One of the most important lessons my father taught was not being afraid to say “I don’t know”. All part of being honest with yourself and others, the approach allows for real learning and sometimes saves embarrassment. Besides, nobody likes a know it all. That covered, here’s me admitting confusion when it comes to 2022’s vintage bike market. Explain to me how we can have Craigslist cheapies selling for 25% of what owners are getting for the same bike on Bring a Trailer? After watching closely I ask: Is this uneven market a positive, or is it driving suspicion?
Thing is, after checking BAT’s home page, how to instruction and customer testimonials, it all seems legit. Credit the founders’ for insisting on not just premium machines, but quality photography too. Included in the listing is a popular forum where registered members can comment on the item. As for those nearly unbelievable prices, the best explanation I’ve heard suggests BAT’s well-heeled car buyers have pegged a vintage bike market that’s been soft for years. It’s only natural to wonder when that could change, so that’s the question. It is really?
As of this writing, there’s still plenty to see for shoppers eyeing the next big thing. Categorized by country this is designed to be an easy read, but there’s far more options, or better ones. Some of these vintage/special interest bikes are already spendy, but wealth and cost being subjective, the focus will remain on the riding enthusiast these bikes were designed to attract. And while few things better a well-sorted oldie and hundreds of miles ahead, appreciation comes a close second.
Britain: Triumph Trident 750 (Photos: Classic Driver/Worldwide Auctions)
Exactly like every manufacturing country represented here, there are scads of fine Brits worthy of desire. Much as Italy’s Jota, Triumph’s triple is a popular, appreciating motorcycle with a rich legacy. Taken at face value, the Trident (and sister BSA’s equally desirable Rocket 3 750) was a prototype-turned-production special that suffered from a variety of reliability and service issues. Yet, the design has proven to have a tremendous speed and endurance potential – aptly demonstrated by the Triumph’s class domination in land speed racing and wins at the Bol d’Or endurance in France (one in 1971, courtesy of the legendary ‘Slippery Sam’) which fortified its status as a late 60s/70s superbike. Symbolizing an era left unfinished, the Trident is probably not given the credit it deserves, and nothing from Japan could touch it for roadholding.
It wasn’t always true, but for value it does seem the original ‘Ray’Gun’ models get the most attention. There’s plenty of fans for the later five-speed disc brake models – these with traditional Triumph Bonneville styling. Specialist firms do exist for maintenance and upgrades needed for reliable riders, the most popular being uprated bearings, ignition systems, improved lubrication and suspension components. On the fringe, special frames from Rickman, Rob North even Magni (!) also exist, and you’ll find that Metisse’ triple if you’re patient. Worthy for display as a polished original or ridden to coffee meetups with like-minded enthusiasts, the Trident triple’s wide appeal continues to expand. (Dry sump 741cc OHV 2v inline three, 120-throw crankshaft, 9.0:1 pistons 27mm Amal M.k.I carbs, points/coils, chain primary, 4-speeds, kick. 480-lb, 105-mph)
(Some debate exists about which is faster through the gears – Honda’s first 750, or the Trident? I’d say they’ll close…and both slower than an H1)
Germany: BMW R75/5 (Photos: Northeast Sportscar)
Among the classic Euro seven-fifties from Ducati, Moto Guzzi, Laverda and MV Agusta, BMW’s new for 1970 R75/5 ranks among motorcycling’s elite in performance and importance. Very much a response to Japan’s big inch multis, each of these incredible machines has at least one distinctive feature that sets them apart – the Slash-five arguably best the best all-rounder for city and road with its long travel suspensions and easy ergos. Nonetheless, Germany’s new 750 ran uncomfortably close to 1972’s very fastest through the change-up, then just wore everyone else down over the long haul. Like the others, BMW’s crown jewel is a joy through the back lanes with plenty of clearance and strong, progressive drum brakes. That soft springing can allow some extra weave at high speed, but options exist to firm things up for hot shot /5 owners. Simply put, the R75/5 was a standout in a class of standouts, a product of unwavering dedication and knowledgeable, conservative engineering.
