Future Nostalgia | Top 10 Modern Classic Motorcycles of 2023 [up to 1000cc]

BSA Gold Star 650 burnout

In case you hadn’t noticed, the past is now the future in motorcycling with sales of Modern Classic models soaring in the charts.

While the term ‘Modern Classic’ itself is a touch oxymoronic, if you’re not familiar with the category than think modern motorcycles styled to look retro, nostalgic or traditional… 

Motorcycles that wouldn’t look out of place parked outside the ACE Cafe during the 1960s. Well, right up until the moment you pull out your mobile phone 

With new entries from the BSA Gold Star 650 and KawasakI Z650 RS, if you’re looking ahead to taking a trip down memory lane, take a look at what we consider to be today’s best Modern Classic options.

10. CFMoto 700CL-X Heritage

You know what, we wouldn’t blame you if you considered fast-growing Chinese firm CFMoto as a bit of an imposter in this company. After all, the company was only founded in 1989… 

As such, the retro-flavoured version of its new 700cc middleweight triumvirate  - the CFMoto 700CL-X Heritage - is more of an understated tribute to the Modern Classic ethos. That’s not to discredit the Heritage though, for it is a handsome, excellent value option available for just £6,599.

It is a bit of a mongrel though, with its design coming from the Haus of KTM, its ageing - yet still fizzy - 693cc twin derived from the Kawasaki ER-6 and switchgear pinched from the BMW parts bin serving as a reminder the CL-X isn’t exactly cutting edge.

But, when compared with the similarly priced Royal Enfield Interceptor 650, the 700CL-X Heritage offers better fit and finish, more kit and an excellent four-year warranty.

In fact, we’d probably recommend this CFMoto it over the Enfield most days… it’s just this is a Modern Classic day and the Heritage is modern without the classic.

9. Moto Guzzi V7 Special

If we were to rank this list in order of historic significance, then the Moto Guzzi V7 Special would feature further up this list.

The Italian marque has just celebrated its centenary, existing today as the classic, more traditional - if a little forgotten - arm of the Piaggio family. 

As the more classically styled option in the V7 range, the stripped-back Special oozes charm in a way that is very… how would you describe it… well, very Italian.

OK, let’s put it this way, if one might describe the Triumph Bonneville as a quintessential British gentleman, then the Moto Guzzi V7 Special is its seductive moustachioed Italian cousin in a unbuttoned shirt beckoning you on an Amalfi adventure. Magnifico!

It’s also one of the more authentic retro models in this list with its analogue dials and exposed oily bits. Even Moto Guzzi's flexible 853cc V-Twin engine is a signature throwback to the 1970s.

So whether you’re zipping around Milan or cruising through Tuscany, the V7 Special feels, well, Special.

8. BMW RnineT

Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best. 

Take the BMW RnineT. It’s a fairly back-to-basics motorcycle, albeit a handsome one all the same. It’s pleasantly involving to ride with its tuneful 1170cc boxer engine, while there is no denying its air of quality as a BMW product.

Except the RnineT isn’t really a BMW. BMW just puts all of the components together.

In fact, as far as BMW is concerned, when a RnineT rolls off its production line, it is a blank canvas waiting for you to put your individual stamp on it. Evoking the spirit of the R90S, the RnineT tips a nod to the past by encouraging the art of customisation and modification.

If you prefer your deliveries ‘ready to eat’ though, BMW handily offers its own factory-fresh versions - the Pure, Urban G/S and Scrambler. 

But forget those. Get the standard BMW RnineT and get creative…

7. Kawasaki Z900 RS

It’s amazing what two little letters can do to a motorcycle’s image… well, that and complete redesign and retool.

Indeed, while the Kawasaki Z900 - an accomplished, quality if rather ordinary naked - may not seem the most obvious choice for a deliciously evocative makeover, Kawasaki certainly pulled it off with the Z900 RS, its effortlessly cool retro brother.

A distant spiritual successor the iconic Kawasaki Z1 - the first Kawasaki to wear the Z prefix that continues to flourish today a half-century later - while Japanese firms have sometimes struggled to dial up the charm offensive in this segment, the Z900 RS’ keeps it simple, while retaining an air of quality.

Better still, while the standard Z900 won’t set pulses racing, it is well-built, handles well and feels punchy on the road, all traits the Z900 RS retains, while feeling quite a lot more special.

6. BSA Gold Star 650

It’s one thing to resurrect an iconic motorcycle, but when that motorcycle is widely regarded as THE original Modern Classic, then you’re not simply resurrecting an icon, you’re taking responsibility for a legacy stretching 50 years.

We are of course referring to the new generation BSA Gold Star. Once upon a time, the must-have motorcycle of its era, the BSA Gold Star returns today in 2022 as a well-judged, surprisingly authentic tribute to a legend of British motorcycling.


No-nonsense nostalgia is the theme here, with BSA - aka Classic Legends, aka Mahindra - adopting a pure and simple approach when developing the Gold Star 650.

