While we all have our favorite manufacturer or model, only the cream of the crop bikes manages to make it into those iconic ranks of best motorcycles of all time. A breakthrough technology, innovative styling, or simple worldwide renown, all come into play when you talk about a classic bike. We’ve put together our top 10 list of motorcycles with the best reputation of all time. Read on to find out if your personal favorite made the list.
Our Pick List The Best To 10 Reputation of All Time
1. Vincent Black Shadow
When it comes to rarity in motorcycles, it is hard to beat the iconic Vincent Black Shadow motorcycle. Built by hand by Vincent HRD in 1948, the Vincent Black Shadow was a sporty improvement on the previous line of bikes from Vincent. Considered the first “superbike” (and still one of the best by many) the 998 ccs V-Twin engine produced 55 hp. At the time, the Black Shadow awed enthusiasts by hitting speeds of over 100 mph. The 1948 photo of American racer Rolle Free hitting 150 mph on the Black Shadow on the Bonneville Salt Flats remains an image that is instantly familiar to riders worldwide.
Perhaps the best quality of the Vincent Black Shadow is that it still holds up when riding today if you can find one and afford the price tag that is. Only 1,700 hands crafted models were ever produced. Price tags on the remaining machines can reach well into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. If you want to catch a glimpse of one of these beauties in person, hang around Burbank, CA where you can occasionally see Jay Leno riding his personal Vincent Black Shadow which he refers to as his favorite motorcycle of all time.
2. Honda CB750
Many car enthusiasts may cringe at the thought of calling a Honda a classic, but when it comes to motorcycles few bikes have changed the face of the riding and manufacturing industry as much as the Honda CB750. Referred to as the original “Universal Japanese Motorcycle,” the CB750 was a versatile and affordable platform whether for customizing or riding straight out of the factory. Produced between 1969 and 2003, the Honda CB750 also had mass appeal and reach, which means that parts are widely available still today.
Brought to the U.S. market at a time when in-line four-cylinder bikes were considered too costly for the average rider, Japanese manufacturer Honda used the newest in production line efficiencies to cut costs without sacrificing quality. This resulted in a full-powered bike that was snapped up by the thousands. The attractive café styling caught rider’s attention and the CB750’s role in motorcycling history was further solidified when Dick Man rode one to the wine in 1970 at the Daytona 200 mile road race.
3. Kawasaki H2
With a nickname like “King of the Streets”, you know the Kawasaki H2 Mach IV had to make our list of top motorcycles of all time. And that nickname was well earned. Straight out of the factory, the Kawasaki H2 could travel a quarter-mile in under 12 seconds. While its speed may have been the initial selling point, it was the handling that continued to awe even years later. Production bikes at the time weren’t generally known for being able to go fast and be drivable, but the H2 set the scene and became the bike to beat on the tracks that were accessible for riders of all backgrounds.
Produced from 1972-75, the Kawasaki H2 Mach IV featured a 748cc engine that could read top speeds of over 120mph. For a production bike, this meant the H2 was a beast of a machine with a reputation for being lethal in the hands of an inexperienced rider. 74 HP made the Kawasaki H2 Mach IV top of its class in output while it weighed in at only 40 more lbs over the 500cc H1 model of previous years. Admittedly, the lightweight features of the frame could cause you to rock and sway around corners at speed, and feel every bump in the road regardless of how fast you were going, but the H2 was a thrasher and a powerful beast of a motorcycle. This makes it easy for enthusiasts to forgive these minor flaws in the face of raw performance.
4. Triumph Bonneville
Named after the famous Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, where a who’s who of motorcycle manufacturers attempted to break speed records, the Triumph Bonneville was designed for speed but it’s the classic styling that makes this bike a legend. While early Bonneville’s had a few kinks that needed to be worked out with the frame (clunky headlights and other design features) once Triumph fine-tuned the Bonneville it was a never look back the instant classic.
Produced from 1959-1983, the Bonneville existed in an era where every manufacturer was attempting to release the next “eat your face off” kind of speedster motorcycle. Triumph even brought in rocket engineers to design the later models. And while many of these classics may seem dated by today’s standards, as it turns out you can get an upgraded model with all the classic styling. Bonneville began re-releasing new models in 2001. Modern engineering meets the iconic look. Count us a fan!
5. Kawasaki Z1
If you don’t fall into the 70’s era camp that thinks the CB750 was the best there is, was or ever will be, then most likely it’s because you are a hold out for this next beauty, the Kawasaki Z1. Another four-cylinder behemoth, Kawasaki was prime competition for Honda in the era of four-cylinder imported madness.
Produced from 1972-75, the Kawasaki Z1 was declared “unbreakable.” In a widely promoted two week grand tour of the United States before its official launch, Kawasaki handpicked U.S. racers to attempt to wear down their prototype machine. A NY – LA road trek saw the motorcycle still running on its full 903cc capabilities. They received similar results over multiple attempts to run the engine flat out to empty at the Daytona race track. With a history like this, it’s no wonder that the engines from the Kawasaki Z1 are still used in races today.
