What is the best British classic bike to buy and own?
Budget motorcycle | Starter classic | Triumph | Norton | BSA | AJS | Matchless
It depends on how you define "classic". But for old British iron up to, say, 1985 and on a "medium budget", we recommend a 750cc Triumph T140 Bonneville. Parts are easy to find. The bikes are easy to work on. All the problems are well understood. Performance is still sufficient for modern riding. Handling is good. Reliability is good. And there are plenty to choose from.
A 650cc unit BSA A65 is also a good choice for much the same reasons. Ditto for a 750cc or 850cc Norton Commando. You might also consider any 650cc Triumph, any 500cc Triumph, and maybe a 500cc BSA A50 or a 650cc BSA A10.
We wouldn't recommend anything too "exotic" such as an Ariel Square Four, a Velocette single, a Vincent twin or single, or any "blue chip" classic. And a BSA DB or BSA DBD Gold Star is likely to be challenging. But this depends on whether you're looking for a classic to ride, or a classic bike to own as an investment.
A 500cc Royal Enfield Bullet single is also a good choice. We're referring to the Indian-built bikes which, strictly speaking, aren't British. Not any more. But they are a British design and offer pretty much the same thrills, frills and foibles of "traditional" British iron. Just remember that British-built Bullets from the 1930s through to the 1960s will carry a premium over later Indian-built bikes.
And while we're looking at Brit singles, a 500cc BSA B33 is a pretty solid and dependable bike. The 350cc BSA B31 is in most respects the same, but with reduced performance. Of the two, we'd opt for the 500. But these motorcycles are a little harder to pin down, and you'll pay extra for the privilege.
There are many more classic British bikes to choose from, but these listed here are good contenders. And all of the bikes mentioned are pretty easy to get parts for and are straightforward mechanically. Note that the T140s, the Commandos and the Bullets have especially good parts availability.
Finally, if low performance doesn't bother you too much, look at a BSA M21. These are 600cc sidevalves, and they're generally very reliable and easy to live with. We'd suggest you look for an example with a telescopic front fork, a plunger rear end, and the larger 8-inch front brake.
Tip: buy with your heart and eyes as well as your head.
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