James Hewitt is the Hagerty Automotive Intelligence team’s resident motorcycle maven, having owned more than a hundred classic bikes. He finds zen in analyzing motorcycle valuation data.
The motorcycle world is among most passionate subsets of the collector vehicle space. The players here are passionate about two-wheeled anything and often love working on them as much as riding them. Rarely do outside investors jump in with promises of financial return—unlike the car side of things—and in general movements are less dramatic. Yet, like everything else in 2021, pent-up demand sprang onto the scene this year, spreading large demand, interest, and ultimately money across many eras and genres of the bike market. Some of these motorcycles have long been primed to break out (I’m looking at you, ’80s and ’90s sportbikes), and the conditions this year were finally right. Let’s look at five of the most significant motorcycle sales in 2021.
2016 Honda RC213V-S
The Upshot: A new world record for a Japanese motorcycle at auction.
The Honda RC213V-S is a Moto-GP race bike for the street, one not seen since Ducati sold the 2007 Desmosedici RR new in 1500 limited units for $72,500. Ducati could pull that kind of thing because, well, it’s Ducati.
Did anyone think Honda could sell a $72,000 race replica for the street? Honda did, nearly tripling that price to just under $200K for a run of bikes a tenth as the size of the Desmosedici RR’s. Naturally, they were a hard sell when new, and up until these two listings we hadn’t seen any change hands publicly to prove or disprove how the market values of a supposedly $200K Japanese sportbike.
Now we have two public sales, the first in Japan and the second from England, which took place one month apart. Two currencies and less than 1 percent apart in price, by the current exchange rate. It now seems certain that buyers will pay $236K–$238K for an RC213V-S with the race kit. That’s about four times what buyers are paying for Desmosedici RRs, not to mention a new auction record for a Japanese motorcycle. Guess it was worth the wait.
1995 BMW R100GS Paris-Dakar
520-mile example, sold for $43,000 on Bring a Trailer
The Upshot: A BMW motorcycle from the ’90s hasn’t seen close to this price since … well, ever.
A final sale price of $45,150 after fees makes this R100GS more expensive than almost every R69S sold thus far, and that mid-century icon stands as one of the most collectible motorcycles to wear the BMW roundel. Well, it beat ‘em all except for September’s 1967 R69S restored by marque specialist Tim Stafford, slightly edging out the R100GS at a final sale price of $47,512 including fees on BaT. That R100GS sale is more expensive than a sandcast Honda CB750, a Kawasaki Z, and even the Ducati 916 SPS—a Duc that’s widely considered one of the most desirable bikes of the ’90s.
This is quite the come-up. The R100GS has always sat in the shadow of the more collectible R80G/S, the bike that kickstarted the adventure motorcycle genre and proved a roaring success for BMW. It often takes an exceptionally collectible vehicle to bring a huge price spike for a Condition #1 model; a near-perfect condition 1995 Yamaha Virago is a great bike, for example, but likely not going to bring exponentially more for a low-mile specimen. This sale proves that the R100GS is in that arena, and with it will come price boosts for other overlooked ’90s adventure bikes, including the wicked-cool Honda Trans-Alp.
Mecum’s sale of Harley Knuckleheads
The J.C. Burgin Motorcycle Collection, sold at Mecum Las Vegas 2021
The Upshot: American iron from the 1940s isn’t enjoying especially large gains on the car market, but original Harley Knuckleheads are thriving—particularly with younger buyers who are willing to pay a premium.
This past year’s most noteworthy Knucklehead sale was shared by a 1943 and 1946 example, each claiming a healthy $220,000 at Mecum’s Las Vegas sale earlier in 2021. These superstar standouts stood out in a field of other Knuckleheads produced between the 1937 and 1943 model years that individually brought well over $100K each, proving the Harley-Davidson Knucklehead’s value progression continues at an unprecedented rate.
We have had our eyes on the Knucklehead for several years, and even had it slated for our annual Bull Market List until the owner had to cancel just prior to the photoshoot. It’s proven to have a surprisingly strong reaction from millennial collectors, despite values doubling or even tripling what they were not too long ago. That’s hard to say for any other vehicle from the 1940s.
Arthur “Fonz” Fonzarelli’s 1949 Triumph Trophy 500 Custom
Sold for $231,562 with Bonhams
The Upshot: A strong association between a famous person and a famous motorcycle attracts big dollars, more so now than three years ago, and nostalgia always reigns supreme.
The significance of this sale is not just that a famous person—Richard Rawlings from the show Fast ‘N Loud—paid big money for a famous motorcycle, but that the sale price was 29 percent higher than what the same bike sold for in 2018 at Julien’s Los Angeles auction. This just proves how tricky it is to price bikes with celebrity provenance, where even if it sells for a sky-high price once, you can’t guarantee the next buyer will open their checkbook quite so wide. Or, in the case of Fonz’ Triumph, they might split the book wide open.
1974 Kawasaki Z1 and Honda CB750 K1
The Upshot: High-production Japanese bikes are invading the price space usually reserved for collectible Italian or German motorcycles.
In step with the JDM hotness exploding in the collector car market, values of Japanese bikes have skyrocketed in the past decade. What was considered expensive for a Honda CB750 or Kawasaki Z1 prior to this upswing is now what a restoration project might sell for. Two Bring a Trailer sales from early 2021 saw a perfectly restored CB750 hammer for $34,650 after fees and a ’74 Z1-A for $25,200, bringing to light just how big this market has become.
Money from the car-collecting world is movin’ on in as collectors begin to realize the value for the taking in the two-wheeled world, all while motorcycle collectors scramble to keep up with shifting trends. A purse full of $34,000 used to be enough to score a perfectly restored sandcast CB750, a rare ’70s Ducati, or a pair of pristine BMW “/2s.” These days, that’s maybe just enough for a lone CB750, at least according to this pricey sale. Similarly, Z1s have long remained more valuable than an equivalent CB750, but BaT’s preservation-quality Z1 brought $7K less than the Honda. In other words, trends come, trends go.