History, or at least the majority of writers covering the BMW brand are quick to point out the impact of 1973’s R90S; this, breaking a long dry-spell of BMW sports bikes. With its Italian DellOrto pumpers and smashing looks the R90/S was plainly BMW’s best effort yet, but there’s a lot of the 750’s DNA in those smoked orange and gray 900s. Don’t overlook the smaller ‘slash-five’ standards, carrying over /2 tradition for the last time in 1972 in 500 and 600cc. Despite claims of lighter weight, BMW’s 750/5 didn’t scale out any less than the old twin, yet managed to not be heavier with more power, electric start, 12v electrics and its streamlined chassis. Please do note those wonderful ‘Berlin’ R50, R60 and R69S Slash-twos aren’t getting any cheaper and no one will question that purchase. If, by chance you’ve never own an Airhead, the R75/5 should be your first choice. (Horizontally-opposed, 745cc twin, 9.0 compression, 32mm Bing carbs, Bosch electrics. Direct drive 4-speed, kick/electric, shaft. 465-lb, 118-mph.)
(Many consider BMW’s R100RS the supreme Airhead, but insiders know it’s the R100S. R90/S and standard slash bikes offer more pure riding enjoyment)
Italy: Laverda Jota 1000 (Photos: We Sell Classic Bikes)
Probably the most niche’ machine in this review, Laverda’s romping, rowdy 1000cc 180-throw triple is made for those who crave the experience. While BMW and Guzzi owners prattle on about oil viscosity and fuel mileage the Jota owner smiles, silently recalling the third gear downshift that sent the silver triple roaring past his mates. Excitement is an elemental part of the elemental Jota, which due to its tall inline engine/frame makes it an ideal fit for larger riders…and a bit of a handful for others. More interested in hearing the triple’s booming song than warnings of stiff clutches, tall gearing and even taller seats, Jota owners run the decades knowing this Italian inline took a backseat to nothing in 1977. Like all Massimo-era Laverda models, only the very best suspension and braking components were fit, and because production was low, Laverda’s have always been thin on the ground. More like a Super Sport Desmo than the pushrod Le Mans, Laverda’s Jota needs an engaged investor.
In an odd twist that fits with the Laverda scene, some maintain the factory-badged version really isn’t a Jota as that distinction is owned solely by the 3CL triples tuned by UK import agents Roger and Richard Slater. For 2022, most Laverdas (750 twins to the big torque 1200 triple) continue a methodical climb in value, but real Slater Jotas are documented through Richard in the UK…now retired. UK and Euro imports were factory tuned with high-output 4C cams, domed pistons, 32mm carbs and Slaters’ Jota exhaust. US imports were de-tuned…and still fast. At this point many have replacement ignitions and less compression yet the Lav romps on, unperturbed. Jota riders demand figures well north of $15.000 dollars, and rising. Not surprising, considering Laverda’s ever-deepening fame and lore. (DOHC, 2v 980cc inline three, 180-degree crank throw (outside pistons up, middle down) 10.0 compression, 3 x 32mm Dell’Ortos, Bosch electronic ignition, chain primary, 5-speeds. 540-lb, 140-mph.)
(Nothing looks, sounds or feels like a Laverda three – especially the older, 180-crank bikes. DIY skills a bonus for those in the ownership circle)
Japan: Honda CBX 1000 Pro-Link/1000B (Photos: Classic Trader)
When making lists like this, perspective is gained by combing through motorcycling’s vintage all-stars. In my experience and using social media results as evidence, few bikes can match Honda’s six-cylinder CBX for sheer popularity. As always, numbers don’t lie and that includes premium pricing, currently starting at the $20K mark. Introduced in 1978, the DOHC, 24v CBX 1000 joined a barrage of new Japanese superbikes that year – one from each of Japan’s ‘Big Four’. Outgunning Suzuki’s GS1000 in the quarter and the XS-Eleven too, it took a turbo-boosted hand grenade (otherwise known as the Kawasaki ZI-R TC) to knock the six off its perch. It didn’t fall far however, and has steadily ascended in value from new.
