What Is a Classic Motorcycle?

Al Heurung

The definition of a classic motorcycle has been debated many times over by motorcycle enthusiasts. These debates range not only into the age of the motorcycle and its place in the history of motorcycles but also into the style of the motorcycle itself. Taking the different opinions on what defines a classic into account, they seem to find their common ground in the age, simplicity, appearance and status of the motorcycle. Generally, a motorcycle that is at least 25 years old and has a simple, traditional look is considered to be a classic.

Many styles of Harley Davidson motorcycles are considered classics.
Many styles of Harley Davidson motorcycles are considered classics.

Age is the primary consideration in terms of a motorcycle being called classic. Motorcycles have a long history, and it is considered remiss to call a relatively new motorcycle a classic before seeing how well it stands on its own among the countless varieties of motorcycles that have been produced. The general consensus is that a classic motorcycle must be at least 25 years old.

Motorcycles that are at least 25 years old are considered classic.
Motorcycles that are at least 25 years old are considered classic.

Another consideration of what constitutes a classic motorcycle is the simplicity of the bike itself. To be considered a classic, a motorcycle should maintain simple aesthetics hearkening back to the origins of these vehicles. Air-cooled, two-cylinder engines, single headlights and double supports on the rear wheel are all considered classic hallmarks. Fairings, cast wheels and liquid cooling are examples of things that typically remove motorcycles from consideration as classics.

Motorcycles made within the past 25 years are generally not considered classics.
Motorcycles made within the past 25 years are generally not considered classics.

The appearance of a motorcycle is held in high regard as to its perception as a classic as well. This can be the biggest separator between a classic motorcycle and a vintage one in many circles. Classics are considered to have the spare look and simple lines found on post-World War II motorcycles. Many popular modern motorcycles emulate this look of rugged elegance, and the popularity of that look gives credence to it being the mark of a classic.

The status of a motorcycle goes a long way toward its designation as a classic. Motorcycles that might have looked the part, had the right components and are sufficiently old enough could be disqualified by their poor construction or performance. A classic motorcycle stands apart in the quality of its design, endearing it to a wider audience of enthusiasts who will recognize it on sight. Perhaps more than anything, this mystique engendered by its status is what drives the definition of a classic.

Older motorcycle shock systems used coiled springs.
Older motorcycle shock systems used coiled springs.

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Discussion Comments

anon988075

2 cylinder? What about all the old singles?

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