Lexham Insurance turned 21 this year and to mark the occasion, we are going to take a look back at 21 of the most iconic motorcycles of the past 21 years!
The motorcycle industry has been constantly evolving, with new technology and amazing bikes coming out every year. In fact, we've seen some truly epic motorcycles arrive over the past two decades and picking out just 21 is a difficult task.
As usual, I'm going to cover as wide a variety as possible, looking at some of the bikes that have really shaped the direction of motorcycle manufacturing, as well as bikes that have been huge sellers and trendsetters. So let's get started!
BMW R 1200 GS
Let's start with BMW's biggest selling bike – the R 1200 GS. This model really revolutionised the adventure bike market by providing a motorcycle that could basically do everything. Commuting, touring, adventuring, whatever you want to throw at it, the GS will do it in style.
The R 1200 GS was first developed in 2004 to replace the outgoing R 1150 GS model and an 'Adventure' version followed in 2006, swiftly making the GS the top-selling motorcycle in the UK. In fact, it went on to account for a third of BMW's total yearly motorcycle sales all on its own!
The GS was always a premium bike but despite the huge price tag, you got a lot of motorcycle for the money, and it remained a best seller all the way until 2019 when it was finally replaced with the new R 1250 GS model.
Aprilia RS 125
The venerable RS 125 was every teenager’s dream bike in the 90s. A raucous powerhouse of a 125cc with stylish superbike looks, there hadn't really been anything like it when it arrived in 1992. It had already been through several versions before Lexham came into existence and even won the 1997 125GP championship ridden by the 18-year-old Valentino Rossi!
In the past 21 years, things have changed a great deal, with Euro emission laws affecting the way motorcycles are built. In 2012, the RS made the change from its classic two-stroke engine to a single-cylinder four-stroke, and it was the end of an era. Although the modern iterations lack the punching power of the classic model, they still stand at the forefront of the 125cc category, both in performance and tech specs. They still look like an absolute dream too!
We've always been huge Aprilia fans at Lexham and have insured a million of these, I'm sure there will be a million more.
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Triumph Bonneville T100
It doesn't get much more iconic than the Bonneville. This is a name that has been held in the highest esteem for more than 60 years, not just the last 21! From the original Ton-up Boys of the 50s and 60s (you can read up with our Cafe Racer history blog) to the latest 2021 cutting edge editions, the Bonneville has always been one of the most desirable motorcycles on the market.
Obviously, there has been a lot of different variations of Bonneville but for this list, I am going with the T100. First appearing back in 2002 as a 100th-anniversary limited edition model (an extremely rare model due to a fire at the factory that same year!), the Triumph T100 is a thing of beauty with its classic looks. The slightly smaller engine capacity and lower weight compared to the T120 make for a more agile and responsive ride too and, in 2021, the latest edition is looking more appealing than ever!
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KTM 390 Duke
The first Duke models were released in the mid-90s with one of the most memorable entries to the range coming in 2004 – the 990 Super Duke. This is a bike that helped to define what a modern Supernaked could be, with its powerful high torque performance and extreme angular bodywork. By 2013, the Super Duke's unique visual style and ride philosophy began to permeate across the full range.
For me what makes 390 Duke iconic, is that it was ahead of its time and changed the entire market it occupied. Until this, most A2 category bikes were just placeholders, something you were forced to ride until you could get the bike you really wanted. The 390 Duke was finally an A2 motorcycle you could be proud of. A fantastic and economical commuter with enough fun factor to satisfy full licence holders too.
Now we are in the middle of an unprecedented age of great A2 motorcycles, and it started right here!
Honda CBR1000RR Fireblade
In recent times the litre bike spotlight has been more focused on Aprilia, Yamaha, Kawasaki, Ducati and BMW. Any one of these iconic bikes could have made the list but when I think back two decades, perhaps the most famous name in this category was the 'Fireblade'.
Making its debut back in 2004, the CBR1000RR was actually the 7th generation of motorcycle to bear the name CBR, with the original blades making a name for themselves throughout the 90s. The 2004 model marked the step up into 1000cc territory and Honda injected all of their MotoGP know-how into this bike. A brand new 998cc in-line four engine with dual-stage fuel injection, as well as a brand new frame, suspension and Honda Electronic Steering Damper (HESD) all added to this new generation of Fireblade, and it was a huge hit.