So while it’s not sharp, it is enjoyably easy to ride. While it’s not brimming with gizmos, it’s not complicated either. And while it’s not quick, its sweet-sounding single-cylinder engine bristles with character.

If the original BSA Gold Star changed the future, then the BSA Gold Star 650 is a satisfying trip back down memory lane.

5. Royal Enfield Interceptor 650

Few motorcycles nail the charm offensive as effectively as the Royal Enfield Interceptor 650.

The Indian giant hasn’t deviated terribly far from its misty-eyed approach to motorcycle design, but whereas once the Indian firm's offerings were just considered old-fashioned, today they’re very fashionable.

By keeping one wheel in the past, the growing popularity of honest, value-orientated motorcycles wrapped in a classic silhouette has seen the market come right around to everything Royal Enfield is about.

This is no better demonstrated than on its 650 Twins, the Continental GT and this, the Royal Enfield Interceptor 650.

Like the BSA Gold Star, the Interceptor 650 won’t be rushed, nor will it lavish you with luxury, but with authentic looks, easygoing performance from the 47bhp engine and a tempting £6,000 starting price, you won’t find a motorcycle with as much flair for less cash than the Interceptor 650

4. CCM Street Moto

If, when buying a motorcycle, you prefer NOT to keep up with the Jones’, then venturing leftfield with a motorcycle from niche British firm CCM could be the way to go.

With its range of bobbers, scramblers and trackers, owning a CCM motorcycle is all about knowing you have something just that bit different, just that bit exclusive.

Here we have plumped for the CCM Street Moto, which admittedly is one part Modern Classic, one part flat track, one part Scrambler… whatever, who cares, the CCM Street Moto is 100% cool.

Only available in a limited run - so get your skates on - the Street Moto is hand-built with meticulous attention to detail. Things get a little more dated underneath with a 600cc engine from Husqvarna, albeit from when Husqvarna was owned by BMW, and it won’t feel as accomplished as, say, a Triumph.

But whereas the Triumph seems just a touch too obvious for the discerning rider, the Street Moto is all about the warm, fuzzy feelgood factor… 

3. Kawasaki Z650 RS

Having realised it was onto a good thing with the nostalgia-flavoured Z900, it is no surprise Kawasaki has gone ahead and given its smaller sibling, the Z650, a dose of RS magic.

Launched last year, the Kawasaki Z650 RS achieves the same feat as its bigger brother by taking the perfectly good, but perfectly ordinary Kawasaki Z650 and giving it a seductive new identity.

In many ways, the RS makes better use of its underpinnings than the original, its breezy twin feeling more laid back vibe with an unhurried, refined ride.

Kawasaki Z650RS 2022 Review | New Kawasaki Z650 RS Road Test in Marseille | Visordown.com

Being a Kawasaki, the Z650 RS remains superbly built, fun to ride and well kitted out, but touches like the subtle two-tone paintwork and the beautiful gold multi-spoke wheels elevate the premium feel.

If anything, this should have been the original Z650 all along.

2. Triumph Speed Twin 900

The Triumph Street Twin is dead, long live the Triumph Speed Twin 900

Yes, the motorcycle formerly known as Street has switched columns to align with the Speed Twin 1200, though this is as dramatic as the changes go.

Nevertheless, the Speed Twin 900 is relatively new among Triumph’s expansive Modern Classic line-up. Traditionalists might baulk at our pick of the Speed Twin 900 over the icon of retro riding, the Bonneville, but the marginally cheaper Speed Twin 900 gets our vote as a motorcycle that feels as modern as it does classic.

Either way, few brands encapsulate the romance of a bygone era better than Triumph, with the Speed Twin embodying the spirit of the 60s in its punchy engine and keen handling, while never seeming anything less than contemporary in the quality and comfort.

1. Yamaha XSR900

Have you ever watched one of those TV shows that runs for 15 years in real time, yet on the show remains stuck in, like, 1974…?

Well, you could say the same about the Modern Classic category, which has for a long time now been harking back to one specific era.

So trust Yamaha to challenge what it means to be ‘retro’ by launching a motorcycle that is somehow both inspired by the past, yet also futuristic(!?)

So here is the brand-new Yamaha XSR 900, a thoroughly modern motorcycle from 2022 where it matters, but dressed in decidedly 80s influenced wares. 

You can forget double denim and shoulder pads though, the XSR 900 is a slick, sporty little number from Yamaha that rather ironically makes other retro motorcycles look, ummm, dated… 

It is also a fantastic performer, amped by its eager 117bhp  triple-cylinder 889cc engine, tuned to give it a characterful soundtrack befitting of its two-wheel boombox, while its good value at a snip over £10,000.

If your idea of a Modern Classic motorcycle is all shiny exhaust and multi-spoke wheels, then the Yamaha XSR900 might just be a bit too ‘out there’ for you, but when stacked up against its rivals here, 

Let’s just say we’d rather go back to the 80s on this occasion...