Six Beautiful and Reliable pre-1980’s Motorcycles for Under $3000

Vintage motorcycles are a timeless icon of cool and style. With the right bike, you can save some serious cash and come away with a fast and reliable machine that commands attention.

Vintage motorcycles are a timeless icon of cool and style.  With the right bike, you can save some serious cash and come away with a fast and reliable machine that commands attention.

Honda CB 750

The Honda CB 750 is a Honda sport motorcycle that may easily be the most popular bike among vintage motorcycle enthusiasts.  Upon its first production in the United States in 1969, the CB 750 made such an impression on the motorcycle community that it was named the first ever superbike.  Four cylinders give it a powerful 68 horsepower and a top speed of 125 mph, stock.  It is also cheap and easy to maintain.  Because of  its popularity, replacement OEM (original equipment manufacturer) and aftermarket parts are inexpensive and easy to find.  With just minimal effort, anyone can find one of these bikes in excellent running condition with neither mechanical nor cosmetic work required for around $2500.

Yamaha XS 650

The Yamaha XS 650 is another stunning example of a fast and good looking vintage bike.  With two powerful cylinders capable of producing 50 horsepower and a stock top speed of 105 mph, the XS650 engine was commonly used in flat track race bikes back in the day, and still has a legacy of speed and reliability.  Upon its launch in 1968, the XS 650 was one of the most advanced motorcycles on the market.  The gearbox and engine are unit construction, which means that they are housed under the same casing. The crankcases are split horizontally, which makes the XS 650 extremely easy to maintain.  Like any Japanese bike make, Yamaha parts are easy to find and predominantly cheap.  With a quick visit to Craigslist or your local motorcycle swap meet, anyone can come away with an XS 650 that runs perfectly and looks pristine for less than $3000.

Kawasaki KZ 900 or Z1

Nicknamed the “King of Motorcycles”, the KZ 900, or Z1, has proven itself to be quick, powerful, and easy to maintain.  Since its release in 1970, it has outperformed and outlasted many of the other superbikes on the market.  The KZ 900 is the Kawasaki response to the CB 750, but does differ from its Honda counterpart by utilizing a dual overhead camshaft air cooled system in its inline four cylinders, instead of only a single overhead camshaft system that the CB 750 utilizes on its early models.  With an 82 horsepower output and a stock top speed of 135mph, it is not only more powerful but also faster than its competitors.  The KZ 900 is priced at around $2,800 retail, and is cheap and easy to maintain because parts are plentiful and inexpensive.

Bultaco Sherpa T

For anyone with a little dirt in mind, the Bultaco Sherpa T is a stock trials bike that was originally manufactured in variations of single cylinder 250cc and 350cc engine sizes and still reigns as an industry leading trials bike.  With minimal, lightweight design and a high torque rating, the Sherpa T was originally created to dominate the world of off road trials riding, where riders had to cross ludicrous obstacles like walls and felled trees without putting their feet on the ground or falling off of the bike.  It is easy to make street legal, and many restored Sherpa T’s are put through the process of registration and street legalization before being sold.  Due to the fact that Bultaco is a Spanish make that went out of business in 1983, OEM parts are tough to find and aftermarket parts can be a little bit more expensive than Japanese makes.  On the other hand, fully restored and beautifully running Sherpa T’s can be found easily and purchased for around $2500.

Yamaha DT 250

Another stylish dirtbike, the DT 250 is part of the Yamaha DT series, and is an extremely reliable machine.  It  is a single cylinder enduro class off road motorcycle which was originally designed to travel long distances off road.  Enduros are great machines, due largely to the fact that they are not only extremely versatile, but can be easily street legalized, and unbelievably cheap and easy to maintain.  The DT series motorcycles are also highly fuel efficient machines.  A stock DT 250 gets about 95 miles a gallon, which means that for every two gallon tank, the bike can travel almost 200 miles.  It is an immensely dependable machine, and OEM and aftermarket parts are dirt cheap.  With the right eye on Craigslist, anyone can find a DT 250 that runs perfectly with no physical defects for under $2000, or even under $1000.

Honda Elsinore MT 250

For the classic dirt bike experience, the vintage Honda Elsinore MT 250 is a good, reliable motorcycle for on and off the street.  The Honda Elsinore series of motorcycles are Honda motocross and offroad bikes that began to be manufactured in 1973.  It is another minimal and lightweight bike, and quickly proved itself in the field motocross racing.  After the first year of the Elsinore being a strictly motocross model, Honda decided to introduce the Elsinore MT series, which is more enduro/dualsport friendly version of its predecessor.   With a single cylinder 250cc engine, it produces about 28 horsepower, which is impressive for such a small engine, and tops out at about 75-80 mph.  The early Honda Elsinore models are timeless classics, and are also cheap and extremely easy to maintain due to their Honda make.  With minimal effort and research, this bike can be found in excellent running condition for as little as $900.

