It’s a widely held opinion that contemporary motorcycle design isn’t quite what it used to be. The sense of nostalgia that fuels the custom scene is often associated with the belief that motorcycling’s golden age preceded 1980. Bikes looked better, had more class and were built simpler, devoid of modern amenities such as fuel injection and ABS braking.
But owning a vintage motorcycle isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. By modern standards, older bikes have poor brakes, soft suspension and require more maintenance—and not everyone has the skill or patience to address these issues.
Thankfully, there are some manufacturers who still produce beautiful motorcycles—whether they are neo-classics, or modern designs that evoke emotion. Even better, major brands have begun to recognize the custom scene as a legitimate market, and have started supporting it.
So here are five modern motorcycles that we love. These are bikes that look great right off the showroom floor, but also have tons of potential as bases for custom projects. Let us know if we’ve piqued your interest with our selection. Which one of these lookers would you choose?
BMW R nineT BMW put smiles on the faces of many motorcyclists when they launched the R nineT. A nod to the venerable 90-year-old boxer, it also signaled BMW’s recognition of the burgeoning custom scene. Ola Stenegärd and his team even involved four of the world’s foremost builders in the launch, giving each an R nineT to customize as they saw fit. The bike itself encourages personalization: the rear part of the subframe is removable to allow for multiple seat configurations, and BMW have already released an array of bolt-on parts.
At a glance: $14,900, 110hp, 119Nm, 489lbs (curb weight) What we’d do: Fiddle with the subframe until we’ve figured out what we like most. Or we’d send it to: Roland Sands, with a note attached reading, “The Concept 90 (below) was great—how about a repeat performance?”
Ducati Monster 1200S Miguel Angel Galluzzi’s original Monster design remains iconic to this day. And, while it’s evolved over the last eleven years to adopt more radical and aggressive styling, its original DNA is still present in the current Monster model line. The sport-bike tail, hunched tank and trellis frame are all there to remind us of its parts bin origins. At the top of the current range is the Monster 1200S, boosted to a whopping 145hp by Ducati’s Performance Package, and equipped with Brembo brakes, Öhlins suspension and a discreet styling touches to set it apart from the regular Monster 1200.
At a glance: $15,995, 145hp, 124.5Nm, 461lb (curb weight) What we’d do: Nothing more than a few trick bits from Rizoma to tidy it up. Or we’d send it to: Radical Ducati, if they were still around, given their record with custom Monsters like the one below.
Moto Guzzi V7 Stone Outside Europe, Moto Guzzi’s V7 seems to fly under the radar. But we think it’s a great bike (our editor rides one and digs it). It’s a sweet-handling motorcycle with retro styling that has almost single-handedly revitalized the fortunes of the Moto Guzzi brand. The V7 Stone is the cheapest and most understated of the range; available in only plain black or white, with no graphics other than Guzzi logos, it’s the polar opposite of the higher-end, chrome-tanked V7 Racer. Which is exactly why we love it. It’s the perfect blank canvas for customization, while still being incredibly classy in stock trim.
At a glance: $8,490, 50hp, 58Nm, 395lbs (curb weight) What we’d do: In Europe, we’d turn it into a subtle street scrambler, Cafe Racer Dreams style (below), or send it to Officine Rossopuro. In the USA, we’d entrust the job to Revival Cycles.
Triumph Scrambler It would be silly of us not to include one of Triumph’s ubiquitous modern classics in this line-up. Alongside the Bonneville and Thruxton, the Scrambler has enjoyed consistent popularity since it launched, thanks to its desert sled styling and pseudo-McQueen heritage. Owners looking for off-the-shelf parts to personalize their Hinckley Triumphs can choose from Triumph’s own extensive aftermarket catalogue, or from a growing list of third party Triumph specialists. Many Scrambler owners are just happy to stick on some knobbly tires and call it a day, though.
At a glance: $9,099, 59hp, 68Nm, 472lbs (curb weight) What we’d do: Raid the Dime City Cycles or British Customs online stores. Or we’d send it to: Mule Motorcycles for a retro custom job like the ‘Catalina‘ (below).
Yamaha SR400 As much as we love its unpretentious ’70s styling, the SR400 is a bike we’d buy just to tear into. Sure, it’s a 35-year-old cult classic (that still has a kick starter), but it’s just begging to be personalized. Yamaha themselves pitch it as a great base for custom projects—including it in their awesome Yard Built program. The fact that it’s affordable and has a simple, air-cooled, single cylinder motor doesn’t hurt either.
At a glance: $5,900, 23hp, 27.4Nm, 384lb (curb weight) What we’d do: Grab some Wrenchmonkees parts from the German KEDO store to build our own Gibbonslap (below). Or we’d send it to: Japanese master Go Takamine for a dash of Brat Style.
Motorcycle specs are manufacturers’ figures. Last week’s Top 5 covered the best Concept Motorcycles.