25th March 2024

Best Starter Classic Motorcycles

Slinging your leg over a motorcycle for the first time is always exciting and nerve-jangling in equal measure. Doing the same with your first classic two-wheeler can be even more of a test of nerves – will you like it, where’s the gear lever, will it be too slow to keep up, do I look good in a shop window reflection… Some of the answers to these questions will come down to your riding experience and expectations, while others are based on the bike you choose. Here are some of our favourite first classic bikes guaranteed to get you into the groove. 

BSA Bantam

You don’t get much more classic motorcycle than a 1950s Brit bike and where better to start than a motorcycle that helped so many start on their biking careers – the BSA Bantam. One of the great things about the Bantam is it was in production for a long time – 23 years in total – so there are loads to choose from. It’s also one of the most affordable classic bikes around, plus there’s a huge support network of clubs and specialists to make sure you can keep the bike running easily. 

Another of the Bantam’s strengths is it comes in a variety of different styles, from the early and simple roadster look to scrambler-style machines, as well as more modified bikes to suit every taste. Built as a wallet-friendly commuter when new, the Bantam uses a simple two-stroke single-cylinder motor in sizes up to 175cc. We’d look for one of the larger capacity versions to give a bit more pep on modern roads, but otherwise there’s nothing to stop you using this BSA for fun runs to the seaside, fish and chips, or club meets. It will also take a bit of daily commuting in its stride, which means this is the perfect starting point for classic biking as you’ll get loads of use from it. 


Triumph TR6

A logical next step on the biking ladder from the Bantam when new and now is the Triumph TR6. Not the wolfish sports car but the 650cc parallel-twin bike of the same name. Launched in 1956, the TR6 went on to 1973, so again there are loads to choose from and prices are well within the scope of the average enthusiast to buy, run, and maintain one of these iconic Brit bikes. 

Later TR6 models adopted unit construction in 1963 and the ignition was also improved on these models. However, all TR6s are hassle-free to keep running sweetly and the motor offers as much as 46bhp in factory spec to provide decent performance on today’s roads. Nimble handing is another TR6 trademark, and there’s even a dash of Hollywood glamour attached this bike as Steve McQueen used a TR6 to compete in the International Six Days Trial in 1864, as well as using one for that jump in The Great Escape – even if it was done up to look like a BMW. 

BMW F650

Speaking of BMWs, there are plenty to choose from if you want an easy entry to the world of classic motorcycles. Anything with a flat-twin engine from the 1960s onwards will be easy to ride and care for, though the popularity of the GS models has pushed their prices beyond many budgets. Another option is a modern classic BMW in the shape of the F650 ‘Funduro’.  

This was brave new territory for BMW in the mid-1990s and used a Rotax single-cylinder engine that made it feel capable of light off-road use as well as very nimble in town. As a versatile, usable modern classic, the F650 has a lot going for it, including prices from £1,500 for decent examples and good comfort. Just make sure you can get your feet on the ground as the trail bike style means quite a high seat. 

Ducati Monster

If that’s an important consideration, you’ll definitely want to look at the Ducati Monster range that arrived in 1993 as the M900, followed by the M600 a year later, and with a 750 version in 1996. Unless you need the smaller engines to keep insurance premiums even lower, we’d recommend the 900 as it has bags of grin-inducing low-down shove and an engine noise unsurpassed by anything before or since. 

Make sure the fit and finish has stood up when looking to buy a Monster, and check you can live with the heavy clutch action and limited steering lock – neither are an issue on the open road. With those considerations dealt with, the Monster is a brilliant classic choice. 

Honda CB400F

Looking elsewhere, a Honda CB400F is a great way into Japanese classic bikes. Zippy, fun and easy to work on, it looks cool and comes with superb build quality. It’s also easy on the finances and will take you anywhere, albeit at a relatively sedate pace. For something with more performance appeal, Japan also offers the Yamaha RD350LC as a definitive two-stroke naked sports bike that was launched in 1980. Prices have gone up in recent years, but not to the point where fans are priced out of the market for this agile, entertaining package. 

Harley-Davidson Sportster

 For those looking for something a bit more laid back, may we suggest a Harley-Davidson Sportster. It first appeared in 1957 and early bikes are sought after by collectors. However, there are plenty about and the simple mechanics make the Sportster a doddle to look after and restore. Huge parts support from the US also helps here, and the original line lasted up to 2020, so even later bikes still have that essential classic vibe (and vibrations). 

Vespa 150

If an alternative style of two-wheeler is more your thing, perhaps a Vespa 150 scooter will fit the bill. Always popular thanks to its place in popular culture, the Vespa is around in generous numbers for reasonable prices. The two-stroke engine whizzes away happily and the gear-change by handlebar is something you soon become accustomed to – and all while looking like an extra from Quadrophenia. 

Which of these would be your pick? Let us know in the comments below!

125cc. BSA Bantam was my first bike in about 1962 given to me by my uncle so I could get to his farm to work. The bike was my only means of transport for a while and just kept going, it was so reliable which was more than could be said of the triumph tiger cub which followed. Later to be replaced by aBSA c15 which again proved ultra reliable , the bantam and cub were both given away I can’t remember what happened to the c15 but the bantam was the one to have started it all. I’m still riding now at 79 and 11 months

Weg, 28/03/2024

How about a Honda CX500. It's quicker than the Honda 400/4 with bags of character. I also have a 2013 HD Sportster XL883L. The rubber mount engines do not transmit a great deal of vibration to the bars or pegs. Try one you might surprise yourself.

DZ, 28/03/2024

A Vespa 150 because they're so cool. Besides, I might even get to carry Audry Hepburn on the pillion, in my dreams!

Al, 28/03/2024