A Look at the World’s Most Valuable Motorcycles at Auction

A 1915 Cyclone Board Tracker motorcycle once owned by Steve McQueen
Image Credit: Mecums Auctions
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So you’ve won the lotto. It’s a biggy, too. With the help of a decent accountant and by hiding from your extended family, you should be able to never work another day in your life. Better than that, you’ve now got a bank balance that looks like Vladimir Putin’s, except yours isn’t frozen by the E.U. And as a hardcore motorcyclist, you’ve decided to start a little bit of a collection. But this isn’t going to be just any old bunch of bikes. You’ve decided to purchase the world top 5 most expensive antique motorcycles of all time.

So you go straight to the movers and shakers at the big auction houses like Mecums and Bonhams and tell them they now have a blank cheque to get your epic collection started. You also tell them to go to their past top bidders and see what it’ll take to make their bikes yours. But what bikes should you expect to see being rolled off that truck outside your brand new mansion in the Hollywood Hills? These 5 are what.

5: A 1939 Crocker Big Tank – $704,000

 A 1939 Crocker 'big tank' v-twin motorcycle
Image Credit: Mecums Auctions

Yes, It’s a Crocker. Bet you thought your new garage was going to be full of Broughs and Vincents, didn’t you? Not quite.

Crocker was a Californian-based motorcycle manufacturer that lasted for 10 years from 1932 until 1942. Starting with single cylinder speedway bikes, they soon progressed to twin-cylinder ‘customs’—like the one you see here—in 1936. With an engine that was more powerful than the equivalent Harley or Indian motorcycles.

A 1939 Crocker 'big tank' v-twin motorcycle
Image Credit: Mecums Auctions

Unlike those competitors, Crocker took a more ‘bespoke’ approach to making motorcycles by ensuring that most of their bikes were made to order rather than being churned off of a production line. In this sense, they were much closer to an American version of a Brough Superior than they were to Harleys and Indians.

Production ceased in 1942 thanks to the war, and Crockerr went on to make aircraft parts, eventually being sold to Borg Warner. Congratulations on your new purchase.

4: A 1907 Harley-Davidson Strap Tank – $715,000

A 1907 Harley-Davidson Strap Tank motorcycle
Image Credit: Mecums Auctions

Making an appearance a mere 3 years after the very first Harley-Davidson appeared, this bike’s serial number—#2094—suggests that it was the 94th Harley ever built. It’s so early that it’s pre-v-twin, too.

Now, while this may seem like a bit of a bummer at face value, you should also know that it’s a ‘Strap Tank’ model. But what does this mean? Well, it refers to the nickel-plated steel bands suspending the fuel and oil tanks from the frame. It also means “Big Bucks” in the Harley collectables world.

A 1907 Harley-Davidson Strap Tank motorcycle
Image Credit: Mecums Auctions

And while this particular bike didn’t manage to reach its $800,000–$1,000,000 estimate from Mecums Auction House, it did sell for a breath-taking $715,000 in 2017. It’s interesting to note that Harley and Davidson displayed a v-twin engine for the first time at the Chicago Auto show in the very same year this bike was built, signaling their future successes.

But why all the bucks? Well, as you may be able to tell by the bike’s looks, it’s never been restored, and it is believed to be in the same paint and fit-out as when it left the Milwaukee factory 115 years ago. Please treat her well.

3: A 1937 Crocker Small Tank – $715,000

A 1937 Crocker Small Tank motorcycle
Image Credit: Mecums Auctions

Yep, there’s another Crocker in 3rd place. I’ll be honest and reveal that I was caught a bit by surprise at the number of them in your new collection. I guess it’s a testament to both the amount of cash Americans have to spend on old motorcycles and the legendary status of the Crocker brand.

But I also guess a list like this is about timing, too. Give it another few years, and it could be totally different—thanks to the very select number of these stratospheric sales actually happening. As with No. 5, this Crocker is in immaculate condition, no doubt contributing to its auction result.

A 1937 Crocker Small Tank motorcycle
Image Credit: Mecums Auctions

It’s uber unique as it’s believed to be the only unrestored, completely documented, real Crocker V-twin bike in the world. Fun fact: the bike was built by Al Crocker and Paul Bigbsy, who went on to become somewhat famous after he invented the Bigsby guitar tremolo system.

Both men were at the very heart of the US custom motorcycle industry. They were also arguably responsible for the bobber-style of motorcycle that boomed after WWII (and that still holds its popularity to this very day).

2: A 1915 Cyclone Boardtrack Racer – $852,000

A 1915 Cyclone Board Tracker motorcycle once owned by Steve McQueen
Image Credit: Mecums Auctions

Cyclone (aka Joerns Motor Manufacturing Company of Minneapolis) was an amazing outfit. Channeling Steve Job’s approach to technology—but 100 years earlier—this bike was such a massive leap forward in power and tech from its contemporaries that most racing officials of the time assumed riders were somehow cheating or that palms were being greased, so incredible were the machine’s track times.

The truth is two-sided; yes, the bikes were actually that fast, but on the other hand, they were about as reliable as a Russian car.

 Detail shot of a 1915 Cyclone Board Tracker motorcycle once owned by Steve McQueen
Image Credit: Mecums Auctions

But that didn’t stop a legion of fans coveting them. One of these fanboys also happened to be a big American movie star by the name of Steve MacQueen; and as you’ve probably already guessed, having his name attached to an already-valuable bike just sends the price tag even further towards the stars. And rightly so.

Besides, the thing looks like it was made yesterday. If you have some spare cash after purchasing it, you could look at getting your own board track made just for you to race it on.

1: A 1951 Vincent Black Lightning – $929,000

A 1951 Vincent Black Lightning motorcycle
Image Credit: Bonhams Auctions

Sooo close to a million, but at that price who’s counting the zeroes? Sold in 2018, and despite some valiant attempts to top it, it’s still the most expensive bike ever sold at auction.

Sure, there are rumors of million-dollar-plus bikes changing hands in private sales, but as they are private they are mostly unprovable too. Whatever the case, this particular bike has provenance up the wazoo thanks to it’s unmolested condition and due to the fact that it’s an Australian World Record holder.

A historical shot of a 1951 Vincent Black Lightning motorcycle in Australia
Image Credit: Bonhams Auctions

Aussie Jack Ehret rode this machine to an Australian speed record in 1953 at 141.5 mph, which was oh so close to Rollie Free’s record of 150 mph set just 5 years beforehand. When you stop to think about it, the difference here could be as simple as a headwind or a slightly different fuel mix. But whatever the case, Rollie’s bike is probably worth more—and supposedly sold for $1.1 million privately.

So there you have it. Please meet your new moto garage. Sadly, there’s no Brough Superiors, BMWs or Triumphs in there, but let’s face facts; If you really want some more bikes to add to the collection, there’s really nothing stopping you.

Still, the tragic fact is that there’s only 24 hours in a day to ride motorcycles, and only 2 of your 5 new bikes have headlights. Maybe it’s time to consider your own racetrack with MotoGP-quality, turn-night-into-day floodlights? Lifestyles of the rich and famous, much?

Thanks to Paul d’Orleans & Cycle World for the original list.