Traditionally, Italian motorcycles comes with heart stopping performance, fiery temperaments, and exotic styling, but how can you tell a good one from a bad one? Which ones are design classics? And what models should you consider for your dream garage? There are plenty of beautiful Italian motorcycles out there, but we’ve selected 10 of our favorite machines – 10 bikes that we think truly showcase the best of Italian engineering, past and present.
A Brief History Of Italian Motorcycles
While some of the oldest motorcycle manufacturers are Italian, the real golden age of Italian motorcycles didn’t really kick off until after World War II. In the years before World War II, Italy’s primary motorcycle manufacturers built bikes as a sideline; Benelli mainly produced guns, Laverda specialized in agricultural machinery, Piaggio originally built trains and railway carriages. However, after World War II, Italy was faced with desperate need for mobility and small capacity motorcycles for the masses seemed to be the obvious solution. Unfortunately, Italy was left in economic dire straits due to the war. Despite the financial constraints, Italy’s engineers wouldn’t let money stand in the way of styling perfection and design elegance. Using manufacturing skills honed in war, and with the promise of a brighter future, the Italian motorcycle industry was reborn, and with gusto.
In the years following World War II, Italy spawned no less than 220 new motorcycle manufacturers. Naturally, this motorcycle boom led to racing, which helped put names like Benelli and MV Agusta on the map. At this time, over four million motorcycles were registered on Italian roads, completely outnumbering their four-wheeled counterparts. By 1950, and through to the end of the 1960s, Italian motorcycles has become synonymous with well-engineered, stylish objet d’art with unparalleled beauty.
The success of the two-wheeler wasn’t to last though, since Italy’s economy began to recover, the need for cheap and small transport dwindled. Affordable cars became available to the masses, and the automobile was a more practical option for most families. The dream wasn’t over though – Italian bikes were still performing exceptionally well on the racing circuits, and Italy’s government stepped in to save the industry, changing the laws to encourage younger riders to get involved, allowing 14 year olds to operate 50cc motorcycles providing that they traveled at speeds under 27 mph. Naturally, rebellious teens modified their Moto Morinis and Aprilias to flout the rules, which only increased their appeal.
And then the Japanese arrived, offering high-performance sport bikes that outclassed their European rivals at every turn: these new Japanese bikes were bigger, faster, more reliable, and cheaper. This signaled the beginning of the end for many European manufacturers, but thanks to the history of design excellence and the prestige attached to Italian machinery, the likes of Ducati, MV Agusta, Laverda, and Aprilia managed to survive, on the sales floor and on the race track. Even so, the European motorcycle industry took a hit that it would never recover from. Or could it?
Of the surviving Italian motorcycle brands, the last two decades have been troublesome. However, the hard times appear to be coming to an end. There are signs that the industry (as a whole) is beginning to recover, and things are looking up for most of Italy’s prominent manufacturers. Recent success in the MotoGP and the unprecedented achievement of the Scrambler brand has breathed new life in to Ducati. Aprilia have released models that have garnered universal praise, such as the Tuono and RSV4. MV Agusta have managed to restructure their company and find new investment, promising a brighter future for the iconic marque. And even Benelli have found hope in the form of Chinese ownership, re-inventing the Italian name and bringing much needed credibility to the Chinese industry. But rather than look to the future, let’s take a look at some of the greatest Italian motorcycles that have already been produced.
Iconic Italian Motorbikes
There has been no shortage of mind blowing Italian bikes over the years, but if you’re looking to get yourself a classic or something a bit more exotic than your run-of-the-mill Japanese machines, which brands should you be looking out for? Of course, you’ll already be familiar with the likes of Ducati, MV Agusta, and Aprilia, but what other manufacturers exist? First off, there’s the obvious Piaggio giant, Aprilia’s parent company, who own other Italian classics like Gilera and Moto Guzzi, but there are plenty of other brands that produced (or are still producing) exciting and exotic Italian machines. Moto Morini, Cagiva, Bimota, Benelli, Mondial, Laverda, and Beta Motorcycles are all excellent manufacturers that shouldn’t be discounted in your hunt for a classic. So without further ado, let’s look at 10 of the most stunning Italian motorcycles ever made!
10 Beautiful Examples Of Italian Motorcycles!
#10. The Laverda 750 SFC
For many fans of Italian motorcycle brands, the Laverda 750 SFC (Super Freni Competizioni – or Super Brakes Competition in English) is as good as it gets. Essentially, the Laverda 750 SFC was one of the first full-blown factory racers: a bastard-size big parallel-twin that produced 75 horsepower from its 744cc twin-cylinder engine, specifically designed for power, speed and most importantly, endurance. First and foremost, this early 70s icon was built as a 24 hour endurance racer to battle the likes of the MV Agusta 750S, the Ducati 750 Super Sport, and a plethora of British and Japanese bikes. It was slow to start, but as soon as the Laverda 750 SFC evolved into the incarnation you see in front of you, it began to gain momentum, winning races across Europe.
Coming in three distinct generations, from the early models in 1971 to the more famously known versions from 1976, you’ll be pleased to know that only 549 units were ever produced – making the Laverda 750 SFC an incredibly rare and sought after motorcycle. In fact, only 55 “third series” models were ever produced, so if you want something truly exotic in your garage, then that’s the series to look out for. Rare or not, this Laverda proves that not all big Italian twins have to come in “V” configuration. If you’re interested in Laverda machinery, we recall a whole Laverda motorcycles museum being in desperate need of a buyer…
#09. The Ducati 916 SPS
The Ducati 916 was already a highly desirable bike in the 90s. It was a resounding success in the World Superbike Championships, it looked and performed excellently, and it had that signature Italian flare that made it instantly appealing to anyone who could appreciate the art of the two-wheeled machine. Nothing could surpass it…except perhaps it’s SP versions, with the SPS wearing the crown. The Ducati 916 SPS (Sport Production Special) was a homologation special that took the original 916 and turned it up to eleven. Visually, it still ticked that sexy and curvaceous box that the original 916 did…but underneath the fairings, there was a whole new beast lurking.
