Top Ten Modern Classics :: Motorcycle Buyer’s Guide

Top Ten Scramblers

The term modern classic, when used to describe a motorcycle, has quite a loose description. For our purposes, we’ll categorize it as a motorcycle that has been styled to look like it belongs in the 1960s and 1970s while offering the rider modern conveniences and safety features such as ABS, traction control, no carburetor, etc.

The natural habitat of a modern classic is widely dispersed. It’s quite likely that you’ll find one parked in front of a coffee shop with the owner sitting within line of sight so that when you see the bike, you also see them. They are commuter bikes, often used for weekend cruises or micro-adventures. You’ll also find tens of thousands of them at the annual Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride, an annual charity event with riders decked out in dapper duds.

Modern classic motorcycles are purchased primarily based on their looks—when you ride them, you almost feel like Steve McQueen is there alongside you, giving his approval of your recent purchase. It’s also a bike you’re more willing to sacrifice on performance for and quite likely, you have no idea (nor do you care) how much power it puts out.

One of the huge benefits of owning a modern classic is how easy they are to customize. The aftermarket scene for them is abundant with options. Just Google any one of the bikes below, and after sifting through the stock images of the bike, you’ll find thousands of Instagram pictures highlighting customizations that quite likely include the phrase Cafe Racer as one of their hashtags.

These motorcycles are a great second bike to have in the garage and should never get parked without being given a once-over with a bit of wash and wax with a terry cloth. Depending on which one you have, it will do a lot of things good but nothing great, and you’re okay with that because you likely have another bike that has a specific use.

If you’re the adventurous type who’s looking to spend a lot of time off-road, there are very few modern classics that you’d choose to get your off-road fix (more on that later), but one in particular that will exceed your expectations.

Another huge appeal of modern classics is that they are a great entry point for new (and younger) riders who are looking to get into motorcycling. These riders may be put off by how fast sport bikes can be, may not be yet interested in an adventure bike, and aren’t quite ready to step into the Harley scene quite yet. They’re just looking for a bike that looks cool.

Modern classics also offer women and shorter riders a great option, as their seat heights are typically quite low. This not only makes it easier to throw a leg over, but more importantly, your feet will plant flat on the ground. Having a stable stance when the bike isn’t moving (or when coming up to an obstacle) is a huge boost of confidence for timid riders.

Throwing your leg over a bike that is either too tall or too heavy for you is a quick way for you to be put off by motorcycling, and you’re likely to put it up for sale. This is a popular mistake for new riders who think they need the biggest and most popular bike that they saw Ewan Mcgregor riding around the world on, but truthfully, you just need to humble yourself with a great entry-level bike.

While we all have our own interests as to what we may look for in a modern classic, we’ve put together a Top 10 list of our personal favorites based on our experience over the years. To help narrow down our choices, our top ten modern classics have all been produced within the last five years. Not all may be available from your country of residence.

There is one brand mentioned below that is featured more than others, and rightfully so. Triumph has been specializing in rolling out a diverse offering of beautiful and well-built modern classics for years. The bikes come at a premium, but so does every quality product you choose to invest in.

Not seeing your favorite modern classic on the list? Let us know which one you would have added to the running.



Top Ten Modern Classics - BMW R18

MSRP: $21,495 | capacity: 1802cc | power: 91 hp @ 4,750 rpm | torque: 117 pound-feet @ 3,000 rpm | weight: 761 pounds | seat height: 27.2 inches | fuel capacity: 4.2 gallons

The “Berlin-built” BMW R18 is the latest cruiser to come out of the BMW factory, and if you squint your eyes enough, you may confuse it for a Harley. Step closer for a good look, and you’ll see it’s a German-engineered and well-built machine.

The R18 pays homage to BMW’s rich history, creating a truly unique motorcycle. It is powered by a massive 1802cc, air-cooled boxer engine that delivers impressive power and torque, making for a thrilling and dynamic riding experience. However, if you can’t put 350 pounds onto the squat rack for 10 reps, this beast of a motorcycle will not be a great choice for you as it is on the heavy side. There is minimal plastic on this bike but rather a hefty amount of metal with hand-painted trim; it’s more of a weekend coffee runner or a long, easy-ride cruiser.

