MV Agusta’s flagship F4 superbike has been absent for nearly five years
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and any discussion about what is beautiful is always going to be subjective and will rapidly turn into a heated discussion. But there are some motorcycles that are just so achingly beautiful that the majority of people would describe them as such and the arguments would simply die away.
For many, beauty is encapsulated in the engineering of a motorcycle as well as the design, and we are fortunate to be in the middle of an era where engineering excellence is visible in so many different makes and styles of bike. So, at the risk of starting an argument, here is our list of the ten of the most beautiful modern European motorcycles.
10 Brough Superior
Brough Superior in black, against a black background
Not just one bike, but an entire manufacturer’s output. Brough Superior was resurrected by Mark Upham, who turned to French engineer Thierry Henriette, of Boxer Design, to create a brand new Brough Superior from scratch, including the design and manufacture of a 990cc V-Twin engine.
Upham stipulated that the new motorcycle should reflect the ethos of the original Brough Superiors as built by George Brough in the 20s and 30s: innovation, excellent design and superior construction and materials. Oh, and a steep price tag! Not only incorporating interesting technology, including Beringer disc brakes sourced from the aircraft industry, the new models, with names such as SS100, Pendine and Lawrence (after Pendine Sands in Wales, where many speed records were set between the wars and T.E. Lawrence, ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ respectively), are also unbelievably beautiful.
9 Ducati Panigale V4
Ducati Red 2019 Panigale V4R static profile shot
If there is one thing that Ducatis have always been, it is good-looking at the very least and utterly gorgeous at the other end of the scale. The genesis of the modern Ducati sport bike was arguably the 916 of the 1990s which sold as much on its looks as much as its dynamics and performance.
The modern Panigale range arrived in 2011 and was every bit as beautiful as the 916, even if we have become familiar with that beauty. The latest V4 Panigale is still stunningly beautiful, both on the surface and under the skin, with the incredible new V4 engine the state of the engineer’s art, being little larger physically than the V-Twin engine it replaces in Ducati’s top-line of sport bikes.
8 Langen 2-Stroke
Langen Two-Stroke in gold and silver
There were few who did not believe that the day of the glorious and powerful two-stroke engine wasn’t over and done with and never would we see their like again, in the face of rising concern about exhaust emissions. Then came the Langen Two-Stroke, with its 249cc, 90° V-Twin, 75 horsepower two-stroke engine housed in a hand-built chassis, dripping in carbon fiber and exotic metals machined to perfection to turn popular thinking on its head.
Sophisticated fuel and oil injection keeps emissions to an acceptable level but the real masterstroke of the Langen is its looks, hugely impressive for an independent low-volume manufacturer. Like many bikes on this list, the beauty is more than skin deep, the Langen putting many so-called sport bikes to shame when it comes to handling dynamics.
7 CCM Spitfire Café Racer
CCM Spitfire Cafe racer in silver against a white background
Another small British manufacturer, born out of the remnants of the British motorcycle industry in the early 70s. The modern CCM Spitfire Cafe Racer mixes hand-built elegance with serial production build quality, which is no mean feat. A ridiculously low 319 pound weight is slightly compromised by a hard ride, although you’ll never stop being entertained and the Husqvarna-sourced 600cc single cylinder engine has more than enough poke. It’s dripping with billet aluminium and carbon fibre, the hand-built frame is distinctive, and a lovely hand-stitched leather seat matches the gold-anodised spoked wheels. It’s not hugely fast, but it more than makes up for it with its looks.
6 Triumph Bonneville Speed Twin 1200
Triumph Speed Twin 1200 in red, facing right
OK, so it’s a close facsimile of a bike that went out of production more than 50 years ago, but the Triumph Bonneville has just got better and better in every way, including the looks. Always a very pretty bike, the latest high-performance Speed Twin 1200 derivative is possibly the most eye-catching, with top-spec suspension and braking components and a more sporting stance than other models in the range.
Triumph quality has to be seen to be believed, both on the surface and in the performance and handling. The engine is smooth and powerful, the chassis hugely entertaining and the riding position near-perfect. It ticks that one important box: when walking away after a ride, you can’t help looking back to have one last look.
5 Triumph Scrambler 1200 XE
Triumph Scrambler standing in the desert
No apologies for including a second Triumph in this list. The Scrambler variant of the Bonneville line always had chunky good looks but, when the Scrambler 1200 XE arrived, it raised the bar for retro motorcycles. Recalling tall-suspension scramblers from years ago, the traditionally-shaped steel gas tank suited the looks perfectly and there wasn’t a jarring note anywhere on the bike.
The looks are more than matched by the capability of the bike, this being a serious entry into the adventure bike market as much as it is a homage to Triumphs of old. Top spec suspension and braking compliments the perfect-for-off-road-work parallel twin engine, lifted from the Thruxton café racer, with plenty of punchy torque.
4 Norton V4 SV
Norton V4 SV in black, against a black background
Despite a shaky start for the famous British name, Indian company TVS’s involvement with Norton has secured its future and will ensure the continuation of the drop-dead gorgeous V4 SV sports bike. Developed from the near-disastrous V4SS/RR sport bike, almost every component has been redesigned to rectify the many faults of those bikes.
Thankfully, one element that was left alone is the styling which, like the Langen, is way above what should have been possible from a small, independent manufacturer. If the Norton V4 SV can’t quite match its rivals from Germany, Italy and Japan in terms of outright performance and electronics, it is easily the match of them when it comes to drool factor!
3 BMW R 18
BMW R18 in black against a gray background
BMW has really started to dip into the bucket marked ‘nostalgia’ in recent years, first with the R nineT and now with the R 18, which is an unashamed hark back to the origins of BMW Motorrad back in the 20s. The R 18 is long, low, heavy and has a monstrous 1800cc version of the boxer twin engine pushing it along.
If the production models missed some of the stripped-down beauty of Roland Sands’ pre-production custom versions, at least the BMW parts catalog enables owners to recreate those looks – with access to enough cash, that is! But even the standard bike straight off the showroom floor wows with jet black paintwork and classy white pin striping. BMW has a lot of heritage to celebrate and the R18 does a great job of doing just that.
2 Aprilia RSV4 Factory
Aprilia RSV4 1100 Factory facing right with race track background
No-one said that beauty has to be all soft curves: there is beauty in being aggressive as well and the Aprilia RSV4 Factory is exactly that. Perhaps the real beauty of the RSV4 Factory – more than in any other bike in this list – is in the way it goes about its business of going very fast indeed.
Despite being an out and out sport bike that is only a few degrees removed from a full-on race bike, the RSV4 Factory has the best suspension and braking componentry available, giving a compliant ride, epic handling limits and seemingly infinite levels of grip and braking power: it’s clearly more than any non-MotoGP rider will ever need. In terms of looks, performance and – never to be dismissed – sound, the RSV4 Factory has it all.
1MV Agusta F4
MV Agusta F4 in red and silver
The motorcycle that re-launched the iconic brand to the world was a fitting tribute to all that had gone before, easily matching the sheer beauty of line that had characterized the MV Agusta race bikes of the 50s and 60s and moving the design language of the road bikes of the 70s forward to the modern era.
Stunning beauty was enhanced by the application of the MV Agusta signature red and silver bodywork, while the four circular tail pipes exiting under the seat showed the rest of the world how to execute that particular styling feature. Originally fitted with a 750cc inline four-cylinder engine producing 126 horsepower, this was replaced by a 1000cc version in 2005 with anything up to 212 horsepower. Strictly speaking, not available anymore, the last model having been released in 2018, but when a motorcycle is this beautiful, you should pass up no chance to buy one, no matter its age.