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Motorcycle chariots at New South Wales Police Carnival, 1936.

One of the most well-liked Olympic sports in ancient times was chariot racing, which was risky for drivers and horses because they frequently experienced severe harm or even perished.

Horse-drawn two-wheeled carriages competed in oval-shaped lap races around an arena known as a hippodrome. A single race typically involved four to six chariots and seven circuits around the circus.


The racing chariots were small, delicate machines that easily broke apart in an accident. The driver was frequently entangled in the long reins, and either dragged to death or severely injured.

Chariot racing was all but extinct outside of history books in the early 1900s, but that all changed when some daredevils mounted motorbikes on the front of chariots and brought the sport back into the modern era.

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Everything about Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ in 1925 enthralled people, including the thrilling chariot race scene. Someone saw a chance to modernize the sport by using motorcycles instead of horses because the public was clamoring for more of that type of action.

A typical early vehicle configuration involved a motorcyclist hauling a chariot with an ornamental chariot.


This setup is described in a brief article from Popular Mechanics published in 1922. This quickly became a setup with two motorcycles without riders guided by a single charioteer using reins.

The charioteer controlled the relative speed of the two motorcycles to steer, sometimes using reins connected to the throttles and other times using rigid extensions attached to the handlebars.

The first picture was shot at the Sydney Showground in Australia during the 1936 New South Wales Police Carnival. The most well-known image of motorbike chariot racing in the past shows two police officers imitating the famous scene from Ben-Hur.

After the 1930s, the sport disappeared, though exhibition rigs are still built and raced today.


A German motorcycle chariot. 1938.

England, 1925. The man in the chariot is dressed as a Roman

Filming Ben Hur, the movie that inspired motorcycle chariot racing.


Motorcycle chariot racing in London, 1927.

Motorized chariot races on Whit Monday at Crystal Palace, London, 1936.

Ben Hur (the 1959 version).


Four motorcycles on this chariot. 1938.





motorcycle chariot races photos

Four motorcycles on this chariot. 1938.

(Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons / Visual News / Spiegel).

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