If you’re looking for an everyday motorcycle or something to throw into corners, this isn’t the right choice. The R18 features four different models: the Classic, R18, R18 B, and R18 Transcontinental touring option.


Moto Guzzi V7 with Scrambler Kit

Top Ten Modern Classics - Moto Guzzi

MSRP: $12,500 | capacity: 853cc | power: 65 hp @ 6,800 rpm | torque: 73 Newton-meters @ 5,000 rpm | weight: 436 pounds | seat height: 30.7 inches | fuel capacity: 5.5 gallons

Moto Guzzi motorcycles are renowned for their timeless design, embodying the spirit of Italian craftsmanship and style with sleek lines, elegant curves, and superb attention to detail. The V7 model, first introduced in 1967, played a pivotal role in establishing Moto Guzzi as an iconic motorcycle brand.

The all-new Moto Guzzi V7 is powered by a transverse V-twin engine, with the cylinders sticking out on the sides of the bike. This configuration not only gives the V7 a distinctive appearance but also offers a unique riding experience. The torquey and charismatic engine provides smooth power delivery and a satisfying exhaust note.

The V7 is designed to be a versatile motorcycle that can handle both urban commutes and longer rides with ease. It features a relaxed riding position, a comfortable seat, and a well-balanced chassis that delivers a smooth and enjoyable ride.

With the add-on of the Scrambler Kit (produced by Italian accessories company 70tre), you’ll get more of a cosmetic upgrade than a performance upgrade, however; it will make your V7 stand out and be more well equipped for that next off-road adventure you’ve got planned.

The Scrambler kit includes seat handles, manifolds and an exhaust system, passenger footpegs, a leather tank belt, a tank rack, an aluminum side number panel, “Cross” handlebars, a handlebar bumper, a headlight protector grill, fork leg protectors, and a metal front fender support.

# 8

Norton 961 Commando

Top Ten Modern Classics - Norton

MSRP: $18,000 | capacity: 961cc | power: 76.8 bhp @ 7,250 rpm | torque: 81 Newton-meters @ 6,300 rpm | weight: 507 pounds | seat height: 31.9 inches | fuel capacity: 3.96 gallons

The Norton Commando is back! The original Commando was a legendary British motorcycle that first appeared in the late 1960s and quickly became known for its powerful engine and sleek styling. The Commando was powered by a 745cc parallel twin engine, known for its smooth power delivery and impressive torque. It was also one of the first motorcycles to feature a disc brake.

Almost 55 years since its original debut, the all-new modern Commando has many features (including Brembo brakes and adjustable Öhlins suspension) with the same ageless styling it had in the 1960s. If you’re looking for a motorcycle that will most certainly turn heads in town, or maybe you rode an original Commando that you want to add to an ongoing collection of motorcycles, the Commando 961 is a winner.

We’re still a bit skeptical to see how reliable these bikes will be. After the administrative problems that Norton has faced, only time will tell how this brand will fare in the market and if they’re back for the long haul.

# 7

Kawasaki Z900RS

Top Ten Modern Classics - Kawasaki

MSRP: $16,500 | capacity: 948cc | power: 110 hp @ 8,500 rpm | torque: 72.7 pound-feet @ 7,700 rpm | weight: 474 pounds | seat height: 32.2 inches | fuel capacity: 4.5 gallons

There are many reasons why you might want to buy a Kawasaki Z900RS. First and foremost, it’s a stunning machine that was inspired by the iconic Kawasaki Z1 of the 1970s, still highly regarded by motorcycle enthusiasts to this day.

The Z900RS has a classic look with modern touches, such as LED lighting, traction control, and a digital display. It is powered by a 948cc inline-four engine that delivers impressive performance and an exhilarating riding experience. Additionally, the Z900RS is known for its comfortable riding position and excellent handling, making it a great choice for both short and long rides.

Overall, the Kawasaki Z900RS is a fantastic motorcycle for those who appreciate style, modern performance, and a thrilling ride. This seems to be a great everyday bike or coffee runner and will turn heads anywhere it goes.


