Vehicle enthusiasts tend to remember the ’80s as an era when manufacturers slowly found their way from the prior decade’s malaise while simultaneously striving to meet ever-stringent safety and environmental regulations. That’s painting with a bit of a broad brush, though: If you take a look at the two-wheeled world, the ’80s were some of the best times ever for cheap and powerful fun. Japanese brands began selling race bikes for the street, turbocharging engines, and seeing dramatic improvements in outright performance. Access to these thrills could be yours for about a third of the price of a contemporary Honda Accord.
Now, as back then, motorcycles from this era represent an incredible bang for the enthusiast’s buck. In contrast to the uptick in hype and valuation for Radwood-era cars, ’80s bikes, with some exceptions, have yet to see a dramatic valuation spike. Other eras of motorcycles, old and new, draw more attention. For instance, Millennials love 1940s Harleys, and retro-modern bikes from early 2000s are some of the strongest performers of late. Let’s take a look at some of the best bike offerings from the ’80s and why they’re worth your attention.
#3 condition (“Good,” or daily rider) value: $4300
For $4300 you can get the first, most recognizable, and highly rated muscle-bike ever made. 1985 wasn’t a time when bike manufacturers were going easy. Debuting that year, the V-Max is a prime example: a 143-hp V-4 shoved in a naked bike frame with unforgettable looks to produce the most powerful cruiser made to date. Add to that a four-gallon gas tank so it only has a 100-mile range when pushing it. Unapologetic fun and character defined the V-Max. Thanks to a 35-year production run with minimal visual changes, there are tons of these personality-rich bikes available, and that plentiful supply means the V-Max is a muscle-bike bargain that can’t be beat. Go for the 1980s version, it’s that much cooler.
#3 condition value: $6300
The mid-1980s sportbike craze created some true legends, and those bikes now sit at surprisingly low values compared to chrome-adorned bikes from previous eras. The plastic fairings that helped define the aero sportbike look have longstanding appeal within the niche, but the trait has yet to gain mainstream collector love, with the exception of Japanese homologation specials, like the Yamaha OW01 and Honda RC30, and icons like the Ducati 916.
As a result, values for bikes like the more mass-produced yet still race-bred and monumentally fast GSX-R are trending upward but remain reasonable. Considering these bikes are the ’80s exotics of the bike world, $6300 will get you a lot of bike, even if it might have a couple cracked plastic pieces. On the note of plastics, you’ve found the holy grail if you come across a GSX-R with original, uncracked panels: Most have been laid down at some point.
#3 condition value: $5300
Top Gun helped make the GPZ-900 famous when Tom Cruise’s Maverick raced his alongside F-14s and, later, F-18s. You can ride the same bike for a mere $5300. That price is shocking given the GPZ’s performance, but perhaps more importantly, this was the first Ninja—the bike that put Kawasaki posters up in rooms of aspiring riders around the world. Its attractive, stripped-down look bridges the gap between the earlier, full-naked bikes and the later, fully-faired models, and it’s a joy to both cruise on and push hard. Thanks to a smooth, liquid-cooled inline four and Japanese reliability (and a strong parts supply), the GPZ can thrive in modern day riding while keeping up with modern bikes costing twice as much. With all the GPZ-900 has going for it, it’s surprisingly cheap.
#3 condition value: $8400
The Ducati 851 is one of the most important successes in the brand’s history. Sporting Ducati’s first water-cooled engine and first four-valve-per-cylinder head along with excellent riding dynamics, the 851 was a gem in its own right and paved the way for hits like the 916 and 998. Despite its importance, the 851 stands in the shadow of the later Ducati 916 (which can be forgiven, as the 916 is known as one of the most beautiful motorcycles ever made). If you want some Italian verve for less money—about $8400 for a daily rider—in the 851 you can have Ducati’s first modern day superbike and a visceral riding experience that is tough to match.
#3 condition value: $5800
Harley-Davidson had a tough time finding its way in the 1980s, but once it broke away from AMF, radical machines returned. The FXRS Super Glide II came out in 1982 to a mixed reception: Consumers thought it lacked the bad-boy Harley appeal and wouldn’t look out of place on a Japanese brand’s showroom floor. The FXRS was simply early for its time, however. It ended up being the basis for the successful, lightweight, stripped down cruiser known as the Dyna. Today values sit at $5800 for a #3 condition FXRS. That’s an appealing entry point for a bike that will stand out at Harley gatherings and command the respect today that it didn’t get in the ’80s.