Guido Recommends Living In The 90s
There’s a little coven of folk out there quietly eyeing the next generation of two-wheel collectable motorcycles. While I’ll admit to being one of them, I’m by no means at the head of the pack.
Several times over the past few years, I’ve been chatting away to some like-minded dingbat who’s putting away motorcycles they like in the shed. We’re what I’d describe as second- or (more likely) third-tier collectors.
We can’t afford Brough Superiors or exotic variants of Vincent, or even a modest round-case Ducati. Even a good ‘Jaffa’ Kawasaki Z900 would test the finances. As for a good first-model Suzuki GSX-R750, that horse may have already bolted.
However, there is a late-gen (1990s) series of collectables coming along that we can scrape up the money for. Think early Ducati 916, first model Honda Fireblade or original Yamaha R1.
That’s not an exclusive list and these are not, by any normal description, pure ‘classic’ motorcycles. They’re barely 20 years old, should actually be fully functional and very fast, and are probably reliable. In fact, they were the ultimate consumer durable of their day.
So where’s the romance, the quirkiness, the seminal advance of the breed, the character-building unreliability, the style and the rarity so typical of the quintessential classic? Oh, and the proven capital gains? All of those factors are markers for the serious collector.
Here’s a declaration of interest: I own two of those bikes (the Ducati and Honda) and am keeping an eye out for the third (the R1). And my shortlist of three is by no means comprehensive.
All three of the models I nominate have romance in spades. They’re trying to convey a near-impossible connection between racing and the road. Okay, sometimes it’s a little tenuous, but the fact is any of these toys delivers far more bang per buck than you can buy on four wheels.
For me, all three of the bikes were seminal in their own right. The Ducati for the way it made performance bike designers rethink the look and detail of their offerings. Now, anything by designer Massimo Tamburini (RIP) should be regarded as a signature art piece, along the lines of Rene Lalique and his spectacular glass auto mascots of the 1920s and ’30s. The latter, by the way, can be worth six figures.
The 916, or its race silhouette, also has a stunning World Superbike series history with names such as Fogarty (UK) and Corser (Aus) on the jockey list.
Honda meanwhile happily rewrote the rules on what made a litre-class four-pot performance bike by downsizing to previously 600-class dimensions and packing rocket-like punch. Yamaha responded with an offering that introduced a new level of sophistication and grunt. All three, even now, are good if very different rides.
The trick these days is finding one in good condition. Sold to adrenaline-fuelled ratbags (which is not pejorative, as I would happily have joined them), few made it to middle age without being (A) ridden and written off by exiting at a tangent an unexpectedly sharp turn at high speed; (B) comprehensively flogged out through lack of maintenance, or; (C) being modified to a standstill with all sorts of dodgy ‘enhancements’.
I bought the Ducati a few years ago and am not about to get rich on the proceeds. In fact, prices have stagnated or even softened. However it’s great fun to ride and I, along with people who know better (including MT’s classic guru Ian Falloon), believe they’re something worth hanging on to.
As for the Fireblade, I bought a super-original one recently for full asking price, which was a fraction of what it would cost to restore – something to be explained in a future issue.
In either case, you turn the key, and the bastard will gather up the horizon at an appalling rate with a wonderful mechanical roar. They’re not so much rarities as roarities.
This article by Guy ‘Guido’ Allen appears in Motorcycle Trader #297