Classic Motorcycles or Vintage Motorcycles

Posted in Articles | 0 comments

BSA Motorcycle

BSA 650cc A10
Photo By Les Chatfield CCL

Classic Motorcycles or Vintage Motorcycles

Is There a Difference?

Motorcycle fanatics are likely familiar with all the brands and models – from Ducati motorcycles to the Triumph Bonneville to the original Kawasaki Ninja and everything in between. But brands and models are not the only ways by which we classify motorcycles and distinguish them from each other. Still, the classification system we do use doesn’t necessarily make things easier. When enthusiasts talk about classic motorcycles and vintage motorcycles, what exactly are we saying? Is there a difference between old school motorcycles or antique motorcycles and those we call classic or vintage?

Triumph Bonneville

Triumph Bonneville
Photo By Ross Harmes CCL

Motorcycle fans are not the only enthusiasts to have debates about how to define this Harley or those Yamaha motorcycles. While it may seem like splitting hairs to outsiders, these classifications are crucial to distinguishing between these often expensive, and even historic, machines. Indeed, an inaccurate description of one bike can have a significant impact on its value for someone on either side of a purchase. Are these distinctions specific? Sure. However, they are also essential. This is not to say that there isn’t some sort of official moderation of what makes a vintage motorcycle different from a classic bike. Organizations like the Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA) and Classic Car Club of America (CCCA) have developed thorough and accessible definitions of what makes a car classic or vintage (or whatever), but no such taxonomy exists for motorcycle owners. In the motorcycle world, the terms vintage, antique, and classic are almost interchangeable. But they can also have wildly different meanings depending on who you ask. For example, classifieds forums such as Walneck’s Classic Cycle do not distinguish between classic motorcycles and vintage bikes, yet many consumers would argue that it would behoove them to do so.

Yamaha Motorcycle 1972

1972 Yamaha YDS7 250 Two-Stroke
Photo By Steve Glover CCL

If motorcycle enthusiasts could find a way to use the definitions instated by motor vehicle organizations like the CCCA, there could be more clarity for buyers, sellers, and fans of all stripes. In this system, an antique motorcycle would be defined as one that is at least twenty-five years of age and that has been restored to its original manufacturer specifications. Antique tags issued by states often operate on the criteria that the vehicle be at least twenty-five years old, although this varies. Other qualifications may be that the vehicle is maintained solely for the purposes of showing and public interest. If using the CCCA’s definition then, the classic motorcycle is a high-quality or unusual motorcycle built between 1925 and 1948. This may be a narrow, even exclusive, set of criteria, and chances are, many enthusiasts might disagree with it. Indeed, there are many newer bikes that qualify as classic for motorcycle owners, like the Norton Manx, the Triumph Bonneville, or the original Honda CB750 four.

Norton Manx

Norton Manx
Photo By Y Motux CCL

These two definitions do not address the meaning of “vintage” motorcycles, and there may be other issues with them, but let’s at least look at their recurring themes.  Antiques are qualified as such based only on their age. A classic, however, must be more than old; it must offer a higher level of desirability, which may be based on renovations, cost of parts, an inexpressible quality of sophistication or just plain “coolness.”   After a little review, we can see that there are many qualities that can help to determine whether a machine is an antique, vintage, a classic, or something else. The strictness of these qualifications may be altered by circumstances, of course, and there may be circumstances of ambiguity. The Vintage BMW Group avoids these grey areas with a simpler set of classifications, all of which are based on age. An antique motorcycle was made between 1923 and 1945; a vintage motorcycle between 1948 and 1969; and the classic bike can have been made after 1970 but must be at least twenty-five years old. For what it is worth, remember that state-issued plates recognizing your antique or vintage vehicle requires that it be covered with an insurance policy designed especially for classic motorcycles.

But when it comes to what most motorcycle enthusiasts can agree on, it seems that being qualified either as a classic bike or vintage motorcycle, rather than just an antique, requires more intrinsic value. This value can be predicated by some quality of excellence in the machine’s design or performance, or that it exemplifies the era which it represents. Or it could be that it set the trend of the time, setting standards for motorcycles that followed in its proverbial footsteps for years to come, like the first v-twin Moto Guzzi, the first Honda in-line four or the first Kawasaki Ninja. This does bring up questions about value versus oddity or originality. If a bike has a particularly unusual or original design, does that make it more intrinsically valuable, more deserving of the title classic, or vintage, or anything else? This is just another example of the grey areas inherent in the effort to classify these types of valuable motorcycles. This is not just about different brands such as Yamaha motorcycles and their material differences from say, Triumph motorcycles; it is about time, investment, modification, and, perhaps most importantly, the je ne sais quoi that certain motorcycles undoubtedly posses.