Watson On: Future Classic Motorcycles

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Watson On: Future Classics

At this time of the year I get bombarded with auction catalogs for up and coming sales of some truly fantastic motorcycles. There’s so much to choose from it’s hard to know where to start daydreaming. Maybe it should be a Brough Superior or a 1950s Manx Norton that actually raced, or a Coventry Eagle Flying 8 or perhaps a Vincent Black Shadow.

The problem is, I’d really like to have all of these in my garage but they go under the auctioneer’s hammer for outrageous sums of money. We’re not talking tens of thousands of dollars here but hundreds of thousands.

I’d have to sell the house, all our furniture, my wife and son and I’d still not have enough to put down a decent deposit on any one of these.

So it got me thinking that maybe the best place to start looking for a classic bike is actually staring me in the face. Maybe I should consider one that’s been made in the past 10 years that could have the collectors scrambling over themselves to buy it in the future.

But the problem for me is identifying which of the bikes in the past decade is going to earn the status of classic and become sought after in the future. A friend of mine who dabbles a bit in classic bike sales tells me that a motorcycle that gets the enthusiasts waving their checkbooks around will usually come from an interesting brand, it will have some technical innovation on it that was considered the best in its day, and maybe also have some interesting racing history. But above all that, it has to be rare.

That’s the thing about old bikes. The really good ones were not made in huge numbers and in some cases just in tens or just hundreds. Many of those have long since disappeared either crashed or scrapped and what’s left is just a handful of rare, valuable bikes.

So what’s going to be a future classic of tomorrow? The first issue I think I face is that motorcycles are now produced in much larger quantities than in the past so the exclusivity factor is not there. Over time that may improve as they too will get crashed, trashed and modified. So eventually you should be left with a few that are original, low mileage examples of great bikes.

Just for starters, a couple of years back a 1999 Yamaha YZF R7 OW02 sold at auction for a shade under $37,000. Admittedly it was brand new, had zero miles and when it was first sold it cost $32,000.

That $5,000 increase is not huge and was no doubt due to the fact this Yamaha had never been ridden. It was also one of 500 race-homologated versions produced by the factory designed to compete in the World Superbike series.

Aprilia RS250
Aprilia RS250

But the interesting thing for me in all of this is that this special Yamaha hadn’t lost any money since it was first sold. What will it be worth in another five years? Will it depreciate dramatically if it’s used or will it continue to rise in value?

My gut feeling tells me that the future classics are going to have to be limited edition, race-derived bikes. Limited edition has got to be just that. Small numbers, something with particularly special engineering parts and materials (think carbon fiber, titanium con rods etc) and probably designed more for the track than road use. Just putting a ‘Limited Edition’ sticker on a bike because it has a fancy color doesn’t cut it with me, or potentially with the collectors of the future.

I may be totally wrong here but I think the Italian motorcycles of the past decade maybe the ones to keep an eye on. What about Aprilia RS250? Produced from 1995 to 2002 in road specification? It was a big hit with enthusiasts and earned a loyal following particularly in Europe. Derived from Aprilia race winning GP250, the RS250 looked good and rode well and I think maybe a future classic in the making.

Ducati Desmosedici
Ducati Desmosedici

Then there’s Ducati. There’s a school of thought even today that every bike that leaves the Bologna factory is destined to be a future classic. But Ducati like every other manufacturer has had to ramp up production in recent years to remain profitable and the exclusivity label is not quite as rare as it once was.

The exception though is the recently launched Panigale  (the 1199 and the 899) both are super high tech, sold in low numbers with incredibly expensive price tags and in the case of 1199 already sold out to collectors worldwide. Prior to this pair, Ducati launched the Desmosedici in 2006. Based on its MotoGP racer, the Desmosedici proved so popular the factory had to increase the original limited edition numbers from 500 to 1500. But I’m not sure that’s going to matter much in the future. The Desmosedici is still a pretty special bike and is going to be a rare and sought after.

