Thinking on buying a classical/non standard motorcycle.

I’m thinking on getting a classic motorcycle. Or perhaps some off brand that one would not see on the roads. The problem is I don’t know much, read that as anything, about older motorcycles. Hell I don’t know much about motorcycles at all, at least in who makes what not how to ride silly.

Anyway I’m looking to see who knows what. Maybe see some pics. Hopefully someone may have owned one and knows a bit about them. The Hesketh motorcycles look kind of interesting. And the Brough Superior is one sweet looking machine, but way way way too expensive for me. They are selling, if they even come on the market, for $85,000+. That’s too much, by about 70 grand.

Next I’ve been looking at Nortons and they might be right up my ally. I’ve seen them go for cheap, between 1,000-10,000. I also understand that they still, or until recently, made a rotery engine for Europe.

So what I’m looking for is:

Price, hope to keep it under $15,000. While I will be getting a raise soon 15k is a lot to spend.

Reliablity, yes it’s an old motorcycle but some makes are much better then others. I know they will brake more often, but some will more then others. I would like to do at least some touring on it.

Parts, I will need to be able to get parts, even after market parts so while a really old machine that costs nothing will cost a ton if I have to have parts made.

Power, I will need something that will at least keep up with traffic. Probably something that goes at least 90mph. I can get by on my 600 Shadow quite well, but I don’t want to be run over.

So lets see what someone can come up with. I’ve been looking through my motorcycle books, but only one really has anything about older bikes and they don’t show enough pictures.

Of the classics I have seen, the Nortons are talked about most for reliability and enjoyment. I have never ridden one. Based on the number I have seen, I’d guess there is a decent supply/repair industry in the US.

Have you considered a Royal Enfield ?

I have, but they are not powerful enough. I really don’t want to be on the highways and get run over when the max speed is all of 75 or so. I’m not up for getting run over, especially since I live near some mountains.

You might think about early Japanese classics. Still good bikes, despite thier age. Maybe an early GoldWing, CBX or CB750K. You can find very good CBX’s (which will get you noticed) for well under $10k. Or maybe something like an early Kawaski two-stroke 750. Fast as hell and rare enough to draw attention. Or a Suzuki RE5 rotary. Maybe even think about a 2000 Kawasaki W650. Classic look with modern hardware. I love mine!

You could consider a Ural, but that might not be what you have in mind. I’m shopping for a Sportsman w/sidecar and 2 wheel drive right now.

Nortons, Triumphs, Moto Guzzi, Laverda, Ducati all have some great bikes out of the late 60’s and early 70’s that would fit the bill.

My brother has a really clean Norton for sale, by the way! (But he’s way out here on the west coast)

Depends upon age.

If you want reliability and want to go to say the early 1970’s then I would recommend you look for a Laverda 750S, but if you want more power then the 750SFC is better.
You can pick up the SS for reasonable money but good SFC’s are very much collectors territory.
The crank is very strong and well up to over 100k miles, the top ends are reputed to be good for over 60k.
I would not advise looking for a Laverda Jota, there are lots of dogs dressed up as prime meat, lots of conversions of the later RG version , its a bit shark infested and anyway, you need to be 6foot or more to ride one easily and they vibrate fiercely, lots of primitive power though.
The Laverda Montuic was fast furious, handled very well but they tend to have been thrashed, good fun apparently.

Good bikes of this age might be the Honda 400 four, good looking and very reliable, or maybe the early SOHC CB750, just don’t expect modern braking!

If you need more than 75 on a continuous basis then very few machines prior to 1965 will do this reliably, unless you get various conversions to improve bearings, oilways, oil filters and the like.
although I know of UK companies this would not be much use to you, but there will be such places in the US.
You could look for say a Triumph 120R of perhaps a even 140V or best of all 150V or 160V Trident but it is not too easy to get even doggy ones at sensible money these days.The Triumph Tridents really are good for the sort of pace you appear to require.

BTW, they do not have to leak oil, strip down the crankcases and level them using engineers blue, and reassemble using decent gasket compound and the leaks will dissapper.

I would avoid the BSA Goldstar, much too expensive for anything half way decent and hellish vibratory unless you can afford to get it stripped right down and have the crank, con rods and pistons dynamically balanced in one lump.You aslo need to carry a rnage of spanners with you as they tend to shake things loose.

Norton tried so hard but never quite hit the mark, they tend to shake a lot, but the rubber mountings on the Commando eased the problem. The rotaries are plenty fast enough, they can get hot and the fuel consumtion is fairly high, around 20 mpg if you give it a fistful.
The rotaries are heavy but extremely smooth.Fast becoming a collector only market ie costly.

Moto Morini 3and a half, nice looking thing and said to be usefully fast and reliable, go for as late a bike as you can, don’t bother with the 500cc version though.

