BMW Motorrad Spezial

Britten: The “greatest motorcycle ever built”?

The remarkable Britten V1000, often described as The Greatest Motorcycle Ever Built.
I’d never heard of the Britten motorcycle until I moved to New Zealand in 1997. But in the motorsport-mad Land of The Long White Cloud, John Britten is a household name—and rightly so. His V1000 has been described as ‘the greatest motorcycle ever built’, because Britten effectively built it in his own backyard, and it trumped the works machines on the racetracks.

Designed in 1991, the Britten had a carbon fiber frameless chassis and carbon fiber wheels. The front suspension was an adjustable double wishbone girder-type, and the 999 cc V-twin put out over 160 bhp. (As an aside, this was one of the first race bikes to use data logging.)

The remarkable Britten V1000, often described as The Greatest Motorcycle Ever Built.
In 1992 the Britten V1000 won the Dutch round of the Battle of The Twins, and in 1994 the Daytona round. In between those victories, the V1000 smashed four motorcycle world speed records: the standing start quarter mile, mile and kilometre, and the flying mile at 302kph.

Tragically, just as the motorsport world realised there was a giant-killer on the scene, John Britten succumbed to cancer. He died in 1995—leaving us to wonder what might have been if he’d carried on developing the V1000.

The documentary One Man’s Dream: The Britten Motorcycle Story has just been remastered and re-released, with additional, never seen before footage.

Britten V1000

  • macfly

    I happened to be at Daytona with the Saxon Triumph squad when the Britten was racing there back in ’94. To this day it is my favorite bike, and one I dearly would have loved a chance to have ridden.

  • The Phantom

    Simply the best. If you haven’t seen the documentary “The John Britten Story” (I think that’s the title), get hold of a copy any way you can. Your respect for the man and the motorcycle will increase a hundredfold.

  • Paul in adk ny

    Hi, Love your site. I found it by stumble but it is one of my most visited sites. I built and helped run vintage race bikes when Britten was running the V1000 in the US. What a bike, John Britten was my hero. I actually saw one at a track, Pure eye candy. The guy was brilliant. His death was a terrible loss to the motorcycle world. I have been around motorcycles all my life, including 10 years dirt track racing and over 25 years as a motorcycle tech, and this bike still makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck. Great site, keep it up!

  • The documentary is called “One Man’s Dream: the Britten Bike story”
    you can watch in multiple parts on youtube.

  • pg

    You should mention Italian Brittenheads, CR&S (Cafe Racers and Superbikes), as well with that bike pic… they create astounding thumpers.

  • The documentary has so much to contemplate. The feat of building everything itself is huge, but then there are the setbacks, the impossible timeline, the humble demeanor of the New Zealanders, …the wheelie past a Works Ducati during a race, etc.

  • True legend!

  • Britten was a genius

  • Cameron

    Te Papa had one of these on display on the third level near the cafe … I’m not sure if it’s still there or not.

  • The film “One Man’s Dream: The Britten Bike Story” is now available to buy on DVD. There are new Special Features and a lot of content that has not been available before. You can buy a copy from


    Ben Ruffell
    DVD Producer

  • James

    Stunning bike! I live in Wellington, New Zealand, and they have one on display at Te Papa Museum, as mentioned above. Whenever I have friends from out of town come to visit, I always take them to Te Papa, let them do their own thing, and I just stand and stare it this bike. It’s truly phenomenal to look at, let alone to think about how he made it in his back yard. It’s humbling.

  • Larry Hubbard

    Saw Andrew Stroud lay all to waste in the BEARS championship at Daytona in 1994……on 1 wheel,no less. A Dutchman named Lex rode the wheels off a Britten in 1999 in Battle of the twins(BOTT)for the New Zealand team “Pro Britten Racing” in Daytona. I felt honored to be in the hot pits for both.

  • bacon

    i still can’t figure out how that rear suspension works.

  • TB

    “One Man’s Dream: the Britten Bike story” is a great, inspiring story!! John and his team work was years ahead of anyone else… a true pioneer!! He his missed!

  • Aerion

    The front suspension is a Hossack type, not a girder type. In a girder design the front shock and suspension arms add to steered mass. In a Hossack design they do not.

  • Kiwis,man!

  • Bruce Shepherd

    Saw the one they have (had) at the AMA museum, racing at mid ohio (mid late 90’s). Couldn’t figure out what it was, breezing past Ducatis and Suzuki twins on the long straight there, breaking deep into the corner, back wheel high and dry, then whipping off through those esses at the back. Went down to the pits to find out what the hell it was……………a Britten?………
    Can’t remember who was riding it, but he took no prisoners that day………truly awesome to witness……….honoured.

