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Two Wheel Tuesday: When is a motorcycle old enough to be a classic?

Redusernab February 28, 2012 Two-Wheel Tuesday 20 Comments

What makes a motorcycle a classic?  The definition of a classic motorcycle is different then that of a classic car. For a motorcycle to be a classic it needs to stand out and draw your attention immediately. It needs something that shows it advanced the state of the art. Whether that’s from design or technology.


It seems that the prime time of motorcycle development was during the time of automotive malaise in the seventies and eighties. It was the era of the universal Japanese motorcycle. More importantly it was when the design of several significant motorcycles hit their peak. First was the introduction of the rolling lawn chair in the Honda Goldwing. We saw the beginning of the fully clothed sport bikes and by 1986 you also saw the introduction of the Yamaha V-Max which created the muscle bike category.

So when does the classic era of motorcycles start? Does it start in 1969 with the introduction of the Honda CB750? More importantly, how new can a bike be and be a classic, could it be a 1987 V-Max or a late 80’s Suzuki Katana?

  • Number_Six

    Can't anything become an instant classic, like the Triumph Speed Triple or Ducati 951? The year they came out we knew they were special so we don't need them to age first.

    • Syrax

      And then came the 916.

      • Number_Six

        Precisely. You might appreciate this pic, btw: …

        • Syrax

          I had relatives close to his office building and saw him a few times. Once in a NSX and once in a Nogaro RS2.

    • 951? 851, if you're talking about the first desmoquattro.

      But yes, I think you're correct about instant classics, and the Speed Triple is a good example. The first CB750 would be another. Class-defining machines are instant classics.

      • Number_Six

        I probably meant 851 but was thinking 916 at the same time. It's been one of those days.

  • sam

    I think if a bike is an 85 or older it is a classic motorcycle. I tend to use the word classic quite freely when it pertains to the motorized world. If someone wishes to reserve the term for something a more special than just old I am fine with that. If they don't make um like that anymore it's a classic. I wish there were a couple other words to use that would indicate a level of classic. Like I consider my bronco II a classic or at least a future classic. It is not on the same level as an original bronco.

  • Drum brakes.

    • fodder650

      Sadly you can still get drum brakes on a lot of motorcycles. My previous bike was an 07 Suzuki Boulevard C50 and it had a rear drum on it

  • Slow_Joe_Crow

    The classic car and motorcycle clubs consider anything more than 25 years old "classic". The NHTSA and EPA would seem to agree since imported vehicles over 25 years old do not have to comply with Federal safety and emissions rules. I would certainly consider motorcycles from the 70s and 80s classic since that era encompasses the UJM, the BMW airhead including the early GS that started the "adventure bike" class, the last gasp of British motorcycles, some very good and very bad Italian bikes and the rise of the modern sport bike with the Kawasaki Ninja, Suzuki GSXR etc. and in the US the last of the big two strokes the Yamaha RZ350. Since my special interest is BMW I would also add the K bikes as one of the early large scale uses of EFI and ABS and the 1993 R1100RS also deserves classic status since its Telelever front suspension was the first commercially successful alternative front suspension design. Note the emphasis on commercial success, while the Bimota Tesi predates the R1100RS and the Yamaha GTS1000 was also introduced in 1993, the Bimota was a very expensive limited production exotic and the Yamaha was very poor seller that was discontinued after 3 years.

    • fodder650

      Couldn't have said that better myself. The reason I posed this question really comes down to one bike. The V-Max. Since it's just on that edge of 25 years old but still manages to look modern at the same time

      • Slow_Joe_Crow

        Mr Max is definitely a classic because it remains a unique design with a distinctive image and mystique. Plus some of the scariest stock handling this side of a Kawasaki H2.

    • 1slowvw

      I think you've got the right Idea as well. I own a 1980 CB750F2 and while I consider it retro I certainly don't think it's a classic. In a word it's just too modern for me to view it as a classic. Inline 4 power, disc brakes, reasonable suspension….that combined with the relative commonness of the bike means that it will be another 10 years before I could reasonably call it a classic.

      • fodder650

        Ok my first bike was an 80 CB650 Classic. I would consider it a classic for several reasons that the 1982 wouldn't be. It was a true UJM in it's styling. It looks like a bike of a time long gone. There is nothing on the road that looks like it. Add in those comstock mag wheels and it looks about as much 80's as a line of cocaine does.

        • 1slowvw

          While the F's share the c and k's comstar wheels the straight up seating and feet below you riding stance is all but missing in F's.
          The F bikes were amungst the first to start moving away from the long gone UJM formula towards something more performance oriented.
          I too would consider the c and k bikes to be a classic design but the F's just dont look out of place in a modern line up if you are willing to ignore their size.

  • pj134

    My definition for anything to be considered a "classic" is probably different from everyone else, but here's my thinking. So far as I can tell, a style or a trend almost always dies off before a design from that style/trend's vein. So my definition of a classic is (warning: slightly convoluted) that, foremost, the style/trend that influenced the design has to be no longer valid. The next necessity is that the product is discontinued. Please note that one year runs don't count because of my first requirement. My final requirement, is that, at the very least, you can appreciate the design. For the most part the design should be mostly or entirely desirable. When appreciation of the item in question comes full circle, it has attained the status of classic. Usually you need to get yourself several years or possibly decades of separation for something to catch your eye again (or in some cases, for the painful memories to end), but there are instant classics, like the ones mentioned above. There is no way in my mind to define a timeline, and one person's classic can be another person's giant hunk of eye searing shit.

  • The definition of a classic is about as fluid as quicksilver and as hard to describe. Like pornography, it's hard to define, but you know it when you see it. You could go with a specific example being 25 years old, but we can all think of junk that's that old which will never be considered classic, even at the Concours De LeMons, or maybe only there. How about 25 years ago, what we considered junk back then is classic now? Not necessarily. Hell, in the eighties, I had a '74 Norton Commando that was only about ten years old, and that was a full-on classic then, and wherever it is, it's still a classic. While I still had that bike, people started giving me '71 Honda 350 twins. Yes, dumping them on me because they knew I liked them, and they had one that they wanted out of the yard or garage or whatever. I had three of them at one point, a CB, an SL, and a CL. I got two of them running, rode one for years. I had fun riding the little rodents around, but I didn't consider them classic until I saw a bunch of them being raced in Park City at the vintage bike road race there in 1999. Funny, I had what was generally considered a disposable, unloved bike that became a classic and I wasn't aware of the fact, even while I owned the poor little bastard.

  • paul

    would you class a yamaha fz 600 2hw 1988 a classic i have lots trouble finding parts for it chees paul

  • jeff holme

    IS MY 1972 MOBYLETTE SP93 SPORTS MODEL MOPED A CLASSIC OR HISTORIC VEHICLE ? Many Thanks Jeff..

  • Luke Whelan

    Was just wondering if my 1989 gsxr 1100 slingshot is a classic? Thanks Luke..

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