Motorcycle Monday: The Batpod

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This movie motorcycle is unlike any other…

First dreamt up by Nathan Crowley, production designer for The Dark Knight, and built by Chris Corbould, the special effects supervisor, the Batpod is at just as wild and controversial as its big sibling, the Tumbler, if not even more so. At first glance it’s unlike anything people had seen before Christopher Nolan’s second Batman film installment dropped. Some people absolutely love the Batpod for that and more reasons, while others have loved to hate it. Christian Bale even called the movie motorcycle “some crazy Viking’s idea of a customized motorbike.”

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Our first on-screen introduction to the Batpod in The Dark Knight is when it functions as an escape pod for the disabled Tumbler. Just because it’s a reduction of Batman’s main ride doesn’t mean it’s a lightweight. Armed with cannons, machine guns, and grappling hooks, it’s ready to rumble.

Absolutely dominating this unconventional motorcycle’s appearance are massive 20-inch Hoosier racing tires. These dwarf the kind of rubber you’ll find on virtually any other bike out there, but you wouldn’t expect Bruce Wayne with his financial resources to ride around on a Honda Goldwing while fighting crime, would you?

Six Batpods were built for filming The Dark Knightand The Dark Knight Rises. The design of the Batpod helps protect the Caped Crusader as he dives right into the middle of dangerous situations. Since he’s essentially laying on his stomach, he’s a more difficult target to hit versus if he were sitting in an upright position on a bike. What’s more, the rider puts his feet in stirrups or something like that, which are 3.5 feet apart, adding to the weird riding position. Those big tires allow Batman to ride over obstacles normal motorcycles simply couldn’t handle. There is only suspension in the front, so this bike is a hardtail.

You’ll note that in the action sequences, the Batpod doesn’t have a visible motor in the chassis. Instead, it’s supposed to be propelled by two motors located inside the front and rear wheels. Independent wheel drive has been used in other builds, but it’s by no means a mainstream idea, even today. However, one movie motorcycle which was auctioned off a few years ago used a Honda 750 engine hidden under the minimalist cowling, so the talk of motors in wheels might just be pure movie fantasy.

A fiberglass body help keeps the weight down, but the Batpod still tips the scale at 700 lbs. Steering isn’t done using traditional handlebars. Instead, the rider’s forearms fit behind shields and the rider grabs individual handles, using mostly his shoulders to steer the bike. That alone makes controlling the Batpod a little disconcerting at first, even for a seasoned rider.

Because the Batpod is especially difficult to control, it was ridden not by Christian Bale but by Jean-Pierre Goy, a stuntman. Most of the stunts in the films were real, however the parts where the tires swivel so the bike goes sideways without skidding was pure Hollywood magic. Yes, that’s disappointing, because everyone would love to have a ride that could pull off such a maneuver.

Christopher Nolan said that originally the idea was to use the memory cloth idea from Batman Begins to have the Dark Knight’s cape fold up into a sort of backpack, keeping it from getting caught in the rear wheel. However, once the crew started test-riding the Batpod in costume, they realized not only would the cape not pose a problem, its flapping in the wind looked really cool. Thus an iconic vehicle for the movie adaptation of the Caped Crusader was born, making it one of the wildest movie motorcycles ever to grace the screen.

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