The very first motorcycle can be traced all the way back to an early bicycle enthusiast, Louis-Guillame Perraux. Perraux took what Pierre Michaux and James Starley had done with the bicycle, and added a single-piston steam engine to his Michaux Velocipede. This first “motorcycle” was invented in 1867.
Nearly 150 years later, the motorcycle industry has exploded and become a major form of roadway travel. Motorcycles are a significant hobby and are collected by enthusiasts everywhere. There are subcultures that align themselves with different bikes, brands and styles all over the world
Some collectors pride themselves on finding the oldest and rarest bikes, like this set of Harley Davidson early 1900’s bikes that are estimated to sell for around $50,000 apiece. It is not unheard of for an extremely rare bike to sell for over 1 million dollars! Other collectors prefer to have the newest and best, always upgrading for bigger and better bikes. We believe there is something valuable about the older bikes; vintage bikes bring history with them that upgrades and shiny chrome detail can’t compete with.
A number of factors can make a bike more valuable:
How old is the bike? General consensus is that any bike older than 1974 is considered to be “vintage”.
Did it belong to, or was it associated with someone famous? If the bike was ever ridden by a celebrity, or perhaps used in a movie or TV show, it could be worth significantly more money.
How long did a company made a particular bike? The rarer a bike, the more it is potentially worth.
Following are the bikes we rank as the Top 5 Vintage Bikes of All Time:
Indian: In the early 1900’s, there were many inventors trying to perfect the motorized bike. Over 300 manufacturers were able to market a motorcycle of some level. Early bikes were terribly unreliable, but the Indian was not one of those. Quickly entering into competition with Harley-Davidson, Indian released its first Chief motorcycle in 1922. The first Chief was a 1000cc bike, which was followed by a 1200cc bike the next year. Today, Indian motorcycles are still one of the most marketable bikes. Currently, Indian is offering a “throwback” bike that comes in the original vintage style of the early 1900’s favorites.
Triumph: The Triumph motorcycle was highly recognized for its connection with the celebrities of the time. James Dean, Steve McQueen and Bob Dylan all owned a Triumph bike. When those “tough guys” drove a bike, everybody wanted one. Triumph bikes were popular through the 50’s and 60’s. The Bonneville was the most renowned model from this brand.
Harley: Harley-Davidson is undoubtedly the most notable name among motorcycles Enthusiasts of the brand wear the name proudly and boldly. They often have tattoos emblazoned on their bodies, or emblems of the company decorating far more than just a leather jacket! Some of the most popular vintage Harley models are the Flathead, Panhead and Knucklehead. Celebrities such as Malcolm Ford and Clint Eastwood have been seen on Harleys. The 1965 Harley Electra Glide is recognized as the starter bike for the touring culture of motorcycle riders. This bike came fully equipped with an electric starter, a wind screen and saddle bags. These accessories made it easier to pack for longer trips and travel more comfortably.
BMW: The BMW motorcycle is recognized for its engineering and simplicity; it was a bike that made maintenance a job for owners and wowed everyone with the graceful engineering it had between the wheels. This German-engineered bike can still boast of the popularity of their vintage 1973 R90S and R100RS models. BMW’s motorcycle history goes back to 1923. You can view the past 90 years of their history in “90 Years in 90 Seconds”.
Kawasaki: We recognize Kawasaki as the number one vintage motorcycle due to their dedication and specialized design. This Japanese-engineered motorcycle had its heyday in the late 60’s and early 70’s with the ’69 Mach III and the ’73 Z1. These bikes became instant sensations because of the speed they could achieve. Kawasaki bikes could reach speeds similar to the popular muscle cars of the day, but at a fraction of the price. Kawasaki has since expanded into other markets. At the beginning, however, they focused on the motorcycle.
No matter which bike is your favorite...whether on this list or in your garage, we appreciate all vintage motorcycles and their owners. Classic Auto Insurance offers vintage motorcycle insurance for classic bikes older than 25 years. We offer a wide range of antique motorcycle insurance policies covering expenses ranging from modifications and alterations carried out on the vehicle for various reasons, including meeting the requirements for vehicle usage outside of the US. Popular for our prompt customer service and excellent deals, Classic Auto also offers assistance online. Get a free classic car or bike insurance quote instantly!
About the Author
Drew Yagodnik is Vice President of Classic Automobile Insurance Agency, Inc. Classic Automobile Insurance Agency has been protecting collector, classic and exotics since 1992.