Someone remarked to me the other day that motorcycles had become rather expensive. They were referring to the fact that BMW’s flagship sports bike, the S1000RR, carries a base price of £13,850 – but, in my book, that seems pretty reasonable for a race-proven machine that looks great, can touch 188mph and handles like a dream.
But, while the S1000RR and its various competitors offer state-of-the-art technology for the price of a basic car, there is a growing demand among serious enthusiasts for limited edition motorcycles that are made from cutting-edge materials, offer investment potential and combine high performance with rarity – yet which are also entirely road-going. And the fact that such bikes cost four, eight, 10, even 22 times as much as the aforementioned BMW is not putting off buyers.
Last December, for example, Honda commenced deliveries of its radical RC213V-S, a road-legal version of its World Championship-winning Moto GP race bike – which comes with a suitably exotic price tag of £150,000. The 1,000cc V-4 engine produces 157hp (or more than 212 with the “race kit” fitted) and sits in a frame made from raw aluminium, meaning the machine must be housed in a heated garage to prevent it from corroding. A plethora of parts made from lightweight magnesium, titanium and carbon fibre keep the weight down to a gossamer 170kg and help make the bike capable of speeds approaching 200mph. The RC213V-S is hand-built at Honda’s Kumamoto factory at the rate of one per day, with an expected 250 due to be produced – although assembly was halted for several months at the end of April after the building was destroyed by two consecutive earthquakes.
Back in 2014, meanwhile, Ducati had little difficulty in shifting the 500 examples made available worldwide of the 1199 Superleggera, an ultra-light version of its Panigale sports bike with a frame and wheels made from magnesium, a carbon-fibre sub-frame and fairing panels and a titanium exhaust system – all of which served to shave 11.5kg off the weight of the standard bike and add £27,450 to the price tag, bringing it up to £54,000.
And in July this year, the Bologna-based marque celebrated its 90th year of production by announcing another 500-piece limited edition of the 1299 Panigale, called the Anniversario (£23,995), of which 45 were allocated to the UK – and sold out within days. Offering 205hp, state-of-the-art electronics and a race kit that enables it to be taken straight from street to track, it is said to represent the current pinnacle of Ducati’s road-going superbike development programme.
“The bike was announced during World Ducati Week in Misano, and orders started coming in immediately,” says the company’s UK press and racing manager Alan Jones. “We could easily have sold our allocation twice over, something that is often the case with our top-end or limited edition models. Perhaps surprisingly, we have found that people tend to ride them rather than keep them as investments – yet that doesn’t seem to prevent the bikes from holding their price or even rising in value. The road-going Desmosedici V4 Moto GP replica, for example, cost £40,000 at its launch in 2009, but used ones are now on offer for up to £60,000.”
But it’s not only established manufacturers such as Honda and Ducati that are enticing well-heeled riders with top-end offerings. Smaller artisan makers are also producing special models at the upper end of the price scale – and finding plenty of enthusiasts who are willing to pay whatever it takes for two-wheeled exclusivity.
Italy’s NCR, for example, has a long waiting list for its Ducati-engined exotics (NCR M16, from €250,000) that cost up to £175,000 apiece, while other specialist makers include Vyrus (also based in Italy) which tailormakes radical machines with trademark “hub-centre” steering at prices upwards of €70,000 (€84,180), and Britain’s Icon Sheene, which is slowly working through a series of 52 examples of the £107,000 turbocharged Suzuki-engined bike announced in this magazine back in 2011.
One of the newest makers in the field, however, is Kent-based Spirit motorcycles, which is about to enter production with a limited series of handmade motorcycles that are designed to be usable both for the road and for racing. Priced from £37,999 to £64,999, depending on the specification, the bikes (GP Sport R from £65,599) are being built by highly experienced race tuner Tony Scott and his team at T3 Racing, based in Wrotham, Kent.
Scott has a close relationship with Triumph motorcycles as he used the marque’s machines at his long-running European Superbike School in the south of France (since closed), out of which he was asked to found a one-make race series called the Triumph Triple Challenge based around the Daytona 675 sports bike. Triumph subsequently appointed T3 Racing as its official race parts distributor – and is currently in discussions to supply Scott with engine casings for his new GP Sport and GP Street motorcycles. Styled respectively as sport and “street tracker” models, each version will be available in an edition of 50 standard trim and 50 higher-specification “R” guise, with everything other than the brakes being made to T3’s specification. The frames, for example, are individually hand-built using top-quality chromoly, the engine internals are a bespoke design and the exhaust systems are made from high-grade, corrosion-resistant Inconel and titanium.
The result is a beautifully finished, individual-looking road bike that produces 145hp and weighs in at 145kg – a full 16kg lighter than a world championship-standard 600cc Supersports racer. “Our racing background dictates that whatever we build has to be the best,” explains 56-year-old Scott. “If we need a part, we want that part to be the best available, regardless of whether it is specially made or acquired from a supplier. We looked at the high-end road bike marketplace very carefully before starting Spirit motorcycles and noticed that many current machines are being bought more for their fashion appeal than for their functionality. We’ve decided to do something different by making a product that is not only beautifully built and attractive but also offers an exceptional level of performance whether it’s used on a public road or a race circuit.” He adds: “Another thing that influenced our decision is the fact that this level of clientele is recession-proof – and that will provide stability to the competition side of our business as well as enabling us to incorporate an altruistic element into the venture. Around 20 per cent of the profits will be put back into racing to help nurture talented young riders.”
On the other side of the Atlantic, Scott’s theory about a recession-proof clientele is confirmed by exotic motorcycle builders such as Confederate and Ecosse, which boast order books packed with the names of A-list buyers eagerly awaiting delivery of extreme machines costing up to $139,500 and $300,000 respectively. Confederate Motorcycles, based in Birmingham, Alabama, was established 25 years ago by former lawyer Matt Chambers, whose radical-looking machines (P51 Combat Fighter from $125,000) have since been bought by clients ranging from Baron de Rothschild to David Beckham and from the Crown Prince of Bahrain to Bruce Springsteen.
“We build premium, luxury motorcycles for distinctive individuals,” explains Chambers. “The type of client who buys one of our bikes is almost invariably a self-made person who has achieved what they have achieved in their own way – if, for example, I take a call from a lawyer who works for a big establishment firm I can usually bet that he isn’t going to become a buyer. If, however, I take a call from a renegade lawyer who works off the grid and is something of a rebel, then there is a high likelihood that he’ll place an order.” He adds: “These are heirloom-quality machines that are designed to last forever – but they are not at all conventional in design and each one takes 400 to 500 hours of work to complete. The result looks like a radicalised, muscle-bound rhinoceros that at first seems terrifying – but as soon as someone rides one they bond with it and understand the bike in context. And that’s the key to their desirability.”
At North Carolina-based Ecosse Moto Works, Donald Atchison, who trained as an aerospace engineer, and his wife Wendy employ a team of 15 artisan builders to create machines such as the Founder’s Edition FE TiXX ($300,000) which features a spectacular chassis that’s made from titanium and then hand-brushed, an all-titanium exhaust system, carbon-fibre wheels and bodywork – and a 2.1-litre supercharged, fuel-injected engine producing 200hp.
“The people who buy our bikes appreciate the fact that they are high-quality, luxury items made from exotic materials,” says Wendy Atchison. “The owners often regard them as an investment that offers the extra enjoyment of being a road-going motorcycle. Many of our clients work in the entertainment business or are world-class athletes – but they are not always rich or household names,” she adds. “In fact, the people who are often the most satisfying to build for are the ones who have saved up for an Ecosse for years, finally take delivery – and then proceed to ride the hell out of it.”