BMW R nineT/R nineT Scrambler

Top Ten Modern Classics - BMW R nine T

MSRP: $15,995 | capacity: 1,170cc | power: 109 hp @ 7,250 rpm | torque: 85.6 pound-feet @ 6,000 rpm | weight: 456 pounds | seat height: 31.7 inches | fuel capacity: 4.7 gallons

The BMW R nineT offers an excellent balance of style and performance. It’s quick and nimble enough that if you were to close your eyes while riding (please don’t), you might feel like you’re on a sports bike. It’s a lot of fun.

The bike’s stylish design looks great on the road with its clean lines and minimalist approach. Under the hood, the R nineT is powered by a potent air-cooled 1170cc boxer engine, which delivers a smooth and responsive ride. Additionally, the RnineT offers a comfortable ride (maybe not for long distances or multi-day trips) with ergonomics that cater to both short and tall riders.

Overall, the BMW R nineT is a great motorcycle that offers the right amount of style and performance.

Pro Tip: If you enjoy the standard R nineT but also enjoy a bit of dirt in your life, we recommend going for the R nineT Scrambler. It’s basically the same bike but with off-road tires and a few cosmetic changes.


BSA Goldstar 650

Top Ten Modern Classics - BSA

MSRP: $8,100 | capacity: 650cc | power: 45bhp @ 6,500 rpm | torque: 40.5 pound-feet @4,000rpm | weight: 469.5 pounds | seat height: 30.7inches | fuel capacity: 3.1 gallons

The original BSA Goldstar 650 was a classic British motorcycle that was first introduced in the 1930s and continued production until the 1960s. It was known for its powerful single-cylinder 650cc engine, which delivered impressive performance and speed, making it a popular choice for racing and touring. The Goldstar 650 was also highly regarded for its handling and agility, which made it a favorite among riders who appreciated a responsive and nimble motorcycle. It was often referred to as the “Goldie” and was highly sought after by motorcycle enthusiasts due to its legendary status and iconic design.

Today, the all-new single-cylinder BSA Gold Star 650 has been given new life thanks to recent Indian ownership. The new Goldie is fuel-injected, liquid-cooled, and has Brembo brakes and ABS.

If you’re standing 10 feet away from it, it would be hard to tell that it’s not a 1960s motorcycle. BSA did a great job keeping the original look. The suspension isn’t so great, so if you’re a heavier rider, you may want to look at upgrading this part of the bike.

You can’t go wrong with a BSA, and this bike will definitely make you stand out from the rest of the crowd if you’re looking for something with a bit more of a heritage look to it.

# 4

Triumph Street Scrambler

Top Ten Modern Classics - Triumph Street Scrambler

MSRP: $11,495 | capacity: 900cc | power: 55 hp @ 5,900 rpm | torque: 59 pound-feet @ 3,230 rpm | weight: 454 pounds | seat height: 31.1 inches | fuel capacity: 3.2 gallons

The Triumph Street Scrambler is a stylish and versatile motorcycle that offers an exciting riding experience both on and off-road. Its retro-inspired design with a teardrop tank, brushed aluminum covers, and high-level exhaust draws attention every place you ride it. The Street Scrambler is also an extremely popular bike for customization, and there are a plethora of aftermarket parts to make yours stand out from the others.

The Street Scrambler is equipped with a powerful 900cc engine, providing ample torque and acceleration for any riding situation. Its suspension and dual-purpose tires ensure confident handling and traction, whether cruising on the highway or exploring rough terrain.

Although you may have your doubts about this being a true Scrambler, we’ve personally seen this bike go further than some adventure bikes and overcome obstacles with greater ease. With its low center of gravity, it makes for a surprisingly good entry to the adventure space. There isn’t a lot of ground clearance, so if you’re looking to take this off-road a lot, make sure you’ve put on a bash plate.

The Street Scrambler also offers a comfortable seat and ergonomic handlebars that make it easy to ride for extended periods. For those looking for a reliable and thrilling motorcycle with loads of style and modern features, the Triumph Street Scrambler is an excellent choice.

Pro Tip: If you are on the heavier side or plan on loading this Street Scrambler with extra luggage, we recommend upgrading the suspension. It will make a world of difference.