What else in the current crop of bikes stands out as a future classic? There’s Honda’s fabulous Fireblade and Suzuki’s GSX-R 1000 and Yamaha’s R6. Are these all destined to be the collector’s bikes of tomorrow? I honestly don’t have the answer but let me know your thoughts in the comments below, as I would really like to start saving now.

  • Archie

    RC51 immediately springs to mind. It’s a bike that’s always held it’s value well and seems to be extremely desirable. Turnover rate on the private second hand market is astonishingly quick, they sell for anywhere between AU$12-15,000 on average within 2 weeks tops.

    • http://www.motopraxis.com/ Aakash

      They seem to go for much less here in the states. Nonetheless, they’ve got quite a cult following. I would love to ride one some day.

  • Alex

    Ducati SportClassic?

    • Ross Logan

      The Sport Classic is a replica of an actual classic bike, the 1970′s 750 Sport.

      • MeatyBeard

        And a lot of them already cost more than what they went for new.

  • Mark D

    GPZ900? First DOCH, 16v water-cooled engine generally available. Fastest bike of the day. Harder and harder to find in good shape.

    http://www.motorstown.com/images/kawasaki-gpz-900-06.jpg

  • Randy Singer

    It’s easy to assume that any bike that was sold in very limited numbers, yet was in great demand, will be collectable and valuable in time. So it is a no-brainer that the Desmosedici will become worth a lot in time. The same with the Honda NR750. Only extremely rich enthusiasts purchased those machines to ride or race them.

    Bikes that were sold in limited numbers, but which weren’t in huge demand when offered new, but which were unusual and attractive for some reason, are also easy to assume that they will valuate. So a Harley Davidson XLCR, or the more modern but similar HD XR1200, are likely to always be collectable and to valuate. I’d guess that even a bike like Honda GB500′s will be highly sought after one day.

    It gets harder to guess what sort of bikes are worth investing in after that, but one can make an educated guess.

    Any motorcycle that many young folks lusted after, but which most found to be out of reach financially, will most likely be valuable several decades later when these same folks are older and in a better financial place. Almost any Ducati fits in here. Most Aprilla’s. Maybe some of Japan’s more unusual high-end bikes, such as any V-4 or non-Goldwing flat-6 Honda.

    Any motorcycle that was generally popular, or which was popular as part of a niche, and well regarded during its time, will likely be valuable (many) decades later if kept in excellent condition. (It will likely be less valuable than bikes in the former categories, though.) These bikes were sold in large numbers, but their owners usually rode them into the ground, or left them out to disintegrate in the elements. For example, a mint condition Honda 305, or any 2-stroke Yamaha 350/400 twin, a Kawasaki 500 triple, or a Honda CB400F are all headed towards becoming valuable collectables. You might have to purchase such a motorcycle as a teenager, keep it in near-perfect condition (or restore it), and sell it late in life, though, for a decent payoff. I wouldn’t be surprised if Suzuki SV650′s and Yamaha FZ-09′s, assuming that they are in great condition, are highly sought after 40 years from now.

    • E Brown

      ^This (last paragraph). There are still reasonably-priced old bikes that are on the rise, and I’d sooner snag a CB400F or other early Honda 4-cylinder or Kawi triple than hope to guess right on the new stuff (my top pick, CB450 “Black Bomber”). And for me, those meet the top criteria for collecting anything – buy what you like, so even if it doesn’t appreciate, you’ll enjoy owning it.
      Of more modern fare, my thinking is early Ducati Monster as a sort of Ford Mustang equivalent – popular lust object in its day, something of a game changer (especially for Ducati) and defined its segment even if it didn’t invent it (making my Honda NT650 a Corvair) and though they made tons, as time goes by finding a good original early one gets more and more difficult. It’s the sort of bike guys will want propped up in their office or den thanks to its looks.

  • BigHank53

    Also…why are you wanting a ‘collectible’ bike? The exclusivity? As an investment? Are you going to ride it? Display it? Keep it stashed in Tony Stark’s basement garage/lab? Do you just want an unusual bike?

