The Most Innovative Motorcycles

A ranking of some of the most groundbreaking motorcycles ever produced.

A ranking of some of the most groundbreaking motorcycles ever produced.

Vincent Prat / Guerry Prat Images.

Brough Superior SS100

The first production motorcycle to crack the magic 100 mph mark was the 1925 Brough Superior SS100. Unfortunately, the short-lived brand closed its doors in 1940. But the good news is that Austrian-based enthusiast Mark Upton has revived the company, and today’s bikes are meticulous recreations of the original. The glorious machine shown here is the ‘Pendalpine’, shot on the banks of the River Seine in Paris. It was built in 2008 and is closely based on the original SS100.

Courtesy of Harley-Davidson Archives.

Harley-Davidson XR750

These days, Harley seems to have lost interest in high performance. But it wasn’t always so. V-twins from the early 1940s—affectionately known as “Knuckleheads”—could reach 100 mph. And the XR750 shown here, produced from 1970 until 1985, was the king of the dirt tracks. The iconic XR scored more wins than any other bike in AMA history. And even if you don’t frequent oval tracks, you probably recognize it: this was the bike that carried Evel Knievel to global fame.

BMW Heritage

BMW R80 G/S

Few motorcycle manufacturers can claim to have invented a category. BMW is one of them. The R80 “Gelände/Strasse” (off-road/on-road) was the first production dual-sport motorcycle, and in 1981, a modified R80 G/S won the Paris-Dakar rally. Today, BMW’s GS series is hugely popular with two-wheeled adventurers all over the world, and over 500,000 have been built.

Jason Brownrigg

Ducati 900SS

Ducati has almost certainly recaptured the crown of ‘world’s fastest production bike’ with its new Panigale. The mid-70s predecessor of that bike was the 900SS, which could clock a heady 135 mph. The machine shown here is a 900SS recently restored and customized by Walt Siegl, a master builder based in New Hampshire.

Image by Jason Brownrigg.

Courtesy of Bonhams

Vincent Black Shadow

Motorcycle performance tends to rise in small increments. A few more horsepower here, a few more mph there. The exception is the legendary Vincent Black Shadow, a 125 mph machine that stunned the motoring press in 1949. It would be 24 years before anyone figured out how to build a faster production bike—an honor that went to Kawasaki with the 1973 Z1. The exquisite Vincent shown here has the frame of a Black Shadow and a highly tuned motor from a 1949 Vincent Rapide. It was sold for £31,050 (US$50,000) by Bonhams in June 2011.

Image courtesy of Bonhams.

Courtesy of Suzuki

Suzuki Hayabusa

When Suzuki’s GSX1300R appeared in 1999, it broke through the 300 kph barrier (186 mph) and ignited worldwide controversy over the escalating speed of motorcycles. Fearful of a regulatory backlash, motorcycle manufacturers agreed to limit future machines to this speed and no faster. The Hayabusa can hit 60 mph in around 2.5 seconds, and in the hands of an experienced rider, run the quarter mile in less than ten seconds.