Think of an iconic motorcycle brand and you’ll possibly say Ducati, Harley-Davidson or Triumph. But it’s not just the companies making the motorbikes which are legendary. The motorcycle industry is full of brands creating magic on a daily basis, without whom our riding experiences would be much less enriched.
So, to pay tribute to these backroom heroes, we chose five of our favourite iconic brands (who don’t actually make motorcycles) from the hundreds out there. Here’s what we think, don’t forget to share your thoughts on our social media channels…
Helmets are without doubt one of the most important part of any biker’s kit, if not the most important.
Top brands, like AGV, Arai and Shoei, market their wares through racing – working with the best riders in the world to improve their products and sell fancy replicas to an eager audience.
But for some of us of a certain age, the name Bell Helmets will always be the epitome of cool. Formed in the 1950s, they were at the forefront of making crash helmets in US auto racing in their early years.
In 1966 the Bell Star was the world’s first full-face helmet, and in 1975 the Star II was introduced with a flip up visor, creating the blueprint for the lids we wear today. In the 1980s, Bell was at the forefront of off-road helmets and has remained a major player in the motocross scene ever since.
Today the company is riding the retro wave with rebooted versions of its iconic Bullitt (pictured) and Moto 3 designs alongside its contemporary full faced designs which are also used by motorcycle racers at domestic and world level.
From humble beginnings, Öhlins has evolved from one motocross enthusiast tinkering in a small Swedish workshop to a suspension specialist which has won just about every meaningful world championship on two and four wheels.
Kenth Öhlin founded his company in 1976, making parts to modify and improve the off-road bikes of the time. Just two years later Kenth had a motocross world title in the bag, and he quickly moved into road racing circles, where Öhlins suspension was the brand to have.
These days, almost all leading manufacturers run Öhlins on their factory MotoGP and superbike machines. The iconic gold-coloured forks also appear on high end production machines and while there are several other manufacturers making high end suspension components, none have yet to become as desirable as the fabled Swedish Gold.
Alpinestars started out in 1963, making ski boots from their base in the foothills of the southern Alps. They quickly made the move to working in the motorcycle industry, with boots for motocross and later road racing, and the 21st century saw the company expand massively and develop a reputation for providing a wider range of protective clothing.
In 1999 Carlos Checa wore an Alpinestars suit in the 500cc Grand Prix world championship, marking the company’s first entry into high end leathers. Throughout the 2000s, Alpinestars has worked with some of the very best motorcycle racers, including Jonathan Rea and Marc Marquez, to develop new technologies like the TechAir airbag system and now, for 2023, the Italian company is also entering the helmet market.
MotoGP racers Jorge Martin and Jack Miller (pictured) will be head to toe in Alpinestars for this year’s racing campaign, wearing what is arguably the most desirable motorcycle clothing brand on sale today.
Hideo ‘Pops’ Yoshimura founded his company in Japan in 1954. His passion for modified motorcycles saw him build a reputation for tuning engines which was valued by customers around the world.
Yoshimura also had a passion for America and, in 1971, opened up a tuning shop in Hollywood alongside the Japanese operation. When the national AMA Superbike championship saw big Japanese four-strokes battle bar-to-bar in the 1970s, the Yoshimura legend was born. Originally competing with Kawasaki, Yoshimura switched to Suzuki in 1978 and immediately won the legendary Daytona 200. The rest is history.
The two brands have been synonymous ever since, even though Yoshimura makes tuning parts for many different motorcycle manufacturers. The company is most famous for its exhaust systems, with a ‘full Yoshi’ being the must have accessory on modified Hayabusas and GSX-Rs.
When it comes to global brands, few are bigger than Valentino Rossi and his VR46 organisation.
Unless you’ve been living on another planet, you will undoubtedly know Rossi as one of the greatest motorcycle racers of all time – not only a winner of 115 Grands Prix and nine world titles but also one of the most charismatic and prolific competitors ever, with an unprecedented 432 starts in a 25-year career.
Rossi’s empire includes a merchandising arm, selling not only Rossi gear but also that of his rivals and academy hopefuls, an academy and several race teams. Despite no longer being an active rider, it’s hard to argue against the Rossi brand remaining one of the most iconic in the industry today, with VR46 merch and replica helmets continuing to sell in big numbers around the world.