Remember these flying television motorcycles?
There have been some pretty interesting, cool-looking science fiction motorcycles from the 1980s, but one stands out from the rest. If you don’t remember, in the original Battlestar Galactica TV series there were no motorcycles. That was corrected by Galactica 1980, a spinoff of the original series. While controversial among fans for reasons we won’t get into, the important part is the fabrication of the Turbines, which were strange-looking flying motorcycles.
Also known as turbocycles, Turbines were usually ridden like a normal motorcycle. That was supposedly so they would blend in, but the look of the things made them a head-turner everywhere they went. More likely it was that aerial shots were expensive and difficult to do. With today’s CGI they probably would have been flying constantly and creating all kinds of huge explosions, among other ridiculous things.
Each Turbine had two sets of wings. One set folded down over the modified taillights and rear fender, then raised almost like gull wings. The other set attached to the front forks, folding up when not in use.
Another unique feature of the Turbines was they could cloak or be made invisible when parked. That’s a nice little security device to keep your bike out of the hands of criminals. Plus, all it took was flipping a single switch by the left handlebar. Today it would probably be a smartphone app or an automatic keyless feature.
If the riders got into a hairy situation, the Turbines were outfitted with forward-mounted laser guns. Those come in handy at different times, but thankfully never in a road rage situation. While this awesome capability certainly came in handy, it wasn’t overused like it might be in a Michael Bay remake we hope never happens.
It’s not difficult to see why these were called turbocycles. Thanks to fabrications by The Model Shop, the Yamaha engine was completely obscured, a turbine engine seemingly in its place. While we have some turbine motorcycles today, they’re still an exotic beast. However, to television viewers in 1980 such a thing would have been incredibly wild, a thing essentially of science fiction.
To make the Yamaha MX 175 look like it came from an advanced, space-going civilization The Model Shop fabricated bespoke parts out of foam, fiberglass, and other materials. The process to get the three motorcycles ready for filming was rushed, from designing to making and painting the modified bikes.
Two of the Yamahas had the wings which would fold down, while the other was a “dummy” without that effect. That dummy was going to be hung from a helicopter for the aerial shots. However, all three were fully-functional motorcycles a person could ride. Thanks to the tight shooting schedule which couldn’t wait for the dummy motorcycle to be completely finished, it was cut in half since that was all that was needed for the different shots it would be in.
Also interesting about these Turbines was the bespoke helmets worn by the riders. Gold in color with minimal decoration, they included a comm link so the riders could chat and stay in touch with their ship orbiting Earth. Probably so viewers could see the actors’ faces, no face shields were installed, even though that no doubt would’ve helped the microphone to not pick up wind noise. These were not things of practicality but instead of what showrunners thought would look good on the screen. Considering Galactica 1980 only ran for 10 episodes before being canceled, everyone can debate how well the Turbines achieved that goal.
An early script for the Galactica 1980 show described the Turbines as hovering bikes without wheels. The cost of doing such a special effect each time the rides were featured wasn’t practical, so the change was made to wheeled motorcycles which could also fly.
Check out the clip from Galactica 1980 to see these futuristic motorcycles in action.