The Britten V-1000 Motorbike 

Britten V1000 motorcycle 1991, Britten Motorcycle Company Ltd, Christchurch. Purchased 1995 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds. Te Papa
Britten V1000 motorcycle 1991, Britten Motorcycle Company Ltd, Christchurch. Purchased 1995 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds. Te Papa

The Britten bike is temporarily off the floor and will return in the second half of 2015.

Curriculum links

Learning areas

  • Technology
  • Science 

Which strands will it fit with?

  • Nature of Technology, Technological Knowledge
  • Science - Physical World 

Key Competencies

Using language, symbols, and texts, Thinking, Relating to others. 

Levels of achievement

Levels 3-8

Year group

Years 4-13

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Which topics of study can it support?

  • New Zealand technological advances
  • Innovation and invention
  • Famous New Zealanders 

How long might this take?

  • Allow 5-10 minutes.

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Where do I find it?

Level 4 by Espresso cafe, opposite main lifts. If you get lost, just ask a Te Papa Host.

Why should I take my class to visit this?

  • This is an example of work by an innovative New Zealander - a real piece of ‘Kiwi ingenuity’.
  • The Britten bike won many records because of its innovative design.
  • The Britten bike is recognised by most New Zealanders; some see it as a New Zealand icon.
  • The whole class can fit comfortably around the item.

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What is there to do there?

  • Identify  the innovative design features of this motorbike.
  • Discuss design, innovations, and icons.

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What should I know about this?


  • John Britten started his workshop in his garage.
  • It took almost twelve years to develop the Britten bike.
  • Only ten Britten V-1000 motorbikes have been made
  • Te Papa bought the second bike in 1995.


  • Since 1990, the Britten V-1000 has been placed in races at Daytona (United States), Assen (Netherlands), Monza (Italy), and the Brands Hatch Races (Great Britain).
  • Britten motorbikes hold several records for the VIM World Speed Records1994 for 1000cc motorcycles:

Flying mile: 302.705km/h
Standing start quarter mile: 134.617 km/h
Standing start mile: 213.512 km/h
Standing start kilometre: 186.245 km/h

Technical details

  • The motorbike has a two-cylinder engine.
  • By using light, strong materials - carbon fibre and kevlar - John Britten made the bike lighter and more streamlined.
  • The radiator has been moved to under the seat and is fed from ducts, as this reduces wind resistance. Radiators are usually located at the front of motorcycle engines.
  • The front suspension is adjustable, as is the radical wishbone shape. This allows for better handling at speed.
  • The engine castings have been made stronger so that they can act as some of the framework of the chassis. This allows the motorbike to be made lighter.
  • The engine is no wider than the width of the tyres. This reduces wind resistance.
  • There is an on-board computer which is used for monitoring six functions on the motorbike. 

Possible topics for discussion

What are some other New Zealand world records or New Zealand firsts?Examples include Peter Snell winning the 1960 Olympics 800 metres event in a record 1 minute 46.3 seconds; twenty-eight gliding world records including a flight up to 11,000 metres; Sir Edmund Hillary reaching the top of Everest on 29 May 1953.

Who are some other New Zealand inventors and what did they invent?
Examples include Colin Murdoch inventing the disposable syringe in 1956 and William Harrington Atack inventing the referee’s whistle for rugby in 1884.

How is this motorbike is different from other motorbikes?
Look at the seat, the handlebars and the tyres: are they different from other motorbikes? Are there any other differences? 

What could you invent to get around faster?
Some possibilities include a magic carpet or hovercraft.

How fast can you go?
Compare speeds and distances by letting the class arrange themselves in the order of fastest to slowest, according to this list: 

  • a cheetah can run at speeds of 50km/hr
  • a peregrine falcon can dive at speeds of up to 300km/hr
  • a sailfish can swim at speeds of up to 110km/hr
  • a penny farthing can reach speeds of 45km/hr
  • the fastest humans can run at approximately 50km/hr
  • Phar Lap ran 3200 meters in the Melbourne Cup in 3 minutes 27.7 seconds (about 39km/hour)
  • the fastest you can legally drive a car on the road is 100 km/hr.
  • a bumblebee can fly up to 10.3 km/hr
  • a snail travels at up to 400m/hr.

Why do you think that the colours are blue and pink? 
One theory is that Britten loved the colours of the fish he saw while on holiday to the tropical Pacific, so he decided to use similar colours on the motorbike. Do you like these colours for the bike? If you were designing your own bike what colours would you make it and why?

Check out the tyres: why do you think they are so flat?
This is so they will create the greatest grip at high speeds.

What constitutes an icon? Is this item a New Zealand icon?
An icon is something that represents a country or culture. For example, the kiwi is an icon of New Zealand, and a bach is an icon of New Zealand’s coastline.

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Further information

Related material 

  • Visit Level 4 to see the skeleton of Phar Lap, the New Zealand racehorse icon that won many international races.

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