Affordable Classic Motorcycles

Is there a difference between a "collectible motorcycle" and an "affordable classic?" Well, if there wasn't one before, I'll make a distinction right now. Let's see if you agree.

A collectible motorcycle is one where the buyer is looking at the bike and seeing dollar signs (or euros or whatever your currency) and deciding to buy or not based on whether he sees a huge profit. Whether it's rideable or even running makes no difference, whether he likes the bike personally isn't a factor, he checks his sheet and sees how many there are and what the trend for this bike is and that's it. Upward trend, it's a buy. Downward trend, he'll pass.

An affordable classic, on the other hand, is a bike the buyer likes. He likes the look, he likes the sound, he remembers the era, perhaps his own childhood or first motorcycle, and based on the condition of the bike and the dollars he has to work with, purchase plus any repairs necessary, he decides to buy or not. It's like buying a piece of art but one that actually runs and moves and transports the rider in time. Over the years the bike may appreciate in price, it may not, but it doesn't matter because his investment dividend is the pleasure of being able to see it in his garage, hear it start and ride it on the weekends. If you like machinery, strolling down to the garage on a winter evening, adult beverage in hand, rolling off the cover and just looking at the bike brings a smile. In the warmer months, on a nice evening or an early Sunday morning, the classic is fired up and the world becomes a nicer place as you and the machine become one as the designer intended.

A collector needs to know the market, what's hot, what's undiscovered and who bought what last month. The classic buyer just needs to know himself. A collector moves in a more frenzied world trying to get there before anyone else and throwing money at auction bikes to be sure he locks up that prize winner. The classic buyer takes a longer view, he's not chasing anything, ... he's seeking.

A collectible is a motorcycle the smart people agree on, like the latest Hollywood celebrity, it's hot. An affordable classic may not be on anyone's "A list" but the buyer knows what he wants and why he wants it which means he may be one of few to admire it.

A collectible tends to show up, ... well, in collections or museums. An affordable classic tends to show up on bike night or in the burger joint parking lot or on some back country roads.

Park the collectible next to the classic and hide in the crowd listening to comments. Many will remark about the collectible's value and how rare it is and the one that sold last month for some ridiculous price. The smaller crowd around the classic will more often be smiling, the comments will be about when they saw one for the first time, reliving an earlier period when they owned one. Someone will comment about the way it looks and compare it to today's bikes. They might recall the old dealer across town who sold them new. No one will mention money.

Then one day, the classic shows up on some collector's hot sheet. The crowds move in, the buzz gets louder and the opportunity to sell at a huge profit presents itself to the classic owner. What to do? The ebb and flow of collector tastes may make this a short lived phenomenon and if missed may not come again for years, if ever. You could count the dollars and admire that empty space in the garage or maybe those dollars will buy you something else. Hmm ... decisions, decisions.

The difference between a collectible and an affordable classic is really in the buyer's mind. Your classic may at times be on the collector hot sheets but what's important is whether it's on your mind because of the hot sheets and you might want to know that before you go looking for your classic.

The Kneeslider: Collectible Motorcycles


  1. mark says

    Perfect example of a collectible bike: Vincent Black Lightning.
    Perfect example of a classic bike: Honda CB750, or Triumph Bonneville, or any similar bike where you can find fully restored examples selling for around the same price as (and sometimes less than) a similar brand-new modern bike.

  2. TriumphGuy says

    You raise a really good point with this article as well as the others you have put out about collector mania. You see the same thing in the guitar industry. Classic this and Re issue that. Hell, there is even a new $20,000.00 Rickenbacker bass at Ed Roman’s in Las Vegas. With the two wheelers, you have a range of very good choices out there, granted I will never understand why the suits in BMW let the R1200C die off. Why the folks at Honda killed off the Valkyrie(before it morphed into some glittering monstrosity that looked like it came out of upper New York State) is another question to be pondered too. These were both solidly made serviceable cruisers built to be serviced and to last, but that’s another story. Just like bikes, many of these guitars will never be heard. They will be just looked at, put under glass, as if the trend were to have your own personal museum. Perhaps it’s just an extension of consumer culture. Ah well, I have amassed a small guitar collection over the years, so I suppose I am guilty too. I’ve just one bike though, a Rocket III, and it has 9k on it since I bought it last August.

  3. Keith, Indy says

    The first (and possibly last) group ride I did, I had a lot of good comments about my 72 Suzuki T500. And so far, fixing it up hasn’t cost more then $1000 (including purchase price.)

    I’ll be doing more work, especially getting the engine oil tight, and running fine. But I’m not putting the blood, sweat and tears into it just to see it sit. It’s function is to be ridden, and that’s what it’ll do.

  4. says

    The only thing I’ve learned about anything is that if you like it use it – guns, motorcycles, airplanes,cars what ever. BUT take care of it it might be worth something to somebody later. Some people have more money than good sense.

  5. Jimbo says

    Fantastic article, perfectly presented. Made me want to rush out and add another bike to the two in my garage and brought a smile to my face…