The CBR1000RR continued to be updated with new engines and new features over the years and in 2009 it became the first motorcycle in its category to be equipped with ABS. That seems funny in 2021 when almost anything you can think of comes with ABS as standard, but the Fireblade always felt just one step ahead of the competition.
Harley Davidson Sportster
The Sportster name has existed since 1957 but in recent times it has found a place as Harley's entry-level cruiser. After the success of the Nightster in 2007 and the 883 Iron in 2008, Harley realised they were on to something. These were slightly lighter cruisers with improved agility, making them more suitable to everyday riding and at a more affordable cost.
The Sportster Forty-Eight arrived in 2009 using the same frame and basic setup as the Iron but with a traditional-looking design and a 1200cc engine. It became a mainstay of the modern Harley line-up, with the final version coming almost a decade later in 2018.
Sadly the latest Euro 5 emissions standards finally killed off the Sportster range for the UK in 2020, so these bikes will now only be found on the used market. However, the Sportster name itself won't disappear as a completely redesigned V-twin Sportster has just been unveiled. Only time will tell if it will be as popular as the last.
The MT-09's release back in 2014 was a game-changer for the naked middleweight category. It introduced a brand new 850cc three-cylinder engine that offered endless torque and near-instant power delivery. The real key to Yamaha's success was that it provided a high fun factor and formidable riding experience, without being too impractical.
The MT-09 certainly wasn't a beginner bike but after its huge sales numbers, Yamaha knew they were on to a winner and expanded the entire range. Now there is an MT model for every rider, from the CBT-ready MT-125 to the monstrous MT-10. They even introduced the deluxe MT-09 SP model and the huge selling Tracer 9 – the same fantastic engine turned into a sports tourer.
After the MT-09's giant success, other manufacturers took note and began injecting their own offerings with a generous helping of torque and aggressive styling. In fact, we are currently enjoying a real boom in the naked motorcycle market and the MT-09 kicked it all off.
Ducati first unveiled the Scrambler in 2014 and it immediately became one of their top-selling bikes, helping to define an entire genre in the process – the neo-retro. Despite the name and large spoked wheels, the Scrambler was intended to be an urban street bike and quickly became the choice of hipsters everywhere.
Ducati had a few clever ideas to ensure it would catch on, apart from its killer aesthetics. Firstly, the bike's relatively mellow power delivery from the 75bhp 800cc engine made it a perfect bike for beginners, while still satisfying more experienced riders. It also launched with a very attractive price tag. Usually, having a Ducati badge on your tank will cost you a tidy sum but even in 2021, you can have one of these lovely designer motorcycles for less than £10k.
Suzuki V-Strom 650
The V-Strom may not be the flashiest bike on the list, but it earns a place here for its pure versatility and amazing value for money.
This is a middleweight adventure tourer and since debuting in 2004, it has been one of the most cost-effective bikes in the UK. Perfectly suited for British conditions, the V-Strom can eat up your daily commute, go long-distance on tour or take you on an adventure, it really is a true all-rounder. It doesn't look half bad either!
As you would expect the V-Strom has seen constant refinement over the last 17 years but even the latest 2021 model can be purchased brand new for under £8,000. It may lack a lot of the advanced gadgetry of models like the BMW GS (although it does boast a 20L tank, traction control and stop-start assist) but it also costs almost half the price. That's where Suzuki has always shined – doing the same job as more expensive machines and doing it well at a very affordable cost. What more can you ask for?
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The Honda CB125F comes from a long line of quality, low-capacity budget motorcycles. In fact, the previous CBF125 model has been running since 2008 and is Europe's biggest-selling motorcycle!
In 2015 it was time for the next evolution in the series and production was moved to China, where despite receiving various improvements over its predecessor, the new CB125F was actually cheaper on launch! With updated Street bike styling and a full-size frame, in 2021 the little Honda is looking better than ever. Despite the increased size, it's actually lighter than before too, thanks to the new single-cylinder enhanced Smart Power engine. Fuel economy is also improved up to a claimed 188 mpg, while the new electronic dash will tell you when you’re riding at optimum fuel efficiency.
It may not be the fastest 125cc on the road but it's a comfortable workhorse that is extremely economical and despite the improvements, still costs less than £2800.