Royal Enfield 650 Interceptor

Top Ten Modern Classics - Royal Enfield

MSRP: $6,199 | capacity: 646cc | power: 47 hp | torque: 38 pound-feet | weight: 480 pounds | Seat Height: 31.1 in | Fuel Capacity: 3.3 gal

The Royal Enfield Interceptor is a beautifully designed motorcycle with vintage styling that harkens back to the company’s heritage. Its curves and lines are again reminiscent of motorcycles from the 1960s, making it a great modern classic choice.

The Interceptor is equipped with a 650cc parallel-twin engine that delivers smooth and responsive power. Its suspension system is also well-tuned, making for a comfortable ride even on bumpy roads.

It has a relaxed, upright riding position that is comfortable for long rides. Its seat is wide and well-padded, and the handlebars are positioned in such a way that the rider’s arms are not stretched out too far.

One of the main reasons the Interceptor found a home in our Top 5 is it comes at an affordable price. For new riders or ones that may be looking to add a second bike to their stable, this is a huge reason to add this to your fleet.


Triumph T120

Top Ten Modern Classics - Triumph T120

MSRP: $12,695 | capacity: 1198cc | power: 80 hp @ 6,550 rpm | torque: 77.4 pound-feet @ 3,100 rpm | weight: 494 pounds | seat height: 30.9 inches | fuel capacity: 3.8 gallons

The Triumph T120 has a rich heritage dating back to the 1950s. It was originally introduced as the Triumph Bonneville, named after the famous Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah where Triumph set multiple land-speed records. The Bonneville quickly became a legendary motorcycle due to its performance, style, and cultural significance. It was the bike of choice for many famous riders and was even featured in movies such as The Great Escape.

Today, the T120 carries on the Bonneville legacy and is considered one of the most iconic motorcycles of all time. Its timeless design and legendary status make it a highly desirable motorcycle for both classic and modern riders alike.

The T120 is a beautifully designed machine that offers an iconic look with modern features and performance. It is powered by a robust 1200cc parallel-twin engine that delivers smooth and responsive power, making for an enjoyable riding experience. The T120 also features advanced technology such as ride-by-wire throttle, ABS brakes, and traction control, making it a practical and safe choice for modern riders.

Additionally, the T120’s comfortable riding position and bench seat make it a great choice to have a pillion on for shorter rides.


Triumph Scrambler 1200 XE

Top Ten Modern Classics - Triumph 1200MSRP: $14,745 | capacity: 1200cc | power: 89 hp @ 7,250 rpm | torque: 81.1 pound-feet @ 4,500 rpm | weight: 507 pounds | seat height: 34.3 inches | 4.2 gallons

The Triumph Scrambler 1200 XE is considered in many circles to be the best modern classic motorcycle on the market today. It’s not often you come across a motorcycle that deserves a front-row spot on the Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride that could also find itself on the podium of the Baja 1000.

The Triumph Scrambler combines classic design elements with modern technology and performance, creating a machine that is both stylish and practical. The Scrambler 1200 XE is powered by a 1200cc parallel-twin engine that delivers an impressive 90 horsepower and 81 pound-feet of torque, making for a thrilling and dynamic riding experience. It features the full range of new Triumph technology and multiple riding modes (Off-Road Pro is our favorite riding mode).

In addition to its impressive performance and technology, the Triumph Scrambler 1200 XE has a unique and stylish design that pays homage to Scrambler models of the past. It features high-mounted twin exhausts, a sculpted tank, and a distinctive headlight and taillight design. The Scrambler 1200 XE also has a rugged and durable build, with premium suspension and brakes, making it suitable for off-road adventures as well as on-road cruising.

We’ve been blown away by the off-road capability of this bike, as it can handle its own against any of the other adventure bikes out there in the 1200cc market. Overall, the Triumph Scrambler 1200 XE is the perfect combination of old-school design and modern technology, making it our choice as the best modern classic motorcycle on the market today.

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A born and raised American, Joe is a US Army veteran who has been living in South Africa since 2013 with his wife, Monique, her son Madden, and their 4 rescue dogs. Joe is a photographer, a rock climber, and an adventure seeker and has been guiding motorcycle tours throughout Southern Africa since 2015 with his company Bonafide Moto Co. His first motorcycle was a 1983 Sportster that he turned into a chopper. Although he still has a Harley (The Freedom Machine), he now prefers motorcycles that will take him off-road. Current ride: Triumph Tiger 1200 Rally Pro.