    I’m not knocking any of these reasons. But collectors can be weird. I have a nice limited-edition fountain pen that I halved the value of by using it. A measurable percentage of Ducatis (especially the limited editions) are
    going straight into collections, never to be ridden. They’re no longer motorcycles: they have become fetishes, ritual objects. Wealthy people will exchange money for them so they can enjoy that feeling of exclusive ownership, of having something nobody else does. (See also Leica and Nikon camera collectors, as well as most of the art world.)

    I actually did not buy a used bike I was offered as a teenager because it was too nice. It was a Suzuki X-6, and the only real sign of age it had was some discoloration on the front brake hub. I would have ruined it.

    Sort your motivations first, and you’ll be a lot happier with whatever you do collect.

    • Jack Meoph

      Unless you’re rich and have a place to store them, collecting bikes, for any reason, is a waste of time and money. I’ve had up to 5 bikes in my garage, (I’ve got 3 in there now) and I ride the newest one the most, always. I can’t afford to collect anything but Hotwheels. But I can afford to buy a new bike now and again when I see something that stirs the passion. And I will never buy any MC that I’m not going to ride. Even if I did become rich (highly unlikely) I wouldn’t collect …… anything.

      When I was young, the cars we drove were used Mustangs, Cameros, Chargers, Barracudas etc. that everyone is now paying out the nose for. The only reason is that they couldn’t afford to drive them when they were young, and now that they have a bit of cash they’re buying them up just to possess them. I can tell you for a fact, because I drove them, they are mechanical trash compared to today’s cars. I do things in my Mazda 6 sedan that I never would have attempted in my ’69 Dodge Charger. Yet people pay obscene amounts of money for these relics just to have them sit in some warehouse. Sure, a few should be in car museums, but most were nothing more than what cars are today, mass produced transportation.

    • Davidabl2

      “Sort your motivations first, and you’ll be a lot happier” -It’s probably also true of just about anything else you might do…

    • The Motorcycle Broker

      I agree. I am now selling all of my motorcycles I can’t or don’t ride, because it feels wrong. These machines are incredible investments and they are protection against inflation and the malpractice of banks, but I do want machines I can ride- even though we have biblical floods here in the UK.

  • DucMan

    RC51. Yep. Mine has signatures from both Nicky Hayden AND Colin Edwards on her. Noise, Poise, Pose, and Goes. Classic.

  • ThinkingInImages

    “Classic” can mean so many things. Even a mass produced motorcycle can become a classic if it survives long enough intact and original. The first few generations of “naked” Honda Gold Wings comes to mind. There were many other good, but not great, motorcycles that were nothing special, just good workhorses, that a quarter of a century later, are now climbing in price because they were well maintained and not modified. I had two Honda Ascots (FT and VT) and I’m shocked to see how expensive well kept versions are. Both were not popular in the States.

    To my thinking for a motorcycle to hold on to value long enough to be a “classic” there has to be a legitimate story behind it that lasts. It’s not the marketing hype and it’s not always the technology. What makes a new Royal Enfield so attractive to many people? It’s the story, not the technology.

    Here’s an odd perspective: in a quarter of a century I’ll bet there be a market for pristine KLR650′s and Honda Deauville/NT700′s. There’s nothing extraordinary about either of these motorcycles other than the following, the story.

    • Piglet2010

      I expect my Honda Deauville to be rather beat up by that time. Of course, in 25 years people in the US (where Honda sold 17 or so) will still be mistaking it for a Beemer (seriously).

      • ThinkingInImages

        That will be the “story” for the NT700 motorcycle. Odds are it will make it 25 years if you can keep all the plastic intact. It’s got a solid drivetrain, unique, purpose driven, bodywork, it succeeded where the Pacific Coast (and sorry, the DN-01) didn’t. In many ways it reminds me of the CX based Silver Wing. We have precious few purpose built, small displacement, sport tourers.

        When the CX’s came out people were amazed by the technology, just didn’t like the style (more so in the U.S. where we got mostly the ugly models).

        • Piglet2010

          The Deauville may be a success in Europe, but not in the US – only one I have ever seen in real life is my own.

