‘Ultimate Collector Motorcycles’ Showcases The World’s Wildest Bikes In Glorious Photos

These $100K-plus motorbikes include MotoGP champions, Isle of Man TT winners, world-record setters, and other history makers.

1951 Vincent Series C Red White Shadow (Courtesy of Taschen)

“For the longest time motorcycles were the second-class citizens of the collector car world. When they did come up for auction, it was usually as an afterthought in most of the big auction houses and they’d be stuck in between some premium collector cars in the hope that some of the sheen would rub off.”

So says no less an authority than Jay Leno in the foreword to Ultimate Collector Motorcycles, the definitive work for classic motorbike enthusiasts, newly published in an oversized, double-volume format by Taschen.

The beautifully photographed and meticulously researched book by Charlotte and Peter Fiell features 100 of the most exceptional bikes ever built, photographed as lovingly as supermodels.

1964 Honda RC165 250 cc Works Grand Prix Racer (Courtesy of Taschen)

The couple, who have penned over 60 design-centric books including Taschen’s double-volume Ultimate Collector Cars, were thorough in selecting the exceptional few from 130 years of motorcycle history. They list “innovation, functional beauty, raw power, competition histories, exceptional rarity, and inherent desirability,” as crucial factors in their selection.

The timing couldn’t be better. As motorcycle historian and Ducati expert Ian Falloon later notes in the accompanying text, “As many collectors don’t even ride motorcycles, these machines have moved beyond leisure products and into the realm of works of art.”

It’s no surprise then that last February a 1908 Harley Davidson Strap Tank fetched an eyewatering $935,000 by Mecum Auctions, making it the most expensive motorcycle ever sold at auction, according to Hagerty.

1957 Moto Guzzi 500 cc V8 Works Grand Prix Racer (Courtesy of Taschen)

In 2022 a record number of vintage bikes ranging from antiques to racers brought six-figure sums as well, if it wasn’t already apparent that classic motorcycles are poised to join fine whisky, luxury watches and, most analogously, classic cars as the latest prized possessions of the ultra-wealthy.

These bikes are MotoGP champions, Isle of Man TT winners, world-record setters, paradigm shifters, and history makers. And almost all of them are worth an astounding amount of money.

“Although [some motorcycles] were important landmark designs, they were produced in such high numbers that they are just too common,” the authors note.

“The bikes we mostly sought out are the ones that are valued in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, and in some rare instances, in the million-plus or even multimillion-dollar brackets.”

1929 Brough Superior SS100 Alpine Grand Sports (Courtesy of Taschen)

But what makes Ultimate Collector Motorcycles truly compelling—aside from the stunning images provided by archivists, owners and leading moto photographers—are the incredible accompanying provenances of the motorcycles presented.

“We were absolutely determined to only feature rare and interesting models that were demonstrably authentic examples, and that were, wherever possible, backed up with ironclad provenances,” the authors write. “So rather than showing, say, a 1979 Ducati Mike Hailwood Replica, as many books might do, we are instead showing the actual Ducati racer that the great ‘Mike the Bike’ rode to his unforgettable Isle of Man TT F1 victory in 1978.”

Another highlight is a Brough Superior SS1100 Alpine Grand Sports—a 1936 example of which sold for over $300,000 at Bonhams in 2022. But the one shown in Ultimate Collector Motorcycles was owned by famed British archaeologist, army officer, diplomat, and best-selling author, T.E. Lawrence, aka Lawrence of Arabia.

1940 Crocker 61 cu. in. “Big Tank” (Courtesy of Taschen)

According to the book, it is “on this machine Lawrence regularly undertook the 235-mile journey from Plymouth to London in less than five hours [which], given the parlous state of the roads back then, was very impressive.”

There’s an especially glorious example of an Art Deco-styled Crocker “Big Tank” produced by Crocker Motorcycle Company of Los Angeles, a firm that only operated for a decade from 1932 to 1942. It was perhaps the only American-made contemporary of the Brough Superior SS1100 that offered any competition on the road. Today, it competes for sky-high prices.

“When a similar 1939 Crocker Big Tank… came up for sale at Mecum Auctions in January 2019, it was the all-out star lot. It went on to far exceed its presale estimate by selling for a then record-breaking $704,000.”

(Courtesy of Taschen)

And then there’s the only Vincent Series C White Shadow painted Chinese Red; a bubble-faired 1957 Moto Guzzi racer powered by a 500cc V8; and the one-off 1972 Ducati 750 Imola— believed by some to be the most valuable motorcycle in the world.

This $250 book may be as close as you ever get to them, but as tributes go it’s well worth the price of entry.