The World’s Heaviest Rideable Motorcycle Is Powered by a Tank Engine

Powered by a Soviet tank engine and weighing over 5 tons, the Panzerbike is by far the world’s heaviest rideable motorcycle.

The story of the world’s heaviest motorcycle can be traced back to 2003. Brothers Tilo and Wilfried Niebel of the Harzer Bike motorcycle shop in Zilly, Germany, were in Halberstadt where a former Red Army Barracks was being demolished. The two tinkerers have always been of the opinion that old materials can be repurposed, not just discarded, so they were there looking for parts to use in their custom motorcycles. While looking around, the two brothers found an impressive cutaway model of a Soviet T-55 tank engine and were so fascinated by it that they asked if they could have it. Little did they know that this would be the beginning of a very special project that would see them claim a Guinness Record and hold it for nearly two decades.

Photo: Harzer Bike Shmiede

Tilo and Wilfried took the cutaway tank engine model home with them, and as they kept inspecting its inner workings almost every day, an idea started to take shape in their heads. Could they build a functional motorcycle powered by an actual T-55 tank engine? After careful deliberation, they decided it was worth a try. But first, they had to find a working engine, as the cutaway they had couldn’t be used. It took three years to finally find one in Mecklenburg, and after buying it, the two motorcycle enthusiasts basically locked themselves in their shop for a year building the behemoth the world would come to know as ‘Panzerbike’.

Interestingly, the world’s heaviest rideable motorcycle is named after the German Panzer tank, it was built in Germany by Germans, but it is made up mostly of Soviet parts. The 38,000 cc T-55 engine comes from a Soviet tank, the giant sidecar was cut out of the transport case of a Russian medium-range missile, and the headlight comes from a Soviet border security point operated by the German Democratic Republic (GDR) during the Cold War.

Photo: Harzer Bike Shmiede

The Panzerbike may look like a war machine straight out of a Mad Max film, but it was actually meant to convey the idea of peace. Tilo and Wilfried Niebel set out to build their magnum opus using only parts originally built for military purposes. The metal piping, the wheels, all came from military vehicles and equipment. Even the diesel return line was made from a blood transfusion device that the brothers found in a military hospital.

Although the world’s heaviest motorcycle is famously known as Panzerbike, its official name is “Katharina die Große” (Catherine the Great) a reference to the Russian origin of most of its components. It took a total of 5,000 hours to build, during which its creators used about 120 kg of welding wire. It was all worth it, though, as in 2007 they set a new Guinness Record for the ‘world’s heaviest rideable motorcycle’, (5.5 tons) a title that remains uncontested to this day.


Photos and videos of the Panzerbike in action regularly go viral on social media, but if you want to see it in person, your best bet is the Harzer Bike Schmiede yearly motorcycle show in Germany, where it always makes an appearance.

Fun fact about this impressive piece of machinery, its massive sidecar also has its own steering system, as the turning radius of the main front wheel of the bike is negligible. So it basically requires a minimum of two people to operate.


For more impressive vehicles, check out Kleine Johanna, the world’s largest rideable bicycle, and Big Wind, the most powerful fire truck ever made.