9 September 2015

Starter Bikes, Starter Price

Beyond the undeniable cool factor, there are four awesome things about collecting vintage motorcycles. First, they are small compared to cars, making it easy to squirrel away one in the garage without your wife knowing. Second, they are generally inexpensive; for the price of new sneakers for your ’66 Bonneville, you can get into a needy vintage bike that will offer years of restoration fun. Third, the mechanicals are highly accessible, letting anyone with basic mechanical skills play. And finally, they offer a wonderfully unique travel experience.

The list of 10 bikes below is a sampler of affordable entry points to the collector-bike hobby from five great motorcycle nations. Ranging from under $1,000 for a fright pig to $10,000 or more for showboats, they provide great bang for the buck without ever breaking the bank. And more good news – although relatively inexpensive, none of the models listed is a “nerd bike”; each offers genuine street cred and historical relevance. The litmus test? On your first ride to cars and coffee, you’ll get both interest and respect from those in the know.

United States

1961-74 Harley-Davidson Sprint 250 & 350 – Although sold by Harley-Davidson, these one-cylinder bikes were built in Italy by Aermacchi. Smaller than Harley’s domestic V-twins, the Sprint’s robust OHV engine featured an unconventional horizontal cylinder. As such, today they represent a unique take on the “American bike.”

1977 Harley-Davidson XLCR Cafe Racer – In a nod to period styling trends, Harley added the short-lived XLCR Cafe Racer to the lineup for 1977. It’s basically a period 997cc V-twin Sportster at heart, with the chassis cloaked in wicked black bodywork, low handlebars and aggressive black exhausts.


1960-73 Triumph T100 – The smallest of Triumph’s “unit construction” OHV twins, the 490cc T100 is also relatively simple, with a single carb on the Tiger model for easy tuning. However it is also pure Triumph, providing the DNA of the legendary 650cc Bonneville without that model’s higher price tag.

1968-70 BSA B25 Starfire – Displacing just 247cc, this OHV Single is the essential English motorcycle, just smaller. Attractive and workmanlike, the Starfire will go anywhere you want at a reasonable pace, and its engine is mildly tuned, making it agreeable for any riding you’d want to do.


1968-81 Maico 125 to 501 – One of the most revered (and feared) German bike companies, Maico built scooters sparingly, but was best known for its motocross racers. Most legendary was the Maico 501, an enormous 501cc two-stroke Single. More plentiful were 250, 400, 440, 450 and 490cc “Radials,” so named for their jutting cylinder-head fins.

1970-73 BMW R50, R60 & R75 – Known as “toaster tank” BMWs, these air-cooled opposed twins were a mainstay for enlightened touring riders for years. Superbly built and understressed, they were often outfitted with saddlebags and fairings, and so reliable their odometers would often surpass the 99,999-mile mark with ease.


1962-74 Ducati 250 & 350 – These iconic Singles were highly instrumental in Ducati’s rise to superbike status during the 1970s. They are rugged, undiluted mechanical devices, with sophisticated gear-driven overhead cams, racy suspension and some fickle qualities too. Names like Diana, GT, Mach 1, Mark 3 and Scrambler add panache.

1980-83 Moto Guzzi V50 Monza – Moto Guzzi is like the Harley of Italy, thanks to its long-term devotion to air-cooled V-twins. The smallest variant is the V50 Monza, a sweet little 490cc sportbike with jewel-like qualities. Often bypassed by enthusiasts looking for more performance, the V50 is nevertheless a wonderful classic ride.


1968-73 Honda CB350 & CL350 – During the motorcycle boom years of the late 1960s and early ’70s, Honda sold hundreds of thousands of twin-cylinder 350s, making them plentiful and affordable today. The CB350 street model has low exhausts while the CL350 has dual high pipes, identifying it as a street scrambler.

1968-79 Yamaha 90 to 400 Enduro – Built in seven sizes, these Yamaha two-stroke Singles changed motorcycling by being truly competent off- and on-road, thus offering riders their choice of adventure. They are also innately simple and lightweight, making them easy to own and maintain.

