Top 10 best production motorcycle paintjobs

This list is the product of many a heated debate but we're still not sure it's perfect. Nevermind, here are our best road-bike paintjobs. You're guaranteed to disagree.

OK, we’re expecting disagreements over this one – after all if everyone agreed what looked good in terms of paintwork, all bikes would have the same colour scheme.

Even so, here’s our shortlist for the top ten factory-supplied, production bike paintjobs of all time. Let us know which ones we’ve got wrong and if there are any you think should have been included…

10: Yamaha RD400

SPEED blocks. It’s as simple as that. We couldn’t do a list of classic paint jobs without including them, and in deference to Kenny Roberts we wanted them in yellow, not red.

Surprisingly few of the firm’s production bikes have actually sported that classic scheme, though, so the RD400 – circa 1977, right in Kenny’s heyday – does the job nicely.

9: Yamaha TDR250

IN the eye-searing blue and yellow the TDR really shouldn’t work. The gold wheels clash with the yellow stickers and the graphics look horribly dated now. But it’s instantly recognisable and for that it gets our vote. The very things that make it dated also make it achingly reminiscent of that period – which is either a good or a bad thing, depending on your age. The black version also looks great.

While we’d happily plead with manufacturers to get modern versions of many of the paint schemes in this list, we won’t do that with the TDR. It’s too firmly of its time to translate. Some things should be left in the past. Put simply, we love the yellow fork gaiters, but we don’t want them to make a comeback.

8: Ducati Hailwood replica

WE had to have a Ducati, but while the traditional all-red paint looks good, it’s hardly imaginative to be considered a colour ‘scheme’. So going against all the advice that says ‘red and green should never be seen’ we’re opting for the 900 Hailwood Replica which mimics the Sports Motor Cycles machine from the 1978 TT.

It would take a brave man to try and get away with this paint job on a modern Ducati – a Panigale in these colours would look awful – but somehow on the Replica they manage to work.

7: Walter Wolf Suzuki RG500

Black and red are colours that go together so well it’s surprising they’re not more commonplace, and the combo has never been done better than on Suzuki’s ‘Walter Wolf’ range of RGs.

We’ll pick the 500, as the ultimate version, but the 250 and 400 looked just as good. Sure, the red seats (on certain versions, others were black) might have a hint of 1980s excess about them, and are sure to lose their appeal as dirt gets ground into them and sunlight takes its toll to ensure they never quite match the red on the bodywork, but immaculate versions of these machines look stunning.

6: 2007 Honda VFR800

THINK of Honda’s current-generation VFR800 and you’ll probably imagine an earnest sports-tourer in a simple, solid colour scheme. But look afresh and you’ll see that those slashed headlights and angled, under-seat pipes, allied to a single-sided swingarm, were always crying out to be emphasised with paintwork that’s a little more aggressive. In 2007 Honda offered just that in some markets – in the form of white, blue and red colours that had more than a hint of our favourite Rothmans design, albeit without the direct references to tabs.

Chuck in a black frame and wheels and the girl-next-door VFR suddenly becomes something of a looker… Unfortunately for those in the UK, the paintjobs over here remained matronly single-colours.

5: Suzuki GS1200SS

NEVER officially imported to the UK, the GS1200SS is something of an oddball. A Bandit 1200 in retro-racer bodywork, the bike itself was pretty average, but the paintwork it received made it stand out. We were drawn towards the brutal black-and-red paint option, looking like an old Yoshimura racer, but the final decision went to the alternative, classic blue-and-white scheme. It shouts “Suzuki” even if the badges were removed.

4: Norton F1

OK, we’ve mentioned cigarette sponsorship already, but no apologies for adding another fag-inspired bike.

Norton’s F1 road bike made lots of headlines back in 1990 but production numbers were tiny and despite the racing success of its rotary engine it couldn’t really rival more conventional road-going superbikes. However, that JPS paintjob – black, with subtle hints of gold and silver – is a classic. Of course, it starts to look awful the moment it’s dulled by road grime, but polished to an oh-so-deep sheen it’s hard to take your eyes off it.

Since the Norton is so rare as to verge on mythical, runners up in the JPS-inspired category include the black-and-gold version of Kawasaki’s ZX-12R (plus earlier Kwaks like the GPX750R and Z1000H, which also appeared in the black/gold combo) and Triumph’s similarly-hued take on the Daytona 675.

Final three best motorcycle paint schemes

3: 1998 Yamaha R1, red-and-white

SOMETIMES a bike itself is so legendary that even if it was finished in metalflake mauve it would be copied and adored. So maybe we’re being skewed by the original R1’s epoch-making ability, but it seems that original version’s ubiquitous white-and-red colours would probably have been memorable even if the bike itself had turned out to be a disappointment.

Once again, it’s the simplicity of the scheme that makes it striking. There’s no mistaking a 98 R1 when it’s in these colours, and as such the paintjob must be considered a roaring success.

2: Honda RC30

HRC’s ‘tricolour’ paint scheme has appeared on a huge list of bikes. Two tones of blue, red and a white background make for simplicity itself, and it’s never been done better than on the standard RC30.

Later attempts to link back to the scheme have inevitably added extra complexity – as on various Fireblades – and never improved on the RC30’s version. It’s a classic, simple as that.

1: Rothmans Honda NS400R

OK, so fag sponsorship is long gone and being seen on a bike in cigarette colours is probably not totally politically correct. But it’s hard to deny they’ve given us some of the best paintjobs in the history of motorcycling. Whether it’s JPS, Gauloises, Camel or Marlboro, race bikes have often looked their best in cigarette colours. But not so many have been translated to production bikes, and of the ones that did, Honda’s long-standing Rothmans tie-in led to the greatest of all.

We could have opted for the ’92 NSR250R here, but the cleaner design of the earlier NS400R swayed us. That Rothmans scheme ties it in not only to that 80s GP era of Lawson and Gardner but also has overtones of legendary Porsche Le Mans and Paris-Dakar racers, Escort Mk2, Metro 6R4 and Subaru Legacy rally cars and Williams F1 machinery. Legendary.

So come on, we're bound to have missed one or put one in that you don't agree with. Share your thoughts below.

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