The retro theme for motorcycles has been around for a long time, so perhaps it’s true that you will never go out of style if you start with a vintage style that is already old.
Can you really go timeless by going old school? The following are a few of the retro hip motorcycles produced in the last 20 years that still look good because they never gave in to modern fashions. There is a reason why BMW has the rNineT, Triumph the new Bonneville, Yamaha’s XSR900 and these bikes prove the point.
Ducati Sport 1000S
Before embracing hipster retro with the Scrambler, Ducati reveled in its racing heritage with a brief Sport Classics line. There were the GT1000, a Sport 1000 and a Paul Smart limited edition but our favourite is the straight up—or in this case hunched right over—1000S, which added a fairing that truly made the bike’s retro panache. Power was provided by a 91-hp air-cooled V-Twin. Enough to look and sound good. As should be the case during the first year of the Sport 1000S the only colour choice was red.
In Eddie Lawson replica green trim the ZRX1200 never went out of style because it looked dated on arrival, albeit with intentionally vintage style The bike eschewed the sleek styling of its Ninja stablemates and in fact positively rebelled against them. But, and it is a big but, it had a honking motor and was comfortable to ride—for a long time. Not as agile as a sport bike but who cares when your back ain’t suffering. Today it might be called a street fighter but it was too comfortable for that term.
Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail Springer
What is not to like about this beauty – the epitome of vintage style? It would look as at home in the 1950s as it does today with its wire wheels on whitewall tires, fishtail mufflers, seat rail, auxiliary lights and saddlebags and the pièce de résistance the springer front end. Convoluted and chromey, the old school tech makes this 2002 Heritage Softail a timeless classic. A honourable mention has to go to the Harley-Davidson Cross Bones, which also used the springer front end, solo seat and low ride ape hangers to evoke a less friendly version of the fifties.
Suzuki DR650 and Honda XR650L
Welcome to the 1990s. Yes, these two bikes are still with us but they have soldiered on so long as to make a new one virtually eligible for collector plates (figuratively not literally). If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it doesn’t even come close to describing the longevity of the two air-cooled dualsport thumpers designed for utility not looks. To make them even more authentic, these two bikes were available before any of the other retro bikes in this list were even a sparkle in an engineer’s eye. With so much focus on the adventure and dualsport segments today it will be interesting to see what becomes of these two legends in their own time.
Moto Guzzi V11 LeMans
A tribute bike of sorts, the V11 LeMans added a big fairing with a round headlight to the front of Moto Guzzi’s V11 making the bike unintentionally retro chic. In the early 2000s this was Moto Guzzi’s sportbike urged along by its 80-hp air-cooled engine. It was cool, Italian, built like a tank, and you would be almost guaranteed not to see another one on a trip from Toronto to Vancouver. Even with the seemingly low horsepower, it was a fun bike to ride and the Moto Guzzi heritage and vintage style – intentional or not -was undeniable.
Credit has to be given where credit is due and in this case it’s due to the Kawasaki W650. The retro Kawasaki kick-started the new Bonneville market by illustrating there was still demand for an English air-cooled twin. Triumph has of course moved on to the new, new Bonneville with its liquid-cooled powerplant but the old new Bonneville proved that you can come back again. It’s a lesson that hasn’t worked out as well for a few other British marques because Triumph succeeded by finding new, not just pining, customers for that Bonneville.
• Canadian Biker Issue #323