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.
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.