The unique allure of Classic Bikes

For decades it seemed the bike world was the domain of fast Japanese machines with the occasional exception of BMWs and Aprilias, but then came a revival of classically-inspired bike manufacturers – and with it a new blend of retro charm that has revived some of the most legendary names in the industry.

From the earliest, rather clumsy models to the sleek two-wheeled beasts of today, there has been a progression that has lasted for a little over a century. The classic period when some of the most iconic and visually pleasing motorbikes were styled and engineered arguably started a little before the Second World War and lasted into the 1970s, eventually losing out to the more practical looks and mass manufacturing processes of Japanese brands such as Suzuki, Honda, Yamaha and Kawasaki. But recently, over the past twenty years or so, there has been a renaissance of classically-inspired brands and models that has brought romanticism back to the world of motorcycles.


We regard Ducati as one of the most iconic motorbike brands in the world, and though it will soon celebrate its centenary anniversary, Ducati’s famed reputation for racing machinery was established as late as the 1960s. Today owned by Lamborghini/Audi/VW Group, it continues to produce jaw-droppingly beautiful racing bikes such as the 899 Panigale, named for the brand’s Borgo Panigale factory near Bologna, but now Ducati is also returning to some of its iconic moments with retro-inspired models such as the Sport 1000 and a host of others created by ‘Ducatistas’ such as John Ball and Upcycle. Together, they are reviving the classic days of Italian bike design, when the likes of Laverda, Ducati and MV Agusta ruled the imagination. 


Here is a name intricately related to the British motoring industry that is as iconic for its cars as it is for motorbikes. Sadly, no more Triumph sports cars have been made since the latter eighties, but the bike brand has weathered various storms to have maintained operation since the original founding in 1902. A private investor saved it from Leyland-style collapse in 1982, and by the 1990s Triumph had recaptured its mojo and was producing beautiful models and classically-inspired bikes again, starting with the Daytona and Trophy series, and more recently the Trident. The Bonneville T100 and Street Scrambler, however, form a highpoint in retro bike design, while the Thruxton 1200 is a journey back to the not so distant past and the Bonneville Speedmaster is a thing of beauty with strong American overtones. The Rocket III blends Triumph’s classic traditions with a more contemporary look and feel, but it’s clear that this is one of the greatest classic bike brands of all.

Brixton Motorcycles

Part of the Austrian-based KSR Group, Brixton is a manufacturer that lacks the history of Ducati, Triumph or Harley Davidson, but packs its product line-up with a rich selection of modern yet classic-inspired bikes. From the clean lines of the Felsberg 250 to the more powerful Crossfire 500 and the elegant beauty of the Rayburn 125, the designs may carry retro elements but the technology is very much up to date – making these truly modern bikes with a timeless look and feel. Such is the popularity of the café racer concept right now that KSR has ambitious growth plans in Europe and beyond.

Harley Davidson

Along with Indian, Harley Davidson is the classic of classics, certainly in the USA, where it is nothing less than a true icon. Like Triumph, this legendary brand has survived many a crisis to now celebrate well over 100 years of continuous production. The company’s revival began with the Harley Davidson Fat Boy in the early nineties, a clean take on the chopper concept that proved so popular in the seventies. Since then, classic and ultra-modern models have alternated, but the famous Milwaukee, Wisconsin, brand continues to garner global admiration for its beautifully styled gleaming engines and iconic bike designs, such as that of the Evolution Sportster or the retro-futuristic VRSCA V-Rod – the basis of a loyal global following.

Indian Motorcycle

Founded in 1901, Indian is even a little older than Harley Davidson, and perhaps enjoys even more legendary status, yet unlike its famous American cousin, this manufacturer closed down in 1953 – only to be revived in 1999. Newly returned to life, its models were unabashedly nostalgic in design, harking back to the heyday of the brand, but since earlier models such as the Chief Vintage and the Springfield, Indian has also gone on to produce modern classics, such as the highly impressive Indian Scout – a bike in the finest American tradition, and a perfect example of just why people love retro styled motorbikes so much, whether in authentic guise or packed with the latest technology and capable of meeting modern-looking bikes head on, so to speak.

First published in Essential Magazine


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