21st century classic motorcycles
Classic motorcycles have been rising in value – but which will become tomorrow’s investment? Jeremy Pick looks at which models have the potential to become the classics of tomorrow
There’s no doubt that classic bikes can be a sound investment. Anyone with a Brough Superior, Vincent Black Shadow or MV Agusta 750S in the garage is sitting on a substantial sum of money, and recent auctions have seen the prices of truly desirable motorcycles reach stratospheric levels.
Partly this is driven by the classic car market. Investors looking for safe havens for their money have driven the prices of classic cars into extreme territory, with prices in the tens of millions no longer seen as unusual. Even more modest retro models are becoming frighteningly expensive, with two Ford Capris selling last year for over £50,000 each – a low mileage Brooklands model at £54,000 Feb 2016 and another from the TV series The Professionals making £55k shortly after.
With car prices reaching eye-popping territory, it is inevitable that the motorcycle market will be affected. After all, the same principles apply, the price of entry is exponentially lower, bargains are still to be had and four or five motorcycles can be fitted into the same garage space as that classic car.
So which bikes are going to follow the blue chip classics – the Vincents, Broughs and BSA Gold Stars – into superstar territory? With models like the Ducati 750SS and MV Agusta already beyond the reach of mere mortals, and more ‘affordable’ classics like the Kawasaki Z1 and Honda CB750 reaching the £20,000 mark, what are the next rising stars to join this select group?
Best served rare
Appreciating bikes tend to have certain characteristics – they are usually from an interesting brand, will have some technological innovation that drew interest in the day, maybe some interesting race history – and most important, they should be rare. Although motorcycles are made in much higher numbers than in the past and so the exclusivity factory is rarely there from the start, as time passes they get modified or crashed, leaving fewer low mileage examples.
Rarities tend to be a safe haven for collectors. That doesn’t just mean limited edition bikes, it can cover technology as well – think, big two strokes or early turbos. A decent RD350, Suzuki RG500 or Bimota V-Due or even Honda CX500 Turbo picked up back in the day would show a serious increase in value now. Two strokes in particular look like a good bet – it is highly unlikely any manufacturer is going to start producing large capacity two stroke road bikes again and these are the kind of bikes that owners want to own to relive their youth.
Limited edition race inspired bikes and homologation specials are probably a safer bet for future increase than most bikes – competition success is a driver for sales and homologation specials combine racing success and rarity. Try and ensure that ‘limited edition’ actually means what it says and that it is not just a set of bodywork stickers on a ‘standard’ model. Look for model variants with special parts for that model – titanium and carbon fibre… It’s too late to pick up a cheap RC30 but the number of low mileage Ducati Desmosedici RRs and Honda RC45s tucked away in garages suggests collectors think these are a solid investment, and limited editions like the Aprilia RSV Haga look set to follow.
What makes a classic motorcycle?
‘Game changers’ often go on to classic status. Often the first iteration of a bike that goes on to achieve great success can become the most desireable. Original 1992 Fireblades, early Hayabusas and R1s are all moving in this direction if you can find clean, original and unmolested examples – a task that becomes harder and harder as the best examples get snapped up by collectors. Look for the best standard bike you can afford, with the closest specification to original.
Design classics also have potential – bikes recognised and acknowledged as ground breaking beauties are a good indication of future classic status. Yes, we are looking at you, Ducati 916. Inevitably the number of good quality examples available declines and the value of those remaining means a good original 916, for example, should be a safe investment – even more so for the rare and limited edition models like the Senna.
Customisation and fashion plays a part too. The humble Honda CX500, once the bike of choice for bike couriers and derided as the ‘Plastic Maggot’ is now a favourite of bike builders riding the current wave of mid-capacity custom bikes. The result? Good clean unmolested examples are now becoming rare and ever more pricey. Similar effects are at work with Yamaha Viragos and air cooled BMWs – K series bikes are the latest to follow this trend.
Which bikes are a good investment?
So, with the proviso that motorcycle prices can go down as well as up – and motorcycles are designed to be ridden rather than stored away – what are some examples of bikes from the last ten to twenty years that could become future classics?
The first R1 was released back in1998, and was an immediate game changer, aimed at taking the sportsbike crown from arch-rival the Honda Fireblade, released 1992. Yamaha designer Kunihiko Miwa produced a class leading design with 150bhp 177kg – more power than anything else but handled like a 600cc – the original version of a machine that went on to achieve massive success. Prices are still reasonable but climbing; go for an early model with the iconic red and white paint, ideally with the original exhaust and no damage.
Honorable Mention: Yamaha R6. Looks set to rise for the same reasons as its big brother – iconic and class leading performance. Try for a limited edition model like the Kenny Roberts replica with the iconic ‘speed block’ paint.
Made from 1995-2002, the RS250 was a big hit with enthusiasts even then, and quickly developed a loyal following across Europe. Derived from the race winning GP250, this bike ticks all the boxes for a future classic – rising prices for big two strokes are inevitably pulling up prices for smaller models, it has race pedigree and stunning looks even now and it recaptures the youth of many who owned it or lusted after it in the day.
Honorable mention: Aprilia RS125. Beautifully made, with superbike styling aimed at boy racers, it is likely to follow path of the Yamaha FS1E for those wanting the bike of their youth – and we are unlikely to see another mass produced two stroke.
Photo by Hiyotada [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The GSXR K1 was released in 2001 and was another game changer in the litre sportsbike class, dominating the TT and becoming the first inline four to win British Superbike.
Loved by bike media of the time and reputed to be the most-crashed by bike journalists, look for as original and undamaged example as you can find.et an unmolested version
Honorable mention: Suzuki Hayabusa. 1999-2000 example – Still the fastest production bike in the world as almost immediately after launch, manuafacturers agreed on a186mph restriction. Early bikes approached the legendary 200mph and could be modified to go faster. Try and get the original 1999-2000 example in the bronze colour.
Photo by StealthFX [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Many think anything from Ducati is destined to be a future classic. That’s not always the case, but the 999 looks like as safe a bet as any. Following on from the iconic 916, the styling of the 999 divided opinion at the time but now is seen as before its time. And it won three race titles. won three titles. S, SPS and R models are worth big bucks now but the base level Biposto will follow. Parts are easily available and the bike is relatively easy to work on. Buy now.
Honorable mention: Ducati Sport Classic. Back in 2005 no-one wanted retro styling so the Sport Classic sold in relatively low numbers. Now the retro style is hot and so are these bikes. If you can, go for the Paul Smart edition.
The bikes made legendary by Ewen McGregor and Charlie Boorman in The Long Way Round and credited with sparking off the adventure bike category that shows no sign of fading yet – enough to ensure iconic status. There are still decent examples to be had; if possible, go for full ‘Adventure’ specification.
Honorable mention: BMW R1100GS Made from 1994-1999, this is the evolutionary ancestor of the Long Way Round bikes, and a true useable classic. Go for the highest spec available.
The complete ‘all round’ motorcycle, there are still good low mileage examples around with full service history and this model has affection and love from a broad range of bikers over many years.
Honorable mention: Honda RVF400. Beautiful little import race replica with fantastic handling and performance, as still seen on track days around the country. Small but beautifully formed and handles like a 250GP bike, assuring cult status.
Riding the market
Finally, bear in mind classic motorcycles can down as well as up and if you really want a guaranteed return, motorcycles are probably not the way to go. But stock and bonds won’t give you the same pleasure as opening your garage door on a possible future classic. So do as much research as possible, talk to experts and marque authorities, visit classic shows and talk to owners. Good luck!
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