Royal Enfield Interceptor 650
In recent years Royal Enfield has made a name for themselves with budget retro motorcycles like the Bullet or Classic 500. These bikes have very low power outputs (we are talking 27bhp here) but very low price tags. The main selling point is their character and traditional designs, the Classic even comes with a kick start to make it as authentic as possible.
That's why the new Interceptor 650 was such a surprise. A revival of the vintage Interceptor produced from 1960-70, with a completely new design. It still carries RE's philosophy of creating affordable classic-themed bikes, but the new 648cc parallel-twin engine raises the performance quite substantially to 47bhp. This is still A2-friendly and makes for a perfect beginner bike, but it now has all the power you would need for riding on UK roads.
One of the biggest things to mention here is the cost. Starting at just £5,899, the value for money is exceptional and it became Britain's biggest-selling large capacity motorcycle in 2020! Freshly updated for Euro 5, along with its Cafe Racer-themed twin the Continental GT, the Interceptor 650 is here to stay!
The naked alternative to Aprilia's RSV (a bike that could also easily be on this list) made its first appearance in 2002 as a limited edition model with only 220 units produced. The engine was the same 998cc V-twin used in the RSV Mille but with a host of modifications and a more upright stance to make it unique.
The Tuono went into full factory production the following year and while it was toned down a bit from the limited edition model, it remained high spec and extremely high performance, continuing to be a class-leading super naked to this day.
In the 19 years since that first edition, we have seen plenty of redesigns and updates, as well as a 125cc version to go alongside the RS. In 2021, a new middleweight option is available, the Tuono 660. The 660 captures the same attitude as the original but in a more manageable package that can even be restricted for A2 riders!
Fantic Caballero 500
Italian manufacturer Fantic began producing motorcycles for the UK market in the 70s, but it is their recent return in 2018 with the Caballero that earns them a spot on this list.
The new generation of Fantic motorcycles now have Chinese-built engines but don't let that put you off, this is a surprisingly high-quality bike available at a budget price. The engine in the Caballero 500 is a 449cc single with 39bhp output, so it can be ridden on an A2 licence. It isn't the most powerful bike in the world, but it only weighs 145 kilos and packs plenty of punch for UK roads.
The rest of the bike is pure Italian and I remember when I first saw one of these at the NEC show a few years back, it blew me away with its retro scrambler styling. For me, it looks every bit as good as the Ducati Scrambler but costs 2 grand less! It doesn't come with any fancy rider aids or features aside from ABS, but it is still a solid motorcycle.
The sun may be setting on the 600cc supersport class but there have been some absolute bangers over the past 21 years, and many can still be picked up on the used market dirt cheap.
The Suzuki GSXR 600, Honda CBR 600 RR, Kawasaki ZX-6R Ninja and the Yamaha R6 were all iconic bikes, little pocket rockets offering high performance and a ton of character. What made them special was the way they had to be ridden. Unlike their larger counterparts that would fly at the first twist of the throttle, these 600ccs revealed themselves in the high rev ranges, making you work to squeeze out every bit of potential. You could also cruise in the low revs and have a pretty relaxing ride if you wanted to.
The ZX-6R and the R6 were the final models standing, managing to last until 2020 but both were finally finished off by Euro 5. Either one could be on this list but I'm going with the Kawasaki. Perhaps I am a bit biased since I still own one, but the Ninja name alone has been one of the most iconic brands in motorcycling since the 90s, so I had to include it somewhere!
MV Agusta Brutale
The ultimate Italian designer super naked, MV Agusta's Brutale was developed in 2001 making it the same age as Lexham and the perfect choice to go on this list!
Originally a ferocious 127bhp middleweight with a 749cc engine, over the past 21 years one thing this bike has always maintained is a focus on high performance, cutting edge technology and stunning good looks.
The price of these bikes has been a little outrageous at times but there is at least a slightly more accessible 'Rosso' model now at 12 grand... still not exactly cheap. But if you have a big budget, the Brutale is a motorcycle so beautiful it could sit in an art gallery and packs more power than you could ever need on the road. The definition of a dream bike.
Moto Guzzi V7
Moto Guzzi is one of the most iconic brands in motorcycling, famed for their manufacturing innovations and legendary racetrack performances (14 world GP championships among many other accolades!). Although Guzzi withdrew from motorsports in 1957 they continued to produce iconic bikes including the V7 Sport in 1971.
