They are equal parts simple and complex, a mechanical interpretation of form meeting function with attitude to spare. Many of today’s riders are discovering the daily comfort and riding ease that comes from bikes with tinier engines and tidier dimensions.
Here are some of the most popular bikes, big and small, that provide serious bang for your buck right now.
1. Honda CB77
The CB77, or Superhawk, is sportbike genesis for Honda. The 305cc parallel twin powering the CB77 could freely rev to nine grand and easily send riders over the ton (100 MPH) set by the British big twins. It was the Honda’s reliability, however, that established and cemented the Japanese manufacturer’s reputation in the Western world.
2. Triumph Bonneville
Icons cannot be killed. Production of Triumph motorcycles has ceased three times and yet the Bonneville thrives. Whether it’s an early Triumph Engineering effort, a Norton Villiers Triton, a Devon Bonnie or a new model from Hinckley, the Bonneville oozes cool from every angle.
3. Honda CB750
In 1969, Honda introduced the masses to the transverse-mounted, inline-four cylinder engine. Credited as being one of the first true “superbikes”, the CB750 was the game-changing result of Soichiro Honda’s obsession with cracking the American market. Delivering incredible bang for the buck, the CB750 could smoothly and comfortably top 120 MPH thanks to its race proven inline-four layout. Front-mounted disc brakes were another mainstream first that revolutionized the motorcycle market.
4. Kawasaki Z1
Known internally as project “T103” and “New York Steak”, the Z1 was Kawasaki’s bigger, faster answer to Honda’s CB750. In fact, when Honda revealed their iconic CB in 1968, Kawasaki scrapped their almost ready for prime-time 750cc effort and declared a power war on the superbike world.
5. Harley-Davidson XR750
Essentially a parts-bin special slapped together to meet changing AMA dirt-track rules, the XR750 is an example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. After years of domination, Harley’s racing department were forced to completely rethink their efforts for the 1970 season.
6. BSA Goldstar Clubman
The Gold Star was a pin awarded to riders able to lap the Brooklands circuit at an average speed north of 100 MPH. In 1937 Wal Handley came out of retirement, hopped on a BSA, recorded a lap speed of 107.5 mph and the BSA Goldstar was born. To back the new nomenclature now emblazoned on their tanks, BSA dedicated their efforts and dominated the Clubman TT up until it ended in 1956.
7. Moto Guzzi LeMans
Powered by a low-tech lump mated to a car-type transmission, the shaft-driven Moto Guzzi LeMans often felt like two different animals. Lethargic and twitchy at low revs, the bike had serious frame twisting when riders got on the throttle — making corner exists a dicey affair.
8. Norton Commando
So successful were the Norton Commando race bikes that the term “unapproachable Norton” was coined in pit row. Interestingly though, what made the Nortons so tough on the track was how approachable they actually were.
9. Ducati 900SS
Hungry to nibble at the Japanese-dominated supersport market of the ’70s, Ducati developed the 864cc “square case” powered 900 Super Sport. Resembling the formidable 750 SS that Paul Smart rode to victory in Imola, the bigger Desmodromic L-twin was an immediate success.
10. 1950 Norton Manx
Norton motorcycles and the Isle of Man TT go together like strawberries and Devon Cream. Having competed in every Tourist Trophy race since its inception (1907), Norton made the race their raison d’etre.
11. Ducati PS1000LE
Built to commemorate Paul Smart’s first place finish in Imola on his 1972 Ducati 750SS, the Ducati PS1000LE is the prettiest possible way to pay anyone respect. Built around their Sport Classic series, the Paul Smart model took Pierre Terblanche’s design to a new level.
12. Brough Superior SS100
So exacting was the individual tailoring of each Brough Superior SS100 that they gained explicit permission to be dubbed the “Rolls-Royce of motorcycles”. A marvel of craftsmanship and engineering, each SS100 was guaranteed to hit 100 MPH — no great feat by today’s standards, but this was in 1924.
13. Royal Enfield Bullet
The Royal Enfield Bullet currently enjoys the world’s longest production run with 83 years under its fenders. That alone warrants iconic recognition. The first Bullet was fired in the land of Tea ‘n Crumpets in 1931 and featured an overhead valve, single-cylinder 350cc motor that soon found itself enlisted for the British Army and Royal Air Force.