23 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Dennis California September 9, 2015 at 19:01
    Often overlooked but in all ways rarer, more useable and prescient for where the market would arrive 20 years later - the 1986 Harley FXRD Grand Touring edition. And among Honda 350s, the 69-70 SL350 was a tour de force that skillfully merged both contemporary chopper and off-road styling cues.
  • 2
    Jerry Peruski Caro, MI September 9, 2015 at 20:38
    Missed out on the name "Norton" for England. Of course it's hard to cover all motorcycles. Just had to give a shout out for 'Norton".
  • 3
    Jim Gray Florida September 9, 2015 at 22:45
    Hello...I am in the early stages of my search for a nice 1971 BMW R6-60 and was hoping someone might have some insight into where I might begin? Understanding that condition is everything, can someone give me a range of what to expect to pay for this bike? Thanks in advance for any help! I hope this finds you well and enjoying these waning days of Summer... Best regards, Jim
  • 4
    Don Garnett Lubbock, Texas September 9, 2015 at 23:04
    I just traded for a 1960 BSA 650. Nice condition strong engine. Price range?
  • 5
    Ron Buffalo,NY & Winston-Salem,NC September 9, 2015 at 23:51
    Nice article, however I think some mention should be given to the Kawasaki Mach I and the Suzuki GT triples of the early 70's deserves some mention, not to mention the Water Buffalo Rotary
  • 6
    Dave Portland, OR September 10, 2015 at 13:06
    Ducati's Mach 1, Diana/Mark3 certainly have cache and a price to match, but having owned and restored a '67 Mark 3, that little beast is best suited for occassional vintage racing or rides in broad daylight. Magneto for electrical power = nominal highlight, very limited brakes and a cam/megaphone combination that only kicks in after about 3000 RPM at an ear splitting decibel level makes for an interesting ride around town. The 250 GT, Scrambler and their 350 big brothers are more practical and much more civilized. One early twin, the 860 GT, was aesthetically challenged, relatively under powered and generates no enthusiasm in the collectors market and therefore is very reasonably priced. Quite a competent ride once the Ducati electrics are sorted out.
  • 7
    Ken NJ September 10, 2015 at 14:41
    Would have been nice if the article had some pictures of each bike!
  • 8
    Bob Memphis, TN September 10, 2015 at 14:55
    The mid to late sixties Suzuki 250 X-6 Hustler was one of the best balanced light street bikes around--with a two stroke engine and six speeds, it could outrun nearly anything up to about 80 mph! I rode one for several years and had to do very little maintenance. Wonderful bike.
  • 9
    Dave Hunter Kendallville, IN September 10, 2015 at 15:30
    Lest we forget the Honda Dream 305 with its integral frame and flared fenders. In 1960 it was Honda's entrance into the motorcycle market to take on the Brit Bikes - and it did. "You meet the nicest people on a Honda"!
  • 10
    Jim Edmond, Ok September 10, 2015 at 15:33
    I recently completed a full restoration of a 1966 Honda CB 77 305 Superhawk. About half the guys my age that see this bike say that their first motorcycle was a 305 Superhawk.
  • 11
    Will Virginia September 10, 2015 at 19:25
    1980-1983 Honda CB650 and CB650 Custom. Sweet 4 cylinder song, classic styling. Just picked up a fantastic 5000 mile barn find!
  • 12
    Steve Denver September 10, 2015 at 08:33
    1969 - 1983 Yamaha XS650s.
  • 13
    bill ontario canada September 10, 2015 at 21:10
    I own both a Honda 1973 CB350F and 1975 CB360 twin. The challenge here in Ontario Canada is vintage motorcycle insurance. Sure hope a good company like Hagerty can set up something. thanks
  • 14
    Bill Chicagoland September 10, 2015 at 09:12
    I had a 73' BMW R50 that I sold at 141,000 miles
  • 15
    Vern Bottineau, ND September 10, 2015 at 09:18
    How about a Expresse Werke moped from 1936? Would like information on restoring one
  • 16
    Norton Melbourne, FL September 10, 2015 at 09:51
    Shout out to Steve in Denver. I also go with the early Yamaha XS 650 vertical twins. True believer.
  • 17
    Glen Noorda California,Camarillo 93010 September 10, 2015 at 11:11
    I,ve been looking for 67-69 Triumph T100
  • 18
    JOHN CUDIA SONORA,CA. September 10, 2015 at 11:44
  • 19
    John Hinckley Romeo, Michigan September 10, 2015 at 12:47
    One of my favorites was a Suzuki GT-750 2-stroke water-cooled triple back in the early 70's, when they first hit the market; great 2-up road bike, and at idle you could lean down and hear the points open and close.
  • 20
    John Murray Michigan September 11, 2015 at 07:22
    John - good starter list! I've had a couple BMW 'Toasters' and can highly recommend them.
  • 21
    Bob M Traverse City MI September 11, 2015 at 21:16
    Fun list! I owned three of these. The best bike I ever owned was a '71 R75/5, but with the big tank, not the toaster. Thirty-one states, 70,000 miles. My first and worst bike was the 250 Starfire, actually the Triumph-badged equivalent. Your description is too kind. Everything I know about troubleshooting I learned with that bike! Still own the whitworth(?!) wrenches. Also had a CL350; who didn't? Traded it for a Windjammer for the BMW.
  • 22
    David H Little Rock, AR September 11, 2015 at 10:30
    No pictures? Descriptions are nice but need pictures!!!!!
  • 23
    Michael Ruddell WA May 13, 2017 at 13:25
    I really don't think that the Harley XLCR should be considered a "starter bike" at "starter prices". Fewer than 2,500 were ever produced, and they are priced more as collector bikes... if they can be found in decent shape.

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