Once you’ve purchased your new machine, you’re going to need some inexpensive, functioning, and most importantly good looking gear to get you that cool, vintage motorcycle look.  If you’re in the market for a stylish, cheap motorcycle jacket that’s high quality genuine leather, Jafrum Motorcycle Gear is a great place to start looking. For around $75, they have functional rocker-style, thick leather jackets to save any man’s hide, just in case.  For that vintage style helmet, check out the Bell Store for their classic Custom 500 style helmet for as cheap as $84 that will look sharp and go a long way in protection.  For goggles, any set of RAF style motorcycle goggles that are functional and fit the look can be purchased for little more than $20.  When it comes to boots, a good pair of WWI style Caterpillar Abe Boots can be purchased for around $140, and are not only incredibly durable and functional, but also look really good on a classic motorcycle.  For gloves, any pair of leather gloves will keep the wind off of your hands and keep ‘em nice and warm.

My name is Sean Joseph Murphy. I'm 19 and I live in San Francisco. I'm studying creative writing at San Francisco State University. In my spare time I work on and ride my 1979 Yamaha, as well as read and write as often as possible.

  • Johnny Musselman

    Low Brow Customs has awesome parts and accessories for the 750 and 650 as well. It doesn’t take much to customize those bikes into your own bike that will turn heads everywhere.  

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  • Thom Douglas

    Whaaaaat? No cafe racers? Primer, I am disappointed in you! The Honda CB360 with ace bars is one amazing bike that is widely available for under $3,000.

    • Justus True Waldron

      My first bike was a cb360, I paid $400! Wish I still had it, but I like my ’78 kz750 twin a lot too

      • Christopher Smith

        Had a pair of cb 350 twins i scored for $500 total, one running when bought, the other after a few hours work the next weekend. Then moved up to a cb350 four (still in my top ten faves of twenty bikes owned), and also later had a cl360 scrambler. Omitting the honda 350-400 class of bikes is a serious neglecting of some of the best bikes of the day. Less weight than the old 750, and actually more power to weight if im not mistaken on the 400four.

  • Scott Glover

    Its all fun and games until you need to find insurance though

  • John Mcgellaer

    To scott and thom, scott: motorcycle insurance is more or less 20 a month for basic packages.  Thom: a cafe racer is a customized motorcycle. These are stock bikes that, aside from the last three, that can be turned into cafe racers. cafe racer kits and bars are normally after market, unless youre willing to pay around 8 grand for a new triumph thruxton or even more for an old triumph daytona.  Just trying to help

  • Biker friend

    Great info and just in time for holiday shoppers. Thanks for including the description of accessories. That’s what I can do now for the bike enthusiasts in my circle of friends.

  • Rorywoj

    Love the xs650 style. I had a ’70 Yamaha r5: 350cc two stroke. A great little bike that looks very similar to the xs. You see a good few CB’s on the road. I would go for a kz, xs or a Suzuki GS before the cb just to get something different. -that usually means paying a little more for parts though.

    • Andrew

      The big thing about going that route, or picking a non-750 CB model, is the margin of repair cost.  Bikes in this price range don’t leave you a lot of wiggle room for the parts tally to add up before it gets totaled.  Furthermore, the older you go, the harder parts are to find and therefore more expensive.  They made so many CB750s, continuing production until 2003, that parts are plentiful and cheap.  Pretty much no other bike is going to come anywhere near them for parts availability, either OEM or aftermarket.

      I had a ’76 CB550 that I high-sided.  The front forks alone totaled it, not counting the instrument cluster, the headlight, the signals, the pegs, the brake levers, or the handlebars.

      • Rorywoj

        This is very true. 

  • Butch_Zee

    It’s crazy to think that parts for these bikes are cheap. 

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  • Rog

    5 letters/numbers- CB350

    over a quarter MILLION sold and ridden, many on the road today….or if you have the flair and don’t believe in myths, a Kawasaki triple!

  • Dan Hardesty

    I used to own the Honda 750, until my brother decided to get in a bad accident. (Not his fault on the accident, he wasn’t supposed to be riding it) A beautiful bike that was always smooth. Nice choice.

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