.

His character in the movie, Johnny Strabler, ended up becoming a cultural icon in the 1950s, all on the back of a 1950 6T Triumph Thunderbird. This classic ‘biker boy’ persona inspired a trend for leather jackets, jeans, bikes and even haircuts with sideburns - a style statement later emulated by the likes of James Dean and Elvis Presley. James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause even got himself a Triumph TR5 Trophy motorcycle to mimic Brando’s own Triumph Thunderbird 6T. 

What if: There is no denying the impact The Wild One had on popular culture. But what if the Thunderbird, the Black Rebels Motorcycle Club or The Wild One never happened? Maybe motorcycle riding might never have become the ‘cool’ hobby that it is considered today – maybe it would have remained just a sport, or a frowned upon activity not meant for people other than criminals and delinquents.

Crime: Griselda Blanco – The “Cocaine Godmother”

Motorcycles haven’t always been kind to history. Take Griselda Blanco for example. The Queen of Narco-Trafficking, was a Colombian drug lord of the Medellin Cartel. She was known for her involvement in the Miami-based cocaine drug trade during the 1970s and 1980s. According to rough estimates, Blanco was responsible for 200 murders when she was bringing in cocaine from Colombia to New York, Southern California and Miami. Her arrival in the US is what is believed to have started the murders and the high-profile crime spree that engulfed Miami in the 1980s. This subsequently led to the creation of the DEA anti-drug operation. She is the reason behind various terms coined at the time, including gangsters being dubbed as ‘Cocaine Cowboys’, her way of doing business being called the ‘Miami Drug War’, and various names for her such as the Black Widow, the Cocaine Godmother and La Madrina.

In 2012, Blanco was killed in a way many had predicted – motorcycle assassination. Blanco had been credited with the invention of the idea of ‘motorcycle assassin’, who rode by their victims and sprayed them with bullets. Two gunmen on motorcycles pulled up to Blanco, as she walked out of a butcher shop in Medellin in September, 2012, and pumped two bullets into her head, killing her on the spot.   

What if: the motorcycle assassins had not killed the Cocaine Godmother, who’s to say, she might still have been spreading her terror in the streets of Medellin, making less high-profile drug deals, but still killing anyone who became an ‘inconvenience’. Perhaps it is ironic how Blanco was executed with the very method she had herself invented.

Over the years, motorcycles have found themselves a part of the historical narrative. After reading the above, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that motorcycles find themselves as a part of many interesting storylines. There is a good chunk of history that has been written on the back of a motorcycle.