What’s in a Name? Vintage, Classic and Antique Motorcycles 101

what is a classic motorcycle

If you love motorcycles, the lure and appeal of the bike seems almost overpowering. While different enthusiasts love them for different reasons, most have a pretty well-formed opinion about which manufacturer (or even model) is the “best” one.

Some motorcycle lovers steer clear of the modern-day bike with its high-tech features and state-of-the-art creature comforts. Instead, they prefer older motorcycles, that breed of bikes that provides a throwback to simpler times.

When it comes to talking about these bikes, you may toss out such terms as “classic” or “vintage” or even “antique.” But what makes a motorcycle fall into one of these categories? The answer is not as simple as you might think.

Just as with cars, the definition of what constitutes a classic or vintage motorcycle varies from one part of the world to the next. However, unlike cars, the definition is not always set in stone.

‘Vintage,’ ‘Antique’ and ‘Classic’ motorcycle definitions

The United Kingdom has specific definitions of what constitutes a classic, vintage or antique motorcycle, based on the year the bike was created. The U.K. also uses the term “veteran” to describe any motorcycle built before 1915, and older bikes built after Jan. 1, 1915, are referred to as “vintage.”

But in the U.S., the terms tend to be tossed about more freely and are often used interchangeably, which can be a source of confusion. From an insurability standpoint, Nationwide combines some of these definitions under its Classic Motorcycle coverage, so if you’re looking to insure a motorcycle, consult with your agent to see what best suits your needs.

Let’s take a closer look at what each one really means. For a breakdown of non-vintage motorcycles, check out our Types of Motorcycles guide.

Classic motorcycle

This designation isn’t an official term, and its use can indicate more than just the age of a motorcycle. In some cases, it’s even used to describe a new motorcycle that has a certain look or style – the so-called “instant classic” that has the simplicity of an older vehicle. Overall, there’s a general consensus among motorcycle enthusiasts that any motorcycle over the age of 25 could be considered a classic, but some also base their definition on the bike’s appearance or design.

Vintage motorcycle

The only official designation of what constitutes a vintage motorcycle comes from the American Historic Racing Motorcycle Association, which even has two different designations for vintage, depending on the type of racing the bike is going to do. The AHRMA defines motorcycles as vintage for motocross racing if they were built before 1975, and vintage for road racing if they were built after 1975.

Antique motorcycle

According the Antique Motorcycle Club of America, an antique motorcycle is one that is 35 years or older. This is the only “true” official designation in the U.S., but because some states allow motorcycles to be registered or licensed as antiques after just 20 years, sometimes the definition becomes unclear.

Some states have another designation of “historical” that is used for licensing and registration. Their guidelines often include the stipulation that the vehicle is of a certain age and it is owned only as collectors’ item, used for such things as historical club activities, parades and car shows.

If you own an older motorcycle, be aware that each state will have its own requirements for registration, and they may vary from one state to the next. And no matter how old your motorcycle is, you still need to get a motorcycle license before you hit the road. But the most important things to remember about your motorcycle – whether it’s classic, vintage, antique or historical – is to be safe and enjoy the ride.