Want a classic motorcycle but don't have a five or six-digit budget? No problem! You, too, can ride a piece of history on a tight budget.
Here are five fantastic pieces of classic iron for under five grand
So, you are thinking of buying a classic motorcycle? Not too much money right? Because, well, what if? Maybe you are like me (weird), and have eschewed moderns and intend to use a classic for your daily rider. This means it must also be reliable. Well, that can easily be done.
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The word “classic” is broad. Let’s get that under control. Only bikes made before 1982, with reasonable parts availability are considered. No project bikes. Also, I considered only running, ride it home bikes that are mostly unmodified. This represents the best chance of getting something that actually works without spending a year of your life in the garage. These parameters might help you find a classic that scratches that vintage itch and will take you somewhere sans drama.
This well cared for Beemer looks ready to go anywhere and do anything.
First up and a bit predictable, BMW Airhead twins. These offer solid support and a thorough design that is unlikely to leave you walking. This Missouri-based R65 comes with a slew of quality of life upgrades like LED lights, good Avon tires, a big tinted windscreen, and soft luggage. Perfect for a daily commute or for a long trip away from home. At $3,000, this Beemer is a steal, especially with those add-ons. It even comes with a complete service history, so you can see exactly where it's been and what's been done to it over the years.
This one's been lightly modified, but it's mostly cosmetic and that blue is wonderful.
Kawasaki's KZ400s—and their KZ440 descendents—are great little around town bikes (I can vouch for this -JM). Well-mannered, lightweight, and easy to live with, they have peppy engines and get ridiculous gas mileage. The featured 400 has an excellent history is going for a highish $3,499.00, but many are available way cheaper. Runners pop up with three digit pricing often if you are that broke.
This triple is in amazing shape and the price is so right.
Yamaha's first "big" motorcycle, the XS750 was initially designed to go toe-to-toe with Honda's world-beating CB750. Powered by a sturdy inline triple mated to a five speed trans and a shaft drive, the triples were lauded by the motoring press at the time. The 750 model went through a number of variations—including a factory custom "Special" and blacked out "Midnight Special"—and were eventually replaced by the upgraded XS850 in 1980.
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This all-original, first-generation XS750 is in New York State and is in showroom condition. Garage kept and obsessively cared for, this bike is priced at a remarkably low $1,750. That price includes a sissy bar/luggage rack, saddlebags, and a large detachable windscreen for long-distance trips. Jason, our managing editor, has been daily riding a 1980 XS850 for almost twenty years and he swears it's never let him down (and it was in way worse shape than this one when I bought it -JM), so you can be sure of many years of reliable motoring if you spring for this silver and blue beauty.
There just aren't enough brown bikes anymore.
Honda! You were waiting for a Honda, weren’t you? The CB550 is an absolute winner and possibly the best overall motorcycle Honda ever made. Discuss. It has a perfect balance that the 750 lacks and has the torque that smaller Hondas need. They run well, are easy to maintain, and have excellent parts availability. The squeaky front brake is the only thing that annoys me. If you own a bigger bike, the 550 makes a great alternative you can use to blast the cobwebs out of your head after a long day at work. These are climbing the price ladder as so many are now cut up for customs. A good stocker is $2,500-3,500. This one is pretty nice at $3,400. If you want a custom don't cut up a stocker, cut up a ratty one, please.
Fiery, passionate, Italian, etc etc.
For something different, it's a Moto Guzzi Ambassador! Moto Guzzi 750 Ambassadors are unique, charming, and very well built. You may need to replace the cylinders on early plated engines for about $450, but other than that glitch, they will run for hundreds of thousands of miles. Maintenance is super simple, easier than a BMW, really. This good-looking ambassador is in mint condition and is currently going for $4,300 on eBay with no reserve. It's an extremely sharp bike, and a good example of the classic Guzzis that are out there for not a lot of money.
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There, now you have five possibilities for a classic bike that is likely to make you happy for a long time. The key to successful classic ownership is to buy something that moves your heart and soul, then own it long enough to understand its quirks. Choose the right one and you may find that your other bikes gather dust while you ride the “old one,” again.
Finally, let me offer a sixth honorable mention. 1971 and up Triumph Twins. Believe it or not, many of these come in under the 5K price point. If you are willing to do some work you can have a holy of holies in the classic world. I left these off the list as the “ride it home” requirement doesn’t always apply when buying an old Brit.