14. 1940 Indian Chief
Crafted for the first time with a sprung frame, the ‘40 Indian Chief perked ears by easily outperforming Milwaukee’s finest with regard to ride and handling. It was, however the debut of Indian’s trademark fenders that really set tongues wagging.
15. 1937 Triumph Speed Twin
Edward Turner’s Triumph Speed Twin could be one of the most influential motorcycles ever designed. The 500cc parallel-twin packed more power into a package that was lighter and narrower than the current crop of single-cylinder thumpers.
16. 1923 BMW R32
After the war, German aircraft manufacturing was grounded and BMW found themselves in search of purpose. Five years before they would begin building Ultimate Driving Machines, Bayerische Motoren Werke would build motorcycles. In 1923, engineer Max Friz designed what would go on to epitomize BMW Motorrad: The R32.
17. Ariel Square Four
Prior to revolutionizing British big-twins at Triumph, Edward Turner developed an incredible new concept for a four-cylinder motor. A monobloc of two parallel-twins grafted together that shared a common crankshaft, the Square Four engine was unlike anything before it.
18. BMW R60/2
On the market for thirteen years, the R60 was BMW’s go anywhere, do anything tourer of the 1960s. Originally designed for sidecar duty, the combination of a punchy flat twin and an Earle’s fork design made it an incredibly capable bike both on- and off-road.
19. Harley Davidson Sportster
The Sportster is the best selling bike branded with the Bar and Shield and has been on the market since 1957. Originally intended for flat-track racing, the fast and nimble Sporty found favor with riders seeking speed over the comforts usually afforded by Milwaukee’s finest.
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20. Honda Gold Wing
You may not believe that the Honda Gold Wing started life without fairings or saddlebags, but it did. Since its spartan beginnings, however, the Gold Wing has gone on to become one of the most luxuriously appointed and recognizable bikes in the world.
21. Confederate R131 Fighter
The designers at Confederate Motorcycles don’t mess around. Straddling the line between kinetic sculptures and mechanized, apocalyptic “horses”, their bikes are what Satan would ride if he had the balls. Case in point, the Confederate R131 Fighter.
22. 2002 Harley-Davidson VRSCA
Harley-Davidson’s decision to buck 99 years of tradition and turn to liquid-cooled technology for the V-Rod was met with mixed reviews. Some embraced the forward thinking and extra grunt that rad’s afforded while others scowled and kept on keepin’ on. In our eyes, the V-Rod looks like a muscle-bound thug in a sharkskin suit, and it has the power to back it up.
23. Harley-Davidson WL
Harley Davidson is synonymous with the V-Twin engine. Knuckleheads, Panheads and Shovelheads: all of them are early iterations of the Motor Company’s continued dedication to the ubiquitous 45-degree power plant. But it was their Flathead-powered WL bike that cemented the Bar and Shield’s cultural status, both at home and abroad.
24. Honda Shadow VT1100
Visions of a low-slung gunfighter seat, retro styling and torquey V-twin usually set tongues wagging about Milwaukee. The Honda Shadow VT1100 may have aped the Wide Glide’s good looks, but its shaft drive and off-key exhaust note are a dead giveaway.
25. Honda Rune
The Honda Rune is an example of that rare occasion when accountants aren’t invited to a product development meeting. At 69 inches between contact patches, the Rune was huge — and in the Candy Black Cherry color scheme, beautiful too.
26. Britten V1000
Twenty years ago, New Zealander John Britten and his buddies set out to build a superbike in their garage. Britten even designed and built the engine. When they were done, they had a carbon-fiber bike that went on to win the New Zealand Grand Prix title and the Battle of the Twins at Daytona.
27. Honda NR
What’s this? A chunky 916 wrapped around the most fascinating engine ever built? The NR was a roadgoing homage to Honda’s oval-piston “New Racing” series of bikes that had started in the late 70’s.
28. RSD CR500 Super Single
The life of Roland Sands has been saturated with motorcycles. He rode a dirtbike at age five, worked at a motorcycle fabrication shop as a teen, and thewent on to become a professional roadracer.
29. Honda RC30
The RC30 was a homologation bike for the World Superbike series, but instantly became an object of desire for more than racers. It looked so delicate and fragile until it was turned on.
30. Aprilia RS250
A few street-legal RS250s have been brought into the U.S., and they’re quick. The little 250 makes 240bhp/liter, and specific output unmatched by anything else on this list.