’80s nostalgia and attrition have made Honda’s XR80 a hot commodity
The bigger the engine and the higher the horsepower, the greater the value. It’s true for muscle cars. It’s true for Porsches. The exception to this rule lies in a market segment in which nostalgia trumps all: small-bore Japanese motorcycles.
Of those that grew up on motorcycles, most probably started on a sub-100cc dirt bike produced in Japan. (My first bike was a Honda CRF80.) A rider’s first bike was often passed down from another enthusiast. If it was new, it quickly became very used. As its owner grew braver, the bike’s suspension quickly became overwhelmed, bottoming out over every jump. Crashes broke lever after lever, and the shifter—or, worse, the shift shaft—became bent from deep ruts.
Despite all the abuse, these bikes never died. The petite Japanese dirt bikes were usually relegated to the back of the shed as bigger bikes were added to the stable. The humble machine was then sold to another beginner rider, bought by parents who didn’t know the two-wheeled addiction they were encouraging in their grinning 10-year-old. Now, 35 years later, those beginners have accumulated some spending money, and nostalgia draws them to sub-100cc bikes.
Case in point? This pair of 1986 Honda XR80s on Bring a Trailer that sold for $13,912 (after buyer fees). Each sold for more than eight times its original 1986 MSRP of $848.
The XR80 came out in 1979, superseding the XR75, and underwent fairly minor changes for 24 years until the Honda CRF80F replaced it in 2004. The pair sold on Bring a Trailer hails from the third generation of the XR80, which came out in 1985. The third-gen bikes are clearly differentiated by their stubby, tall plastic gas tanks. This was a conspicuous change from the metal tanks that marked the XR and XL series through the early ’80s and remained until the late ’80s on the XL models.
The increased use of plastic during this era of motorcycles has long held the XR80 back from beloved collector status; people typically prefer the chrome trim, polished engines, and metal fenders seen in the pre-’80s bikes. Now buyers are accepting the plastic-trimmed XR80 as collectible—at minimum, they’re willing to ignore what everyone else is collecting and pay a premium for pure nostalgia.
Wait a second, you might be thinking. I could get a gleaming Norton Commando for $14K. It’s worth remembering that the life of a XR80 was one of use and abuse—conditions to which that most Norton owners would never subject their bikes. The high rate of attrition means that excellent-condition XR80s are uncommon, which makes even this #3-condition (Good) pair on BaT highly desirable. On top of that, these XR80s are back-to-back serial numbers still on MSO; neither has ever been titled. Sure, your buddy with the Norton might look down his nose at you—but they’ll be doing some eBay searching after seeing you ripping around the yard with a massive smile on your face.
The fun that comes from riding a slow bike fast, plus the memories of riding one as a kid, can override considerations of collectibility, value appreciation, and investment. Life is short—when you find the bike you want, sometimes the price doesn’t matter.