6. 1949 Harley Hydra-Glide
You knew that Harley had to make an appearance on a list of the motorcycles with the best reputation of all time. The hardest part was probably choosing just one. Motorcycle enthusiasts will understand our choice of the iconic 1949 Harley Hydra-Glide, the motorcycle that ushered in a brand new era in Harley Davidson motorcycles and set the tone for the company to become a cruising legend.
1948 saw the release of the hydraulic valve “Panhead” engine for Harley, so it only made sense to add Hydraulic front forks. The redesigned seat with adjustable springs added extra comfort for the rider. Bigger breaks also indicated Harley knew they were shifting focus from racing machines into everyday riders. But don’t think that means the Hydra-Glide lacked power. The 2 cylinders 1207 cc engine could still put out a whopping 50hp. While most of the hp was needed to push the pure weightiness of this bike around, the Hydra-glide still holds its spot as an iconic leaping off point for Harley enthusiasts.
7. Ducati 916
When you hear the name Ducati you just can’t help but think speed and performance. It’s only fitting, then, that the bike that truly launched Ducati into the echelons of the top motorcycle manufacturers be included in our top 10 list. Before the 916, Ducati had produced several well-received bikes. The problem was that in an area of Japanese imported powerhouses, it was hard to distinguish Ducati from its rival bike makers. That problem was solved when Ducati launched the completely redesigned, fully-faired, Ducati 916.
The 916 would set the standard not just for future Ducati bikes, but for other manufacturers to try to eclipse. For years the 916’s engine was the most powerful twin-engine in production, with a shocking 108hp. No other motorcycle even came close to this type of power. The twin under-seat mufflers became an iconic feature to copy. Everything from the single bolt mirrors to the rear suspension with adjustable independent ride-height screamed race bike, but one that was compact enough to hit the streets full time.
With a perfect balance, short wheel ratio, and a winning race reputation, the 916 launched Ducati which quickly became the name in the modern era powerful racing motorcycle machines.
8. Honda Goldwing Series
If you’ve been following along so far we’ve covered that early Honda’s were well-known street bikes with big engines and light frames perfect for zipping along at fast speeds with a reputation as death machines. Harleys, on the other hand, were known for cruising bikes that would comfortably transport you and potentially a passenger across long road trips or on a sunny weekend with friends with comfort features like hydraulic suspension. Enter the Honda Goldwing…
Goldwing. The longer engine allowed for driveshaft performance, a complete break from the chain-driven Honda’s of the past. This also meant more room for riding in comfort, and we do mean comfort. The Goldwing of the original 1974 model was considered a long-distance rider and a comfortable cruiser. Goldwing’s of today, yes they are still in production, come with features like air conditioning, state of the art radio, dashboard GPS, and a host of other hi-tech items you wouldn’t expect to find in a motorcycle.
The Goldwing’s of many eras have consistently made top 10 lists of motorcycles, like this one, and it’s easy to see why. What makes the Goldwing such an iconic motorcycle is the groundbreaking and unapologetic way in which it treated all of these features. Why should you have to sit bent over just to get out on the open road? Why be hot, or cold, or feel like you can’t spend all day in the saddle. The Goldwing ushered in an entirely new way of thinking about cruising, one which we can get on board with!
9. Suzuki GSXR-750
If you are a motorcycle enthusiast and haven’t heard of the Suzuki GSXR-750, well you should be just ashamed of yourself. The GSXR-750 was first released in 1984, although the U.S. had to wait until 1984 to get a crack at this powerful beast of a superbike. You read that right, a superbike. The GSXR-750 makes our Top ten list of bikes with the best reputation as it brought quality and precision racing engineering to the people. Superbikes were here and they were affordable.
How Suzuki accomplished this was a feat of engineering itself. Aluminum framing made this bike light, a mere 394 lbs. to be exact. Add in a fully powered 100 hp inline four-cylinder engine that was air and oil-cooled through Suzuki’s brand new advanced cooling system and you can see how this motorcycle qualified as “super.” While modern GSXR-750’s have improved on the engineering of the original design, the iconic look remains. This granddaddy of sportbikes is still a face-eating, powerful behemoth of a youngster at heart and a definite legend among sports bikes.
10. Honda VFR750F
If there’s a theme to our top 10 list of motorcycles with the best reputations, it would be that of groundbreaking. To be iconic and make your mar in motorcycle history, you need to break the mold and set the stage for future bikes that come after you. Honda did just that in 1986 with the release of the VFR750F. Following a few disastrous models that set their reputation for quality and reliability back, the engineers at Honda took painstaking detail to new heights when developing the VFR750F. The build quality was so high that this original model can still be found today, reliably running.
A sport-touring masterpiece that served both rolls well and interchangeably, the VFR750F boasted a 748cc, V-Four engine with a whopping 106 hp. Today, the VFR750F legacy is still going strong with new redesigns of the VFR model every 5-10 years. While adventure bikes may be taking their place, sports tourers will always hold a place in a true enthusiast’s heart and the Honda VFR750F may be the finest example that ever was.