          Agreed about some of the plastic bits having questionable durability, but the rest of bike should go a quarter of a million miles with routine maintenance.

  • Rameses the 2nd

    Are you telling me that my 2013 Triumph Moden Classic Motorcycle is not a true classic? :)

    • http://www.motopraxis.com/ Aakash

      If I were to look into my crystal ball, I’d reckon the earlier (pre-2009) carbureted bikes have the most potential to become classics. Not for many years though.

  • di0genes

    Rarity is not necessarily a factor for future classics. Some bikes deserve to be rare such as the mostly forgotten Yamaha TX750, whereas the Triumph Bonneville outsold its British competitors when new, but today is worth the most of all the British vertical twins, all other things being equal. It wasn’t the best, but it was the prettiest. The Honda CB 750 we used to say were “like opinions, everybody has one” (OK ‘opinions’ was not the word we used) today it is a classic, albeit an affordable one, and again probably worth more than similar but rarer large Japanese bikes of the 70′s. In the car world think 55 56 57 Chevy or Model T best seller then, worth more today than their mostly forgotten peers. The one thing every classic needs to be a classic is that it is memorable, something that began when it was new. Whats the no brainer future classic in todays new bike showroom? Much as I hate to say it, any HD big twin.

    • Davidabl2

      Since they are made in the hundreds of thousands,big twins will not be rare. Not for many decades,anyway. Unless internal-combustion engine motorcycles are outlawed and people are forced to recycle them…

      • Piglet2010

        Especially when people realize that they were sold as a trend, and not due to superior design.

        • Davidabl2

          I am hoping to see the day when they are a cheap,readily available “donor bike”
          for chopping..Though the lack of power problem would need to be addressed.

  • Jason Kritter

    I like Wes’ comment from a couple of years ago: “I’ve been telling people that air-cooled Buells are really going to be remembered well in ten years time. Utterly unique, almost too much character and a story so tragic it’s made grown men cry. American innovation at its best and also at its most thwarted by corporate greed. They’re truly special motorcycles that never quite reached their potential. Buy them now, they’re ridiculously cheap.”

    http://www.bikeexif.com/wes-siler

    • Tim Watson

      Good find…I’m not sure about the haircut Wes had then!

      • Lee Scuppers

        Needs a David Niven moustache.

    • TP

      I agree, I think down the road they will have the same type of appeal that the 30 year old Guzzi’s have got right now, especially once the custom scene starts sinking their teeth into them more.

      • Richard Gozinya

        The tube frame Buells are already popping up on the custom scene. Filippo Barbacane did a really nice one.

    • Kittrelle

      Very much in agreement with this. In particular, I think the very first S1s (CF inner fender, rear) will find a place in big money auctions.

    • gravit8ed

      I’d agree with this. While working in several H-D dealerships as a detailer I’ve had the chance to speak to the techs and customers and they’ve got a real hard-on for these things. One of the guys in the Albuquerque dealership had a tweaked Lightening and that bike was a real screamer. Given the basic v-twin HD design I don’t think it’ll be hard to keep them on the road or in parts, either, although I don’t know much about the ‘third party’ parts scene on them.

      But hey – if you really want a Buell, just go out and buy yourself a Blast, lol. Shouldn’t be too hard to find some cheap used Blasts as the H-D MSC classes used them for the newbs’ training. Even though they’re technically tiny in displacement they’re pretty easy to work on and very light so they can actually be fun around town or even on the track. You didn’t hear that from me, though.

  • http://krtong.com/ Kr Tong

    Everything Japanese is only collected when it’s limited and affordable. Limited edition ducatis that weren’t built to be ridden anyway. FXR’s will be worth a lot since they’re the only Harley worth a damn, oh and anything with parts that say Eric buell racing.

    • Pablo Perez

      VRCR much? The early 00s FXDX has a cult following as well.

      • http://krtong.com/ Kr Tong

        FXDX sure, if you can find them in good condition with low miles. VROD i dont think so, or at least i hope not.

