Top 10s

Top 10 brand new retro naked bikes

When something old is something new

OLD bikes. They’re a nice idea – classic looks, relaxed performance and undemanding technology – but the reality is all too likely to be an endless swearathon of skinned knuckles and empty bank balances as you spend more time fixing your dream bike than riding the thing.

That rose-tinted dream is this: you kick your classic bike to life, it starts at the first attempt and you feel the pleasant throb of its engine, ready to go for a blast.

The red-misted reality is this: you kick your classic bike’s lifeless corpse after it fails to start at umpteenth attempt, you feel the painful throb of a broken toe and scream “Blast!”

Hence the existence of the retro bike. Evocations of past glories that attempt to combine all the appeal of a classic wrapped into a clean, friendly, non-oil-dripping, first-time-starting, hassle-free user experience, with added bonuses like brakes that bring you to a halt in the same postcode as they’re applied.

So forget the old classics and buy a brand new one instead. And when your mates tell you it’s not the real thing, just drop a few words like ‘warranty’, ‘electric start’ and ‘main dealer’ into the conversation.

Here’s our top 10 of the best brand-new classics.

10: Harley Davidson Forty-Eight

To be honest, you could probably put virtually any Harley in this slot, and that’s not a criticism. We’ve picked the Forty-Eight because this list is about retro bikes, which means things like performance or equipment levels aren’t really part of the equation. The Forty-Eight has the all-important element of authenticity, although an Iron 883 – the cheapest bike in the Harley range – would also be decent choice. Even if you’re in the anti-Harley crowd, the appeal of these bikes in terms of their style isn’t hard to see.

9: Royal Enfield Continental GT

Until recently you had to be a certain type of person to opt for a Royal Enfield. Their appeal was a bit like that of a Citroen 2CV – cheap, simple and functional living fossils that somehow avoided the axe for decades. But their classic authenticity went a little too far in terms of actual performance and ability for most buyers. The Continental GT is big step forward in style and handling and stands out as the first RE in decades that you might want purely for its style.

8: Yamaha SR400

The SR400 might be a recent returnee to the UK market but it’s another bike that’s actually a real oldie, with its roots firmly stuck to the old SR500 that sired it. In stock form it’s a bit dull, but leaving it stock isn’t really the point – over the years SRs have built up a worldwide following and whole subset of the customisation industry. Consider it a blank canvas, and remember that bolting-on bits to a new bike can be an enjoyable way to feel like you’re working on your bike. Swearing at rusted, seized bolts as you try to fix an unreliable, old bike isn’t.

7: Kawasaki W800

Whether it’s because it’s a Kawasaki or because it’s wrongly written off as a wannabe Bonneville the W800 is another of those largely forgotten bikes that should really be right up there on the shopping lists for those with a retro craving. It’s actually supposed to be a homage to the Kawasaki W1 of the 1960s, a bike that was previously sold as a Megaro, itself a licence-built BSA. It’s a bit short of some useful tech, though – we’d like to see ABS offered (it will be a requirement by the start of 2017, so expect to see it introduced in the next year.)

6: Moto Guzzi V7

Guzzi’s V7 has got to be a contender for the ‘most overlooked bike of 2015’ having been at the receiving end of significant upgrades for this year including a six-speed box, traction control (hmmm, with 47bhp that might be overkill) and ABS (yay!) plus revised chassis geometry. The base Stone model comes in at just over £7,135, but we’d blow the extra £500 for the Special, with wire wheels and stripes. The £8635 Racer is nice, too, but a bit OTT on the appearance front with its chrome tank and red frame.

5: Triumph Bonneville

Yes, it’s got the right badge, but the Bonnie isn’t arguably as impressive in its retro credentials as the Kawasaki W800. The all new version, due next year, might change all that. Spy shots show that it’s water cooled, which will have purists up in arms and frothing at the mouth about the horrors of radiators, but the styling is set to get changes that make it more convincing as a retro bike than the current model. It’s also getting ABS, because retro brakes are not something that anyone wants. Of the current models, the Thuxton and the Scrambler are probably the most interesting derivatives of the Bonnie basis.

4: Yamaha XJR1300

While other retro bikes look to the 50s or 60s, the XJR1300 is firmly a late 70s or early 80s machine when it comes to its style. So forget limply-thudding twins and revel in an air-cooled 1,251cc four. Ok, so it’s still got under 100bhp, but only just and the torque will leave most of the bikes on this list gasping in its wake. The styling is more neo-retro than a real replica of older bikes, but that’s probably a good thing too since it means we’re allowed things like decent-sized wheels that will accept sticky, modern tyres. At £8,599 it’s not that expensive, either.

3: Honda CB1100EX

There was quite a fuss about the CB1100 when it first appeared a few years ago, and rightly so since it features some unusual things, not least a purpose-designed, brand new, air-cooled­ four-cylinder engine. Just at the time when other firms are adding water-cooling to their older models to get them through emission laws, the decision to build a new air-cooled motor that could do the same thing without a drop of H2O was a very Honda-ish thing to do. At 88bhp it’s not a powerhouse, but it’s torquey and smooth, and the latest EX model gains convincing touches like wire wheels that were lacking from the original. It’s real problem is that it’s a hefty old beast, although since it costs £10,299 you’ll compensate for its extra weight with your significantly lightened wallet.

2: BMW R NineT

Try not to call it a Ninet. It’s 9-tee, remember. Another neo-classic rather than a real retro, it’s a rather lovely thing, and as with all these bikes can be endlessly personalised with bolt-on bits and extras. There’s no shortage of tech here, either, with ABS and an impressive 110bhp to make it the most powerful bike on this list. You get proper suspension and brakes, too, and while the £11,750 price is steep, there are plenty of takers which suggests BMW has got the mix just right. It might be one of the last chances to get an air-cooled BMW boxer, too, since the engine has all but disappeared from the rest of the range – although the NineT is expected to live on for a while and will spawn more variants including a scrambler next year.

1: Ducati Scrambler

Hmmm, I wonder why BMW is planning a scrambler version of the NineT. Oh, it will be because Ducati is absolutely storming the scene with its own said-with-a-capital-S Scrambler. Yes, we were cynical about the bike before it was launched, as it looked for all the world like Ducati was selling out to tempt the fashion-conscious (not that we could blame the firm for doing that, of course). But while on paper the Scrambler looked dead set to be a disappointment it's turned out to be a fun bit of kit. And maybe that’s where it really wins in this ‘retro’ battle – perhaps it’s less about old-fashioned styling and more about an old-fashioned attitude to motorcycles when there was less willy-waggling about power and performance and more attention paid to simply having a good time.

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