  • puck

    Not to take away from the man or his accomplishments in any way, but it was always my impression the Britten was possibly the fastest TWIN of it’s day. It wasn’t out there whipping the factory four cylinders as far as I know?

    I’ve seen all the docs. My only complaint, not enough emphasis on the technical things he did. Everybody can understand what a unique guy he was so they tend to focus on that but gear heads want to watch him sand casting cylinders and machining parts. There’s not nearly enough of that in there.

  • KIK

    great loss,. like Burt Munro this gentleman had the right idea…

  • ed

    Mark Farmer a great Irish roadracer rode a Britten at the TT,

  • Ben

    Without a doubt-THE most beautiful bike ever conceived and built. Not only a stunning looker, but beyond rideable compared to other stuff featured on this site. I’m always surprised that more people don’t rate John Britten and his fantastic creation amongst their top bikes and biking heroes.

  • puck – it would be good to read more about the engine. All I know is that it is a 60-degree twin built strong enough to act as the frame

  • Yep, that is the pinnacle, the king of kings, in my book anyway. I was lucky enough to see it race at Daytona in ’94 as I was there workig with the Saxon/Triumph team, what a stunning machine!

  • Dave

    My favorite bike ever. I still remember picking up the Cycle World in which it was featured. I studied those pics over and over again. What a fantastic machine.

  • Shep

    The World is a lesser place for the passing of John Britten. A visionary and practical engineer. A leader. Just goes to prove one man can make a difference and be an inspiration to us all.

  • Hi Dave,

    Glad you liked the Cycle World Photos. Those were also taken by Harry Ruffell (the film-maker and my Dad). We found all of his old photos, scanned and graded them. They are included as a Special Feature Photo Slideshow on the DVD. There are quite a few photos that have not previously been released.

  • Tim Hanna

    With respect of Hoyt’s posting I would just like to tell him that anything he might want to know about the engine, or the man, or the Team, or the race history, or the general drama, fun and tragedy that was the Britten motorcycle story is in my book.
    My work on the subject ‘John Britten’ was well received by the international motorcycle press and it remains in print to this day. It is a big read – 500,000 words with a generous selection of pictures in color insert sections.
    After next writing a book about Burt Munro I undertook a history of another Kiwi motorcycle ace called Kim Newcombe. This book is being printed now and will be available in hard copy in the New Year while an e version will be available in a few weeks.
    I am planning a tour of motorcycle events Europe and the US in the near future and intend taking a Koenig, (The bike Kim designed, constructed and rode to second place in the 1973 500cc GP Championship) a very authentic replica of Burt’s Indian from the movie and a Britten. With luck all the other Brittens available (of the ten that were built) will come out and join in.
    Sorry to carry on about myself but like everyone else who has posted on this subject I really love these bikes.

  • John Britten makes me feel proud to be a New Zealander. Meeting him at Ruapuna on several occasions was fantastic. Watching the front end fall off and seeing Chris Haldane break his collar bone wasn’t a great moment but what it taught John and what he came up with to fix the problem was genius.

  • Loek Muller. the Netherlands.

    I was there in 1992 in Assen, the Netherlands. And i saw how the Britten smashed the “other” bikes !
    And that sound, i still remember. Later i learned more about Britten and especialy about his innovations; the man was a genius.
    Too bad that he died so yong…….
    i hope his work will be remembered and gets a lot of TLC.

  • kim of Copenhagen

    Japanese company: 200 engineers & designers working on different aspects of a motorcycle. Regular interaction between different departments to ensure everybody is on the same track.

    Italian company: 12 engineers & designers in the same room. Communication done by turning chair 180 degrees and shouting (the’re Italians, after all).

    New Zealand company: Everything inside the head of John Britten.

  • Thiago

    John Britten is an inspiration. For someone to have built a motorcycle so ahead of its time in such a limited capacity is just incredible. The V1000 is a representation of an underdog true to its form.

  • @Tim Hanna – Thank you for the info. I found it on Amazon…are there other outlets for your book, “John Britten”?

    Do you have a website? This is the closest I found:

    If not, be sure to update Chris at BikeExif with your tour dates. Hopefully you’ll be coming to the northwest part of the States or Canada.

  • Doyle

    While in NZ I got to know and become friends with John’s son Sam Britten. It was amazing to be able to talk about the bikes and learn about John, the bikes and the whole story from the guy who was a young boy hanging around the shop while all this magic was happening. So cool to hear the story from Sam’s perspective.

    And also sobering to realize that while motorcycling lost a genius and an icon, Sam lost his Dad and hero when he was only 12.

  • truly awesome.

  • Phil

    about time too…possibly the most iconic and influential bike design of the modern period – along with the gpz900r

  • Badseed

    Dreamers with intention it’s what seems to lack this days (I was reading and remembering and became all goose bumped).