        • Richard Gozinya

          I think he was referring specifically to the VRSCR Street Rod, by all accounts, a nice handling bike, given its size. It of course didn’t sell all that well.

          • Piglet2010

            Yup – Harley-Davidson builds a bike with a modern engine/decent power to weight ratio, a standard riding position, over 40° of lean angle clearance, decent handling and brakes, and the buyers avoid it like the plague and instead buy the obsolete Big-Twin crap at overinflated prices.

        • Davidabl2

          Anything in the VROD family is probably going to be hard to work with for a variety of reasons–at least if you want to chop it, or make a naked bike out of it.

  • DerekB

    Daytona 675r

  • Davidabl2

    Another approach would be to get a bike from one of today’s finest custom bike builders, like Walt Siegl or
    our perennial favorite, Richard”Mule”Pollock.. or one of those guys I”d call “art chopper” builders like Shinya Kimura. Rarity,exclusivity, unusual provenance are all guaranteed, as the bikes are basically hand built. If you get lucky(real lucky) some might appreciate the way big-name modern art has.

    As an actual financial grade investment I think bikes are probably kinda shaky. Example : in 1970 I saw a pretty nice 1954 Vincent Black Shadow in a barn in Oregon..the owner was planning to do a valve job and sell it in S.F. for $1,200 dollars. Probably would be worth 40k today, which sounds like a good “investment.”Except that keeping it for thirty-five years might well have cost you $35,000 ;-(

    • Piglet2010

      I would expect very few custom bikes to increase significantly in value, particularly those that were fad driven (such as all the choppers sold in the previous decade).

      • Davidabl2

        Most customs, much less most choppers, yes. But for the VERY best, it’s another story. You need to see some of these bikes in person to see what I mean. OTOH, the typical built-brand-new-from-catalogs & custom painted Arlen Ness style chopper by a “name ” builder in my area went for forty large in the early ’00′s will sell now for about ten, if a buyer can be found.

  • Lourens Smak

    Benelli Tornado? It ticks many of the “future classic” boxes, I think.

    http://www.motorsbros.com/images/Benelli-Tornado-900-10.jpg

  • Piglet2010

    Um, according to the CPI, $32,000 in 1999 dollars is $43,205.57 in 2011 dollars, so the Yamaha YZF-R7 OW02 lost value.

    http://data.bls.gov/cgi-bin/cpicalc.pl?cost1=32000&year1=1999&year2=2011

  • Dustin Coury

    Echoing others.. RC51

  • runnermatt

    A few bikes I can think of:

    The Yamaha sport tourer with the fancy non-telescopeing front suspension. (can’t presently remember model). Any early electric bikes, especially if the were crap, like the early zero’s with mountain bike parts. Honda DN-01 (someday someone will see them as pretty). Mission RS. Honda Grom will be a classic, but not expensive because they are selling in too large of numbers.

    I’m tired now, it’s late and I moved most of my possessions to another state today. I may revisit this with more suggestions later.

    • Piglet2010

      You are thinking of the Yamaha GTS1000 with hub-center steering: http://dropbears.com/images/motorcycles/yamaha/gts1000a.jpg

      • RyYYZ

        Not actually “hub-centre steering”, which in motorcycling technical parlance means something specific, and different, from this implementation. This is a RADD front end (not sure what Yamaha called it), and its unfortunate that they didn’t develop it further. It was limited by, IIRC, excessive drag in certain bearings which made steering somewhat imprecise, and a lack of handlebar lock.

      • runnermatt

        Yep, that is the one I was thinking of Roadcrafter Nottingham purchased then reviewed one recently. Here is the link (now that I have better internet with which to look it up): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JJF1cyGbpb4

  • grb

    Like Tim suggests, a bike like the R6 which has been around for so long and there are so many of them around, just means that people will feel familiar with it, many will have a story with one, it has won so many races Everywhere, its part of so many motorcycle adventures and moments, people grow fond of it. So over time, when its harder to come by an original well maintained example, I think a bike like this can be a classic, not because it was rare or limited, on the contrary, because its part of their history and so many great moments, so in a more dearly kind of way, like it happens with so many classic cars that have other values to people other than being numbered and expensive… Plus its simply a great design, impo.

