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Three main factors determine any vehicle's value, according to Karl Brauer, editor-in-chief of Total Car Score.
Those factors are rarity (how many initially produced compared to how many are left today), innovation (was this vehicle a technological breakthrough when it debuted), and whether it has a successful race history (which always increases value).
Brauer compiled this list of what he says are the 10 most-valuable motorcycle models. The rundown includes scarce antique models and in one case, a motorcycle that appeared in a famous photo. Click on to see those bikes, with values starting in the low six figures and going up to a million dollars.
By Colleen Kane
Posted 31 Jan. 2013
Only 40 custom-made hand-built Crockers were ever produced in the early 1940s. Brauer says they had 1,000 and 1,500 cc engines with three-speed transmissions, and they were capable of a top speed of nearly 120. World War II put the kibosh on American Crocker manufacturing, but the remaining models can bring in more than $200,000. One 1940 Crocker sold in an August 2012 Bonham's auction for $302,000.
This model had new features like a fully suspended rear end (versus the hard mounted rear wheel) a foot operated shifter, a four-speed transmission, and a side stand. Its 45 horsepower, air-cooled twin V engine could also produce speeds 100 mph. According to Brauer, prices can go higher than $300,000, and one sold at a Bonhams auction in April 2012 for approximately $354,548.
This graduate of Ducati's MotoGP team was ridden by Valentino Rossi in the 2011 season and sold in May for $312,000.
This machine's claim to fame was it was ridden by Ducati rider Casey Stoner for the 2010 MotoGP season, earning four victories. It sold at auction last May (along with the motorcycle named in the previous slide), bringing in a record-breaking price of $320,000 for a Ducati.
The oldest model on this list was started up by using the pedals to crank the motor. That engine was a 570cc single cylinder connected to a single belt drive for a speed that topped out at 50 mph. Prices on these can vary depending on condition, but the value is increasing in sales venues such as Bonhams auctions, according to Brauer, citing one sale of $350,000.
Many motorcyles on this list have set speed records, and that's what the British dealer of this Vincent Black Lightning was after when he rigged it with a supercharger. It never did break any speed records, but many years later in 2008 it did break a different kind of British record, when it sold in a Bonhams auction for $383,400.
The Brough was guaranteed to hit 100 mph, and in the 1920s and '30s, it was considered the Rolls-Royce of motorcycles, according to Brauer. "Advanced suspension and frame design made the bikes extremely capable by the standards of the era," he said. Prices can go anywhere from $100,000 to $400,000. One sold for approximately $148,000 at a Bonham's auction in October 2010.
BMW was one of the first manufacturers to use supercharger technology. "BMW combined a supercharged, dual overhead camshaft engine with a four-speed transmission to create an advanced and powerful series of racing motorcycles," Brauer said. A BMW Type 255 Kompressor recently went for $480,000 in a January 2013 Bonham's auction.
This nearly century-old cycle was the most powerful of its time, said Brauer. Its 1,000 cc V-twin engine with 50 horsepower was capable of over 120 mph, which Brauer said was "an incredible speed at that time for what was essentially a bicycle with an engine." About 300 were made but only 15 are left, and they can fetch over $500,000. One Cyclone fetched $480,000 in a 2008 auction by Mid America Auctions.
The 1948 prototype for the Vincent Black Lightning is also known as Rollie Free's "Bathing Suit Bike." Clad only in a helmet, swim trunks and tennis shoes to improve aerodynamics while lying face down across the top of the motorcycle, Free set the land speed record of 150.313 mph. His feat was documented in a photo that became an iconic image in motorcycling. In 2011, this one-of-a-kind chopper set another record when it became the first motorcycle to sell for a million dollars.