In contrast to standing out, Honda’s remade-for-1981 CBX1000 Pro-Link was washed away in a torrent of new models – each debuting with more technology and increased capacity. In a sports environment the original six couldn’t match the CB900 Bol D’Or it was developed with, and the gap widened when the pure sports CB1100R came along. That said, Honda wasn’t finished with the design just yet, but selling poorly, the CBX was wound-up after 1982. Far more than a first-issue model with touring parts added, the engine was re-tuned for greater midrange power, the suspensions and brakes beefed, and other small details, like bearings instead of bushings for the Six’s monoshock swingarm. Confident this superior six will never match the original (or 1980’s second series) in value, Honda’s CBX-B has caught on with collectors in addition to the model’s impressively large following. Could this be Last Call for would-be CBX owners? (DOHC, 24v 1047cc inline six. 9.3 compression, 6 x 28mm Keihin carbs, electronic ignition, chain primary, 5-speeds. 39mm airfork, Pro-Link monoshock, ventilated 276mm front discs. 600+lb, 130-mph)
(Big Honda six was re-billed as a sports tourer…nobody bought Honda’s ‘Ultra-Sports’ angle. Tangible improvements to the engine and chassis add up)
USA: Buell 1125R (Photos: David Dreesen, Buell press)
At the risk of looking foolish, I’ve decided to write about a brand that I haven’t studied much. Those seeking Buell history and production info will find a plethora of it online (for example, this site is superb) but aside from the the current relaunched (without Erik Buell) production cycle, the bikes from the founding engineer fall into two major groups. First is ownership, with pre-Harley highlights including the RR1200 superbike. HD’s initial 1990’s buy-in, followed by the total acquisition of Buell by Harley Davidson in 2003. The second main theme is frame type and engine, and with the vastly talented Erik Buell remaining as lead designer, the switch from tube perimeter frame to beam design was made. Like that famously curved monoshock, the frame’s cast beams are hollow and could carry fuel. Early Buell models used Sportster engines, but a new air-cooled twin was designed after the final buyout. From some very humble beginnings, Buell grew to produce many thousands of motorcycles.
As it sometimes goes, I’d had this report finished for a week, but some conversations at the Vegas auction inspired a closer look into Buell here…instead of the boatail SuperGlide I’d originally planned to feature. Over the years I’ve seen a few around, even snapping some pics of two new 1125R models – leftover and blown out for $5995 – in 2010. Not paying attention to current events I had no idea exactly how special the 1125R is, but I was blown away by its look. Approaching the 1125R from another angle, a recent interaction with Bill Ross’s Rotax-powered Tuono Racing served as a vivid reminder of the Austrian maker’s engineering excellence. I’m not sure if Erik’s last Harley/Buell will ever be collectible (nice examples approx $7000) but that doesn’t keep the hyper-sonic 1125R from being a full bore, special frame exotic with one of the best mechanical drive lines available. As if reading my mind, Ross recently commented; “I’ve never really looked at them or wanted a Buell, but if I did the 1125R would be it.” (Liquid-cooled ‘Helicon’ (Rotax) 72-degree, 4v, DOHC V-twin. 1125cc, 6-speed, gear primary, belt. Buell hollow beam perimeter frame, 47mm Showa USD fork, case-mounted ‘banana’ monoshock. 1-perimiter front brake, radial caliper. 21-degrees rake. 435-lb, 179-mph) Nolan Woodbury
(Formed into an ultra-serious sports bike, the 1125R should have been the foundation for Buell’s future, but was another victim of the 2008 collapse)