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The Top 10 Coolest Vintage British Motorcycles

The author knows a lot about cars and motorcycles, especially older and more affordable ones.

Vintage Versus New

Recently, new motorcycles made to look vintage have become all the rage. This trend covers everything from cruisers to cafe racers to dirt bikes. While many of these bikes are really cool, they just aren't nearly as cool as the originals. Here are what I consider to be the best vintage bikes of British origin.

10 Best Vintage British Motorcycles

  1. Vincent Black Shadow
  2. Royal Enfield Bullet
  3. Velocette Venom
  4. Panther Model 100
  5. Norton Manx
  6. BSA Lightning
  7. Matchless Silver Streak
  8. Ariel Red Hunter
  9. Triumph Bonneville
  10. Norton ES2

1. Vincent Black Shadow

Vincent Black Shadow

Vincent Black Shadow

The Vincent Black Shadow is considered to be the ultimate dream bike by many people. It is extremely desirable and extremely expensive, selling frequently in excess of $60,000. Fewer than 1700 of these highly desirable bikes were made. They were popular race bikes and had an astonishing performance for a production bike in their time.

2. Royal Enfield Bullet

Royal Enfield Bullet

Royal Enfield Bullet

The Royal Enfield Bullet has been in production for a very long time, having been in constant production since 1931. Production in the U.K. ended in the 1960s and has been carried on in India ever since. In the U.S., you can buy one of these bikes new from a Royal Enfield dealer. It does have good looks but isn't known for having good quality anymore. These are a good way to get a vintage-looking bike with some modern accessories.

3. Velocette Venom

Velocette Venom

Velocette Venom

The Velocette Venom was a 500cc single-cylinder bike that was quite fast in its day. It still holds the 24hr speed record for bikes its size, 100.05 mph average for 24 hours. It was made from 1955 to 1970 with around 5700 total being made. It's not as rare as a Vincent Black Shadow, but it sure isn't common. These are very good-looking bikes and were very well made.

4. Panther Model 100

Panther Model 100

Panther Model 100

These attractive bikes were made from 1932 to 1963. They were very stout and workman-like. The top speed was around 70 mph, which is considerably slower than the other bike on this list, but I like them because of their looks and their reputation for being good, sturdy transportation.

5. Norton Manx

Norton Manx

Norton Manx

Norton made these bikes from 1946 to 1962. They were developed solely for winning the Isle of Man TT. Molnar Precision Limited bought the tooling for these bikes and they are once again being produced to exact 1961 specs. The top speed was 150 mph, depending on gearing. I really like the way these bikes look and would love one for myself. In 1950, these bikes received the legendary Norton Featherbed frame, which gave them a considerable competitive advantage.

6. BSA Lightning

BSA Lightning

BSA Lightning

The Lightning was developed with the U.S. market in mind and is suited well to our tastes. The 110 mph top speed is more adequate than most. The ride is smooth up to 5k rpm (when the vibration sets in). This bike is considered one of the most successful of all British motorcycles. It was featured in the James Bond movie Thunderball. Hunter S. Thompson also famously owned one.

7. Matchless Silver Streak

Matchless Silver Streak

Matchless Silver Streak

The Matchless Silver Streak entered production in 1938 and was a great machine. This is one of the few places where I think that massive amounts of chrome and polish are a good thing. Even the fuel and oil tanks are chromed on these. They were considered Super Sport bikes when they were new. They had close-ratio gearboxes which made them potent on the road, and high ground clearance and low bottom gear which made them acceptable cross country.

8. Ariel Red Hunter

Ariel Red Hunter

Ariel Red Hunter

I don't know a whole lot about these bikes, but they do look cool. They were made from 1932 to 1959. They gained a rear suspension in the '50s.

9. Triumph Bonneville

Triumph Bonneville

Triumph Bonneville

These bikes are the bikes that many people picture when they think of "English motorcycles." These bikes were loved by the cafe-racer crowd and were modified in large numbers. The original Bonnevilles were made from 1959 to 1983. Triumph has recently started making a new Bonneville, although it looks the same it's a modern bike. These are still fairly common and are cheap compared to many bikes on this list. I know several people who still use old Bonneville as daily drivers.

10. Norton ES2

Norton ES2

Norton ES2

Norton made the ES2 from 1927 to 1964: a very long stretch for such a traditional design. It was a sports bike when it was initially produced, but its performance was soon surpassed by other bikes. These bikes were well known for being reliable and easy to repair. While they all look pretty old-fashioned now, they were constantly updated during their production run.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.