While many classic cars are undoubtedly expensive, there are still some affordable ones out there. And the same applies to classic motorcycles. For every high-dollar Crocker or sand-cast CB750, there’s a vintage bike fit for a more modest budget. And the selection might be more varied than some think.
But what makes a specific classic motorcycle ‘affordable’ or not? Naturally, that term varies from person to person. However, the guide below is compiled based on a specific criterium. Here, an affordable vintage motorcycle is at least 25 years old that Hagerty values at $10,000 or less in good-to-excellent condition. Such a motorcycle is generally solid enough to regularly ride, without being overly pristine. And 25 years is the general cut-off for whether a car or motorcycle is a classic.
An affordable classic Ducati or Moto Guzzi motorcycle? It’s not impossible
A new Ducati like the Panigale V4 is fairly pricey, so a vintage one should be, too, right? Not necessarily. True, icons like the 916 tend to blow past our self-imposed $10K limit. However, some classic Ducati motorcycles are noticeably more affordable.
One notable example is the 900 SuperSport, aka the 900SS. While the name originally belonged to a racer replica, in 1991 the 900SS became a sport-touring bike. However, while that made it easier to live with daily, Ducati didn’t forget the ‘sport’ part, Cycle World says. A 1991-1997 Ducati 900 SuperSport is both all-day comfortable and great fun when the road starts twisting. And you get the classic Ducati motorcycle touches—trellis frame, air-cooled L-twin, dry clutch—at an affordable price. Hagerty says a good-to-excellent example typically costs $6000-$8500.
Speaking of a trellis frame, there’s another well-known Ducati motorcycle that just became a classic: the Monster. While the 2021 Monster looks more like a mini Panigale, the 1993 M900 became a style icon with its bare trellis frame. Technically a cost-saving measure, it helped the Monster kick off the naked bike segment and become arguably the single best-selling Ducati. And today, even a pristine early Ducati Monster M900—which has a 900SS engine—only costs about $7K, Hagerty reports.
Ducatis aren’t your only choices for reasonably-priced vintage Italian motorcycles, though. While a classic Moto Guzzi V7 is above our $10K limit, its ‘follow-up,’ the Ambassador V750, isn’t. A contemporary rival for the Honda CB750, the Ambassador was designed to appeal to the American buyers, with a greater focus on touring. And with its stability, comfortable ergonomics, and torquey V-twin, it was very successful in that regard, Motorcycle Classics notes. Plus, it was the first production bike to come exclusively with an electric starter—no kickstarter here. All this today should cost you at most $9400, Hagerty says.
Some vintage BMW motorcycles are still affordable
In recent years, classic BMW motorcycles have appreciated strongly, especially bikes built in or before the mid-1960s. However, there are still several vintage two-wheeled BMWs you can regularly find for under $10,000.
Common choices for Beemer buyers on a budget are the /5, /6, and /7 Series, the last of the ‘Airhead’ bikes. Available in a variety of capacities, these motorcycles feature low-maintenance shaft drives, air-cooled boxer twins, and are common bases for custom builds. It’s worth noting that not all Airheads fall within our $10,000 limit, though. The R90S sport-touring bike, for example, as well as the R80 G/S adventure bike, both command higher prices. But an R75/5 or an R65LS serves as an excellent affordable classic motorcycle, Hagerty notes.
Air-cooled models aren’t the only options for vintage BMW motorcycle riders, though. Their successors, the liquid-cooled K Series, also often cost less than $10K. True, the K1 sportbike falls outside of that budget limit. However, even a pristine K100 or K75 rarely costs more than $6000, Hagerty reports.
There are plenty of inexpensive classic Japanese bikes available
Due to its historical significance and popularity with café racer builders, the Honda CB750 isn’t a bargain anymore. And that also goes for one of its chief rivals, the Kawasaki Z1 900. Even late-model Z1s are starting to crest the $20K-$30K mark these days, Hagerty reports. So are iconic ‘80s dirt bikes like the CR250.
But the budget-minded vintage Japanese motorcycle buyer isn’t out of luck just yet. Even if you can’t afford a specific well-known bike, there’s often a cheaper, contemporary alternative.
Can’t stretch to a Honda CBX? The Suzuki GS1100 is more powerful, lighter, handles better, and consistently costs less than $10K, Hagerty says. BMW R90S not in your budget? The first-gen Honda Gold Wing, the GL1000, might be heavier, but it’s more powerful and comfier. And while Suzuki GS750 prices are rising, it’s still a better-handling CB750 rival that you can pick up for $5000.
Speaking of Honda, several of the brand’s classic motorcycles are noticeably more affordable than, say, a CB750. The Trail 125’s vintage ancestors are consistently available for less than $10K. Many CB400F Super Sports are, too. And you too can own one of the most popular motor vehicles ever made, the Super Cub.
Which is the best affordable classic motorcycle?
Although classic motorcycles aren’t necessarily expensive, they’re not as easy to live with as modern bikes. Their maintenance schedules are shorter, for one, while some have carburetors and drum brakes rather than fuel injectors and discs. And there’s always the chance that some old part will call it quits.
As a result, it’s difficult to say which vintage bike is the best in terms of daily rideability. And that’s before getting into what kind of bike is best to ride. That depends on your level of experience, personal comfort, and intended use. You wouldn’t buy a classic Gold Wing to go off-roading, for example.
But there are some general guidelines for picking the ‘best’ affordable classic motorcycle. First, get the nicest example of the bike you want. That doesn’t necessarily mean a low-mileage model, but rather one with extensive service records and evidence of regular maintenance. Secondly, research what replacement parts and service cost. Just because a vintage bike costs less than $10K upfront doesn’t mean the maintenance will be cheap, especially if you have to visit a mechanic regularly.
Finally, buy a classic motorcycle that you’ll enjoy riding. Bikes that sit in climate-controlled garages suffer slow deaths by decay. So, when you’re budgeting for your bike, make sure you include plenty of riding time.
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