Top 10 best looking modern classics

The most convincing ways to relive the past

WHETHER you call them retromodern classics, or simply old-fashioned, there's a booming market in bikes that hark back to a bygone era. That's why most bike manufacturers have some sort of modern classic in their line-up.

Normally we might rate bikes according to their performance or handling. But these these retro rides don't exist to score well in such areas. Their job is to provide a window to the past, and their success should be measured on the authenticity of the vista.

On that basis, here’s our top 10 currently-available modern classics, judged purely on appearances.

10: Yamaha SR400

Back for another bite at the UK market in 2014 after many years away, the SR400’s ‘classic’ roots can’t be questioned: it’s basically an old design, almost unchanged since the SR500 of the 1970s. In terms of appearance, though, it loses out slightly through being a bit too mild, at least in standard form. On the plus side, as a blank canvas for modifications it’s hard to beat.

9: Ural Solo

Yes, you can buy a Ural that’s not a sidecar, and there’s no doubt it looks pretty retro. In fact it looks virtually prehistoric thanks to roots in the pre-war BMW R71 design. A few modern touches, like the indicators and tail light, somewhat spoil the effect though. And you’d need to really want one to fork out the circa-£10k price of a new one.

8: Norton Commando

As far as names go few are stronger than ‘Norton Commando’ when it comes to saying ‘classic bike’ – and the fact that you can buy a new one now is worth celebrating. But the modern bike isn’t a pure retro. Modern forks, brakes and styling that’s reminiscent of originals rather than a close replica means that you won’t be fooling many onlookers. It's definitely going to be better to ride thanks to all that stuff, though.

7: Harley-Davidson 883 Roadster

Harley isn’t a firm known for revolutionising the appearance of its bikes, and as a result most of the machines in its range could qualify as ‘retro’ even though they’re usually classed as customs or cruisers. The bottom-of-the-range 883 Roadster is our choice, though, as it isn’t as cartoonishly in-your-face as many of the firm’s other bikes. The style isn’t pure cruiser, either – it’s more ‘standard bike’ in terms of geometry and dimensions. Sure, there are alloys instead of wires, but even they are in the style of 1970s designs. The fact it’s the cheapest Harley is a bonus.

6: Yamaha XJR1300

Retro doesn’t need to mean 1960s – Yamaha’s XJR1300 shows there’s plenty of scope in harking back to machines of the '70s and '80s too. Not long ago there was a whole class of these muscle bikes on offer; the Yamaha fought Kawasaki’s ZRX1200, Honda’s CB1300 and Suzuki’s GSX1400. But in the UK market, the Yamaha is now the last man standing. Shame, really, as those bulked-out ‘standard’ looks are a break from over-styled modern machines and effete 1960s retros. At only a tad over £8k, the price doesn’t look bad these days either. A forgotten gem.

5: Honda CB1100

The CB1100 is a typically Honda-ish take on the modern classic idea – instead of digging up a design from the past the firm put masses of R&D and effort into creating a totally new bike that manages to latch onto a host of 1970s elements. Just as other firms were dropping the last of their old air-cooled engines from production, Honda developed a totally new one that was advanced enough to meet emissions laws – because real cooling fins were a better solution to getting the right look than some sort of hidden radiator. For 2014 we get the wire-wheeled ‘EX’ version, too. Not a direct copy of a real old bike, but more convincingly retro than most.

4: Triumph Modern Classics range

Triumph is more dedicated to this part of the market than any other firm, offering a whole range of ‘modern classics' aimed directly at the retro bike market. We’re lumping all these Bonnie-based machines together, as otherwise they’d fill most of this list. Whether it’s the base Bonnie, the T100, the Scrambler or the Thruxton there’s not much to complain about on Triumph’s modern classics – they’ve got the right badge, the right proportions and a real commitment to the ‘retro’ scene, with all the accessories to go with it. On the downside, the modern Bonnie engine doesn’t look quite as convincing as perhaps it could. If we were making a list of the outright best retro buys, the Bonnie would be a winner, but this is about looks and on that front there are more convincing alternatives.

3: Kawasaki W800

And this is one of the reasons why the Bonnie drops a place. Kawasaki’s W800, and its W650 predecessor, haven’t sold in Bonnie-like numbers but on looks alone they’re hard to beat. The ‘Special Edition’ is particularly appealing. Everything has a convincingly 1960s shape, a convincing copy of the 1960s Kawasaki W1, itself derived from the BSA A7. So there’s even a little bit of ‘British’ DNA in there.

2: Royal Enfield Classic 500

Despite their best efforts, most of the bikes on this list won’t fool that many onlookers into believing they’re real classics – even without looking at the reg plates most have giveaways in terms of their proportions or equipment that marks them out as modern machines. But the Royal Enfield Classic 500 has people looking twice to check if it’s an original '60s machine or a modern version. There’s a disc brake, but overall the shape is spot on – perhaps not surprising given the bike’s direct roots in Enfield’s older machines. It doesn’t win, though, because just being convincing doesn’t necessarily make it the best-looking retro. In our eyes, that award goes to…

1: Moto Guzzi V7 Special

Nailing down exactly what makes a naked bike look good is surprisingly difficult. It’s to do with stance, proportions, a certain attitude. And the Guzzi V7 Special has it all. No, people won’t be fooled into thinking it’s a real old bike, but it’s got most of the right styling cues to be a 1970s Guzzi, allied to changes that manage to improve on the looks of the original – the fatter tyres, for instance, and the neater finish. In terms of looks, the Special is the best of the V7 range – gaining wire wheels and more interesting paint over the cheaper Stone and yet looking restrained and subtle when placed next to the over-chromed Racer.

Now tell us why we’re wrong…

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