    • Piglet2010

      Original super-sports will be hard to come by, since both squids and more serious track riders and racers generally modify them.

      • grb

        exactly, when that starts happening I think it could become some sort of a classic

  • tiredofdummies

    Early suzuki Katana
    BMW K1
    First year Hayabusa (stock)

  • Speedo007

    MT-01

  • Piglet2010

    But are there any motorcycles with the potential to go from 5 to 8 “figures” over 40 years, such as the Ferrari 250GTO has done?

    • Lourens Smak

      That is basically a “real” racing car… very rare, very desirable, and with lots of history attached to it.

      The equivalent bike would be the Britten maybe… Fantastic story, fantastic bike, extremely rare. (10 + 1 prototype) Here is a documentary complete with period-correct synth soundtrack ;-) well worth watching even if you’re already familiar with the Britten story: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m9N1gfLQ–k

  • MeatyBeard

    2006 Ducati SportClassic 1000. These are already going for more than what they cost new.

  • Jorn Bjorn Jorvi

    The distinction between classic and collector bikes is confused here. A classic would be the cb750, the 916 and, in my eyes, the first speed triple 1050s. They’re not particularly rare (though you could argue the 916 is) but they claimed an iconic status and have maintained cult followings since their introductions.

    A future collector bike would be something like a confederate wraith or hellcat.

  • HammSammich

    The Kawasaki ZRX1200R, “Eddie Lawson Replica?” These are getting more difficult to find in good shape, and their style and performance is still pretty attractive, even 8 years after they stopped selling in the US…

  • http://www.DriveTheWheelsOff.com/ Drive The Wheels Off

    1998 Ducati 900SS FE (final edition, black wheels, silver bodywork)

    Moto Guzzi MGS-01 (already is a collector)

    1999 Moto Guzzi V11 Sport (first year of this cool bike. If it has low miles)

    Buell Firebolt (mentioned above already. If it has low miles)

    BMW HP2 Sport

    maybe collectibles…

    1998 Yamaha R1 (low miles. It was the bike that reduced the size of liter bikes)

    Honda Rhune (not for me, but…)

  • Gonfern

    Suzuki GSX-R1000 Commemorative Edition….. Without a doubt. haha

  • deckard
  • Brian

    when it comes to modern classics, I find myself often looking at the raresportbikesforsale.com blog because Dan Crouch and his crew find some obscure and rare and clean oddball examples of some really good ones worthy of consideration!

  • gravit8ed

    I’m not entirely sure why you jumped straight to the late 90′s/early 00′s when discussing ‘future classics’. Bikes from the late 70′s and early 80′s, where tons of new trickery was being introduced that set the whole tone of the next few decades, those are classics RIGHT NOW and some of them can be scooped up for a song and a dance. I grabbed my admittedly used ’83 KZ1100A3 for just over $1k and it’s been amazing, and reliable like no car I’ve ever owned.

    For half the price of a new model year bike, and less than some used examples from the last ~15 years, you can grab a ton of awesome stuff from CL or the classifieds and actually ride them without really worrying about taking a hit in value. I’m about to drop 3x as much as I paid for my KZ in a rebuild and refresh, but that’ll get me another 25,000 down the road for far less than a new bike would cost. Then again, I’m not exactly flush with cash so I’m not exactly what most people would think of as a collector, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a good idea of what future classics represent.

  • The Motorcycle Broker

    The Ducatis are definitely the Brough Superiors of the future. As the classic motorcycle market is expanding with the generation of RD250 and FS1E riders from the 1970′s, so too are the Honda CBX1000s. This market will explode as the Chinese allow motorcycles to be imported again, as they stopped such imports in 1997 or 1998 to stimulate their home market manufacturers. That’s why eighteen months ago, I bought a brand new Ducati 996 SPS, unregistered and the number is 000- first off the production line.