Motorcycles are undeniably cool. Riding one requires skill and bravery to master, and their design is a perfect minimalist blend of form and function. That goes especially for vintage motos, where form and function are met with classic styles and analog charm. For those who only want the look, retro-inspired motorcycles are a huge part of the market — but in many ways they miss the point, foregoing the raw, mechanical nature of the classics for efficiency and optimized performance.
And that’s okay, unless you want the real deal. There’s something to be said about the loud, rumbling and dirty experience that is riding an old motorbike. Sure, the convenience of electric starters and fuel injection are gone, but rejetting carbs and kick-starting your ride is part of the experience. What’s more, older bikes can cost thousands less than their modern counterparts, making them ideal weekend playthings. There’s no shortage of great vintage motorcycles you can get on the cheap, but these five are some of the very best, sporting timeless looks and visceral old-school mechanics.
After the success that was the Honda CB750, Honda wanted to take the same inline-four standard bike formula and downsize it. Honda created the CB350F and CB400F, which technically fulfilled their goals but were criticized for their lack of power, and as such didn’t last long on the market. Honda’s slightly bigger CB550F hit the sweet spot using a four-cylinder SOHC engine and front disc brakes like in the CB750, but weighed in at around 60 pounds less than the CB750, making the CB550 a better-handling bike.
Years Built: 1974 to 1978
Engine: 544cc inline-four
Expect to Pay: $2,500 to $5,000
The core of BMW Motorrad’s offerings in the 1970s was its standard line of air-cooled boxer engine R bikes, which eventually gave birth to the R100RS and R80 G/S — arguably the world’s first sport tourer and adventure bike, respectively. But those original standards are something to behold, with handsome, classic lines and a relatively bulletproof engine. In R75 guise (from the early “slash five” bikes all the way to the final “slash seven” version) you get BMW’s biggest version of the boxer twin (from that era) that could hit 110 mph.
Years Built: 1970 to 1977
Engine: 749cc boxer twin
Expect to Pay: $3,500 to $8,000
Triumph developed the Trident (also sold as the BSA Rocket 3) specifically for the US market. In lieu of the company’s parallel twin engines it added a third cylinder, which made it smoother overall and gave it 58 horsepower to play with. Despite the new engine the Trident and Rocket 3 were not sales hits, and only around 27,000 were made over their entire run.
Years Built: 1968 to 1975
Engine: 740cc triple
Expect to Pay: $4,500 to $8,000
Moto Guzzi Ambassador 750
The Moto Guzzi Ambassador is somewhat difficult to find, but it’s one of the most affordable vintage Italian bikes you can get your hands on. It is essentially a more powerful, cruising-oriented version of the original V7 that adds a cushy seat, electric start (it was the first production bike to feature this without the addition of a kick-start) a long 57.5-inch wheelbase and handlebars set closer to the rider. It was a big hit with the American buying public that wanted the attributes of an American cruiser with the style of a European standard.
Years Built: 1968 to 1972
Engine: 757cc V-twin
Expect to Pay: $2,500 to $7,000
Suzuki’s first four-stroke motorcycle was called “the quickest and best-handling 750 on the market” by Cycle World when it was released in the mid-’70s. As such, higher-output versions of the GS became highly successful in racing, winning events like the Suzuka 8 Hours and AMA Superbike Championship. From its introduction in the mid-’70s to the early ’80s the GS750 remained a standard-style bike, but in 1983, with the induction of the ES model, the GS750 became a fairing-clad sports bike and would eventually become the platform for the GSX.
Years Built: 1976 to 1987
Engine: 748cc inline-four
Expect to Pay: $2,500 to $6,000