The V7 made its return in 2008 as the Moto Guzzi V7 Classic and proved an instant hit with its classy retro styling, accessible performance and reasonable price tag. This bike made modern retro models cool long before the current craze!
In 2021, the V7 is still going strong with the latest model getting a boost up to a Euro 5 compliant 850cc engine. The new V7 retains everything good from the old one while offering a little bit of extra grunt and refined styling. If you want a quality Italian classic, the Moto Guzzi V7 is hard to beat.
The Multistrada was first introduced in 2003 as a 992cc dual-sport, although its true intended purpose was as a road bike rather than an off-road adventurer, the name literally translating as ''many roads''.
The Multistrada really came into its own in 2010 with the release of the Multistrada 1200. Now featuring Ducati's Testastretta 11° engine and bumped up to 1198cc displacement, one of the main things to note was the introduction of a huge amount of technology and sophisticated features. It sported multiple ride modes, electronically adjustable suspension, fully adjustable traction control, ride by wire and a host of others. These are things most top-of-the-line deluxe models come with now but back in 2010 it was a first in a production model.
In 2021, the Multistrada comes in two main flavours, the new V4 and the very slightly more accessible 950. These are bikes only for those with big budgets, but some might say you get what you pay for.
A classic Spanish manufacturer now under the Italian ownership of Piaggio Group with a Japanese engine from Yamaha. That may be an unlikely combination, but it led to one of the best 125cc motorcycles of its day!
Debuting in 2005, the original GPR125 was a beast capable of 90mph top speeds when unrestricted (a rival for Aprilia's RS125). It also had a pretty hard suspension and nice responsive brakes, so it not only looked like a little supersport motorcycle, but it also rode like one too!
After making the switch to four-stroke in 2010, the days of the leary, high-performance 125ccs were over but the GPR retained its sporty handling and beautiful looks. We insured a ton of these at Lexham and I still remember it as one of the most impressive 125ccs of the era.
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We've already seen the MT-09 make an appearance on this list and the huge success of that bike was swiftly followed by a slightly more accessible version, the MT-07. It captured the same torque-filled character of its larger sibling, only with a more manageable 689cc parallel-twin engine.
Like the MT-09, the MT-07 became another huge seller and various off-shoot models and variations followed, including the neo-retro styled XSR700 in 2016. Produced as one of the first of Yamaha's new sports heritage range and designed in collaboration with Japanese custom motorcycle builder Shinya Kimura, the XSR offers everything the MT range is famous for but with a broader appeal thanks to its understated retro design. At £7,700, this is one of the best value motorcycles on the market.
A relative newcomer – especially by Triumph standards, the Triumph Bonneville Bobber burst onto the scene in 2016 and immediately made a name for itself as one bad-ass motorcycle!
The Bobber took the already excellent 1200cc parallel-twin engine from the Bonneville T120 and re-tuned it for more torque at the low revs. The result was a gorgeous-looking custom cruiser that can actually perform and handle like a street bike, a winning combo that has seen it become a smash success.
The bobber isn't the cheapest cruiser on the market, but it is far from the most expensive either and unlike many traditional cruiser brands, Triumph packs in all the modern tech like ride modes, ABS and traction control. With a freshly updated model for 2021, this bike is only going to become more iconic over time!
With the UK Government pledging to end production of all combustion engine cars by 2030, it seems like just a matter of time before motorcycles meet the same fate.
One of the pioneers in this field is Zero, whose S model began production all the way back in 2010 and has seen constant refinement up to today. The Zero S was one of the first electric motorcycles to offer similar performance and styling to a traditional model at a reasonable price. Many of the top electric bikes will cost over £20k but the Zero S combined with the government's plug-in grant comes in at a 'mere' £12,690.
That is still a fair amount for a bike with 59hp, but the engine's instantaneous power delivery makes for a capable and fun ride. Another thing to consider is despite the larger initial investment, there are almost no ongoing fuel and maintenance costs, so riding one of these long-term may even save you money!
Before you go
We want to know what you think to our top 21 choices. Did we miss your favourite? Let us know in the comments below!
Before I forget, Happy Birthday Lexham!