  • mtiberio

    Great man, great bike. However, lets not look through too rosy a set of glasses. I was racing AMA pro-twins between from 1989 through the end of the 1992 season, and I attended many races before and after than that I didn’t race in. I’d be surprised if the Britten finished 50% of the races it was entered into. Fantastic, beautiful but fragile bike, as any 160HP 1000cc twin would be.

  • PB

    there. just ordered two copies. christmas is near after all…

  • johnrdupree

    I got to see the Britten run at Road Atlanta in the early 90’s. To see and hear that thing booming down the back straight was something special. It’s a shame such a talented and driven man was taken so early. Image what he’d be working on today.

  • John Gall

    Great post! Super bike! I still have lust!
    How about a chance at one of those DVD’s for us non-facebook types?

  • Wareyin

    Gorgeous bike! I love the front mounted rear suspension. I saw another company do one on the tv show “Cafe Racers”, and they said they got the idea from Britten. As a machinist/gear hear, I’d love to get some close up views to see just how that works.

  • Henry

    The Mozart of motorcycle builders. May he rest in peace.

  • Ricky

    Jeff Nash, racer, nice guy and owner of AMS Ducati in Dallas, Texas was a fellow racer and friend of John Britten and has promised to do a bike-night showing of all his private photos and film footage of Britten stuff. All you other DFW guys out there – let’s dog him until he comes through on this…..

  • tim hanna

    Wareyin asked how the rear end works. Basically when the carbon fiber swing arm goes up it pulls a rod that runs along under the engine to a crank mounted at the front. This activates two rods that pull down on the top of the shock/spring unit. The secret to the system is that everything acts in tension so the actuating rods can be very light – in the same way that you can exert real force pulling something with a piece of string but you can’t push much.
    Regarding Hoyt’s question about my US tour I will post the details here early next year if that is permitted and I will be up his way. The aim is to attend classic race meetings.
    I know that my book ‘John Britten’ is hard to get hold of in the US as I could not find a distributor. I believe there is still considerable interest in John and his achievements and I am considering sending a shipment of books in the near future to fill orders.
    In the next few days I am establishing a new website and people will be able to order signed copies of my books on John, Burt Munro (rider and builder of The World’s Fastest Indian) and my new biography of Kim Newcombe.
    Few of you will have heard of the Koenig motorcycle, the bike which Kim designed, built, developed and raced to second place in the 1973 500cc World Grand Prix championship. He built a few for customers and they are striking looking machines with flat four cylinder, water cooled two stroke hydroplane race powerheads providing the go.
    Maybe I could post a pic here and a description.

    • Florin

      Correct spelling is KONIG I believe?

  • craigj

    Best. Bike. Ever.

  • Sen Heng

    Tim, if I can get your book in Japan, those guys in the US should have no problem.

    I got mine from Amazon JP.

    What I really loved about the book was all the detail about designing the engine and the first prototype, stuff that wasn’t in the video. Of course, the photos are amazing too.

  • Tim Hanna

    Hi Sen,
    I am going to relaunch the book in the near future and I’ll post something about that when the time comes.
    Glad you enjoyed the book. It was an absolute labour of love and an honour to write it. I spent a lot of time at the factory – watched bikes number nine and ten get built from the beginning until they were wheeled onto the dyno. It was a great tragedy that the team was broken up and that it all faded away.
    Still, the record stands and on the whole it is most impressive. It was built as a Bears bike and in that arena it ended up being unassailable.
    My new book on Kim Newcombe will be available from Amazon as will my new film and an electronic version of the book. It’s a great story about grand prix motorcycle racing in the early seventies when two strokes were beginning to threaten the MV Four strokes and none more so than Kim on his Koenig powered special.

  • Tim

    I got your book as a present this summer and have just started to read it, I just love it.
    And the story about Newcombe is also great, a friend knows Rod Tingate so I have heard quite alot about it, amazing.
    About your event tour, do you have any plans to come to Scandinavia?
    I might be able to help you with arrangements etc, I am also a friend of John Shand that i guess you know.
    Feel free to contact me for any kind of help.

    Best regards

  • tim hanna

    Hi Petter,
    If that is an invitation then I guess I’d better come.
    I’ll be in touch.

  • tim hanna

    Hi Petta,
    I will have a new website up in a few days at If you could contact me through this it would be great.

  • Cryan

    In my years of bopping along with my friends on motorcycles we all take a collective pause when the conversation turns to “The Britten”. I have worked in the machining industry and showed coworkers pictures of The Britten. They all stare amazed at the craftmanship. The beauty. Most of the people I surround myself are of the “man and machine types”. They all breath a little slower and pay more attention when looking at this machine. It almost demands an emotional responce. For me it does.