There are many reasons why classic motorcycles are increasingly popular among younger folks, aka Millennials. Aside from the sheer excitement of riding a fast bike—something Hunter S. Thompson called “a bloodcurdling kind of fun”—most motorcycles are pretty easy for the home mechanic to work on.
There’s no tightly packed engine bay that requires you to do contortions or remove other car parts before finally reaching what you actually want to work on. And they take up a fraction of the space needed to store a car, even a small one. There are also a dizzying number of choices, from mopeds to superbikes and enduros to cruisers. Most importantly, vintage bikes tend to be cheap, which is something that younger folks, saddled with student debt and high rent, appreciate.
According to long-time motorcycle rider and writer Paul Duchene, “What you often see among younger people is the Japanese stuff. The Japanese really cracked reliability in the 1970s. You’re also going to see the bikes that people bought, kept, and cared for, rather than the really racy stuff that people took to the track or crashed. And you’re also going to see a lot of 500-, 600- and 750-cc bikes, since anything over one liter represents a hike in insurance premiums.”
Below are the five most popular makes for riders born 1982-2002, as measured by insurance quotes over the last five years. These brands make up 75 percent of the quotes measured, and 78 percent of them are valued under $10,000. Bikes from the 1970s are also particularly popular among millennials; 41 percent of the motorcycles quoted hail from that decade.
If this was a list of the most popular bikes by model, all five spots would be 1970-74 Hondas. They account for 29 percent of the buyer interest among millennials over the last five years. Between CB350 twins and the ubiquitous CB750 fours, there are oodles of vintage Hondas on the market at any given time. Honda is also credited with finally bringing electric starters and reliability to performance motorcycles, a mostly foreign concept for European bikes at the time. High-production volume, great parts availability, low price, and the fact that you can always count on your Honda starting are the reasons why younger buyers find them so appealing.
Harley-Davidson’s status an American icon has been talked about ad nauseam, but there is no denying Harley’s appeal among all generations. Interestingly enough, while Harleys are twice as likely as Hondas to be quoted overall, they make up only 24 percent of buyer interest among millennials, as opposed to 29 percent for Hondas. According to Duchene, this may be because “Harleys are generally quite expensive for what they are, and people tend to keep them forever or trade them in on new models.”
Yamahas make up 11 percent of buyer interest, and for millennials it’s much the same story as Honda. They’re appealing because they’re generally cheap and reliable, and ample parts are readily available.
Kawasakis, with 6 percent of buyer interest, are among the wave of reliable and affordable Japanese bikes that came on strong in the 1970s and ’80s. “Just about the best affordable all-purpose bike out there is the Kawasaki KLR 650,” Duchene says.
If Harley is an American icon, then Triumph is a British icon, and it accounts for 5 percent of buyer interest. Bonnevilles didn’t change much at all during the 1960s, and Duchene notes, “Lots of them are being restored. People have fixed up so many of them that they’re cheap, and owners tend to just ride them around town on the weekends, which these bikes are quite good for.” Triumphs generally aren’t going to be as reliable as their later Japanese counterparts, but parts availability is good, and they appeal to younger buyers who want not only a usable classic bike but something a bit different and more interesting than the more common Hondas.