When it comes to motorcycles, a precise definition for the term ‘exotic’ is nearly impossible. But that didn’t stop our Tech Editor from trying.
As we already know, any good Top 12 list must be very subjective and thus highly debatable. Motorcycle exotica came to mind when my editor and I were discussing whether or not the new Kawasaki H2 sport-touring bike deserves to be in the exotic category. I figured yes; he was not so sure.
Well, I am not doing that here. The objective of the following is simply to present a list of bikes that I personally think could be termed exotic. Please feel free to disagree.
To me, “exotic” is a combination of limited production numbers, technical excellence and of course relatively high prices. By nature this makes them all “collector bikes.” There are probably many 2018 models with names like Motus, Ducati Panagali, all the electric sport-type bikes, designer American V-Twins and on we go. They could fit the bill but thought I would go back in time, start at the beginning so to speak.
This would probably include most race bikes and one-off street-modified race bikes, or almost anything home built. So I will exclude them regardless of their exotic pedigrees.
If I did have to pick from race bikes the Moto Guzzi V8 Grand Prix racer (which used its 80 hp at 12,000 rpm to hit 178 mph in the 1957 Belgian GP) would be King Exotic in my eyes.
Having said all that, here are my picks for Motorcycle Exotica.
George Brough brought the world something very special, his Superior motorcycle. It was referred to as the Rolls-Royce of motorcycles, and in the 1920s that meant a lot. Production ended in 1940, by that time Brough had built only about 3,000 machines though some were SS100 models capable of a guaranteed 100 mph top speed. They were beautiful and fast with quality as good as it could be for the day.
BSA Gold Star 500 Single
This was the best of its era, with street versions of the famous racer available to the public. I remember one day hanging around at the gas station (for some reason they were much more interesting when I was a kid.) A van pulled up and a shady looking fellow asked me if there were any in the area. Their plan was to buy every one they could find before people realized how valuable they were.
Anyway, this bike’s 500cc engine came on the scene in 1949 in ISDT form (it had been previously available as a 350). Quickly it was transformed into a production racer, and made available to the public. A dominant force it continued till 1962 when the factory deemed it too expensive to produce. The competing Velocette Thruxton continued to the mid 1960s. It would be almost criminal not to include the Norton Manx and its innovative “featherbed” frame design but they were more track bikes.
Any of the Vincent V-Twins would qualify, with Rollie Free’s record setter recently bringing over a million bucks CDN. They ruled the 1950s taking over where Brough left off. Vincent engines were the best available for at least a decade: fast, technically advanced and (it’s a big AND) in those days ‘reliable.’ Many would say they were the fastest bikes available before the Z1 appeared in 1973. The Z1 and CB 750 don’t fit as exotics because there were so many of them.
Often called Germany’s first superbike this beast was powered by an NSU four cylinder 1000cc air-cooled “Prinz” car engine that was later punched out to 1200 and then 1300cc. With a $4,000 sticker it was more than twice the price of other high-end bikes. In the late 1960s it had become a Clymer Munch. The bikes were made into1300cc 100-hp versions capable of 120 mph. Eventually the company acquired the historic Horex brand and continued to spit out a few specials and big bore kits up to 1800cc.
MV Agusta 600
Featuring the first “modern” inline four DOHC motorcycle engine the Agusta came out in 1966. While not super powerful it had MV credentials, at the time one of the most successful GP bikes going in the hands of the great Giacomo Agostini. The follow-up in 1977 was the 788cc four-cylinder 750S America that looked much better and could reportedly hit 130 mph.
This bike appeared in 1974 as a 750 though later there was a 900 version. The 750 beat Honda to the six-cylinder world, though some might say they were cheating a bit. If you look at the engine it is basically a Honda 500-4 with a couple of extra cylinders. Nonetheless it had the visuals and sound to make it special. The 750 developed a factory-spec 71 bhp at 8,900 rpm—the 900 of course, a bit more.
The 1979 version (late ‘78) is a top collector. The 1980 had a bit less power but better suspension. The 1981 and ‘82 models were much different being reborn as sport-touring bikes with fairings and small bags The ‘79 version I own cost $5,000: very pricy for the day. Its engine had Gran Prix roots and the DNA could be heard when the revs came up. I remember looking at a beautiful pearl white 1982 model on the showroom floor; the price tag was $7,000. In 1982 that was astronomical money and I think the biggest reason Honda did not sell very many, leading to the model’s demise. In that regard, I’m reminded of the old H2: super high tech for its day, touring capable, but very expensive.
All Big Four Factory Turbo bikes
The Honda 650 version was probably the most technically advanced bike of its time, while many proclaimed the Suzuki 650 as the best overall handler. Kawasaki’s GPz750 Turbo was wicked fast, and with by far the best power. The Yamaha 650 was just weird looking but could be fast if modified.
Any Modern Ducati Superbike
They are all beautiful to look at with artistic design and real world performance. However, most Ducati Superbike owners I know prefer them for short rides as rider comfort and service costs are significant issues.
Van Veen OCR
The big Dutch rotary-engined superbike went into production in 1978 and continued till 1981. This might be the most exotic street bike of its era with only a reported 38 units ever built. That along with the fact it featured an automotive design 1000cc 100-hp Wankel made it pretty special.
Bimota, Rickman, Dunstall, Egli…
I just realized there is no end to this list of motorcycle exotica. How about you readers? Which bikes would you include?
by Rich Burgess Canadian Biker #338