Early 1960’s BMWs - Tyr for a BMW R60 or R100. fast for their day, agricultural gearbox but very reliable.

I would consider 70’s Kawasakis or maybe a Suzuki o the GS series, virtually bomb proof and plenty fast enough.

If you are doing the work on it yourelf then two-strokes are the way to go, Yamaha RD series probably are the best bet, the RD400 being the ultimate, lots of speed and torque, reliable easy to work on with very simpke engines, or perhaps the slightly later RDLC Yamaha hooligans, the 350 has a cult following and deservedly so., loads of bits available and loads of expertise around too.

There are plenty of other good 2-strokes but these were in my opinion the best.

I am involved in the classic British bike scene and I have been for over 20 years and I am in the industry so I might be able to help. Any of the “big 3” (Norton, Triumph or BSA) are supported very well as far as parts go, I suggest joining an owners club (or 3) as they are a big help. Buying parts from overseas is simple and painless so even if you have to deal with the U.K. it’s no big deal. Reliability has gotten very good in the last few years with advances in electronics and such (ALL of the odd old Lucas electrics can be easily replaced with a small solid state box for instance). $7000.00 will buy you almost any NOR/TRI/BSA in “as new” condition. My suggestions are as follows:

Go to the local “stop and rob” store that sells “Auto Trader” magazine and look for “Walnecks classic cycle trader” (it has a colored cover as opposed to being newsprint looking) and you will be shocked at what you will find for sale.

Look around, you would be surprised where we are hiding (try the 'net or the phone book).

The Northeast U.S. was always the hot market for Brit bikes, prices are higher but the bikes are generally cleaner (short riding season), bikes went there and California in big numbers.

Go to a web forum (I prefer and ask questions, we love to “kick virtual tires”.

Beware of ripoffs!!!, there are a bunch of “shady dealers” in this world!!!

if you have any questions for me feel free to email me,, my collection (right now) consists of:
1966 BSA A65H, being built into a cafe racer
1953 Triumph TRW, being restored as an RAF dispatch bike
1936 BMW R2, on the back burner as prewar BMW parts can be hard to come by.


I’ve never ridden a British bike, but I’ve always liked the Royal Enfield Bullet (made in India). Slow, but I think there are performance upgrades available. And a brand-new one will set you back only about four kilobucks.

When I was a kid, I wanted a Norton 850 Commando “when I grew up”. (Actually, I’ve never grown up. I am Peter Pan!) I’ve heard people have problems with Nortons. casdave or unclviny is a better resource than I.

Another bike that I like is the 1969 Honda CB750four. IMO, it’s The Bike That Changed the World (of motorcycling). I wouldn’t mind having a 1960-1971.

I always notice the CBX! In-line six. “King Billy” road one in George Romero’s Knightriders (1980).

I forgot about the trader mags. I haven’t looked at one of those in a long time. The price on the Norton sound right up my ally too. Hell I could have 3 bikes by next spring, then all I need to get is a sport bike and I could have a whole harem of bikes. :smiley:

So how much different are the older Brit bikes? I know that some older bikes I wouldn’t know how to ride the damn thing. Knew a guy with a 46? Indian, the throttle was on the left, and I thought he said there was an advancer on the right. Or something strange like that.

unclviny, I will probably be sending you an email later on. It’ll be good to have someone who knows a lot more than me.

This would be a good thing. You could have a reliable new Japanese bike for freeway riding, and a classic to have fun riding on the weekends.

I still use my 1994 Yamaha XJ600 Seca II for commuting, but I change it up by riding the new [url=“”] about half the time. It would be great to have a Royal Enfield Bullet for fun-rides around town. And a '69-'71 Honda CB750four. Oh, and if I could get another '76 Yamaha 250 Enduro like I used to have, or a 400 of the same year, that would be nice too. And how could I forget an older mid-'80s sportbike? I’m thinking the 1986 Yamaha FZ600R or 1000. Yeah, that’s the ticket. And an FJ1200, since I liked that one. Oh, and a Ducati just because they have the prettiest engines. I suppose I’d better have a Harley too, although I don’t much care for them; just to round out the collection. Jeez, I need a mid-1960s Honda 350. I don’t remember the name, but it was silver and chrome. And a Yamaha of similar vintage. Oh, and… :smiley:

That should have been: “the new R1

Anyway, I’d have a dozen bikes if I had the space to keep them. And I’d ride them all, too.

I used to own a 1968 Moto Guzzi Ambassador V7. It was a little slow and pokey, but fairly rare, extremely elegant, and exceptionaly reliable. This was more than 10 years ago, so I don’t know who easy it is to find parts for them anymore, but it was a very sweet ride, and a great conversation starter. Lots of folks, especially cops and firemen, would come up to me to talk about the bike.