Taking the original eight-valve 916 Desmo engine, Ducati’s engineers managed to squeeze out an extra 20 hp by re-jigging the power plant’s internals. The new 134 horsepower power figure was due to a new compression ratio, new heads and barrels, bigger valves, titanium conrods, a lighter crankshaft, the addition of a full carbon exhaust system from Termignoni, and much, much more. Ducati also treated the 916 SPS with larger Brembo brakes, and upgraded Ohlins suspension…and that’s why the Ducati 916 SPS commanded a ferociously high price tag. It’s not even worth quoting in US dollars, since it wasn’t road legal in the USA…but it was in Europe. Which was unfair, to say the least. Still, the 916 SPS is arguably one of the most amazing Italian motorcycles ever produced.
#08. The Ducati Scrambler (Original)
While technically not one of the best Italian motorcycles ever made, a recent shift in style trends has made the original Ducati Scramber into an absolute icon. The original Ducati Scrambler first rolled onto the scene in 1962, targeted squarely at American youths. These early Ducati Scramblers were produced in a variety of engine sizes, mainly from 250cc to 450cc (although 125cc models do exist). The first “generation” were based on street-legal motorcycles like the Ducati Diana and featured narrow engines with altered frames. The second generation, which lasted up until 1976 came with a wider engine case. Despite the minor differences, all of Ducati’s Scramblers featured single-cylinder engines in an off-road focused rolling chassis that promised adventure for all those who took one for a ride. It was a resounding success, as you can guess.
When Ducati unveiled their new and improved Ducati Scrambler at Germany’s INTERMOT show in 2014, we knew that Ducati were going to enjoy another round of impressive sales thanks to the Scrambler. However, we all underestimated just how big the revival was going to be. At present, there are six variations of the modern Ducati Scrambler: the Icon, Sixty2, Classic, Full Throttle, Café Racer, and Desert Sled. They’re good, but none of the six models lives up to the original Ducati Scrambler in style and nature, as far as we’re concerned. Still, old or new, the Ducati Scrambler is one of the greatest and most recognizable Italian bikes ever made.
#07. The MV Agusta F4CC
The MV Agusta F4 is already an exclusive motorcycle, but the “CC” version is a step further. Proudly wearing the initials of MV Agusta boss Claudio Castiglioni, this is the ultimate MV Agusta machine, built specifically for the man in charge. Castiglioni himself explained: “I put my name to this motorcycle because I originally dreamed of it for myself,” – and being an MV Agusta, the F4CC comes with everything that money can buy, and a few interesting things that money just can’t buy…figuratively. If this motorcycle were a video game boss, this would undoubtedly be the F4’s final form.
Boasting 200 horses from its 16-valve four cylinder engine, courtesy of a full titanium race system, this limited edition machine is one of only 100 ever made, and comes with a rich-persons ego tax of 100,000 Euro. For you money, you get a retuned 1078cc engine with titanium innards, and magnesium accessories, a frame that features magnesium sub-sections, carbon fiber bodywork, and a whole host of hand-machined components. The result is an MV Agusta faster than the F4 Ago, more sophisticated than the F4 Tamburini, and something that’s very likely to make you the envy of your fellow riders, or the target for your local motorcycle thieves. But if you can afford one of these, then you can probably afford to buy new friends, or a decent sized padlock.
#06. The Cagiva V589
When you think of Italian racing bikes of the late 80s, it’s hard not to conjure up an image of the legendary Cagiva V589. This red beast was ridden by the likes of Randy Mamola, and although he couldn’t ride into championship contention, he did managed to secure an unprecedented podium finish on board his mighty Cagiva V589. This is arguably one of the coolest two-stroke racers ever produced, boasting a might 498cc liquid-cooled V4 engine with contra-rotating twin crankshafts that produced an awe inspiring 150 horsepower and could propel the Cagiva V589 to speeds of up to 190 mph.
The mighty engine was paired to an aluminum twin-spar frame with either and aluminum or carbon fiber swing-arm (some had carbon swing arms, some didn’t), mated to Marzocchi and Öhlins suspension, with carbon wheels, Brembo brakes, and Michelin rubber. While theV589 might not have been a racing success for Cagiva Motorcycles, it is still one of the coolest Italian motorcycles ever made. Massimo Tamburini has designed many a fine motorcycle, but the Cagiva V589 is one of our personal favorites. Imagine throwing one of these around the Misano circuit…life genuinely couldn’t get any better, could it?
#05. The Ducati 750 Super Sport
The first incarnation of Ducati’s Super Sport line was one of the most beautiful motorcycles ever produced. It set a new bar for the quality and elegance of Italian motorcycle companies – a bar that has been continually rising to this very day. First debuted at Milan’s EICMA show in 1973, Ducati’s 750 Super Sport showcased the desmodromic valve system on a consumer-friendly L-twin motorcycle. It might have been road-legal, but Ducati’s idea behind the 750 Super Sport was to produce a race ready motorcycle with as few street-legal concessions as possible. And they succeeded.
Ducati’s 750 Super Sport was powered by a 748cc, four-stroke L-twin engine that could deliver around 73 horses of peak power and reach a top speed of approximately 135 mph. The engine was mated to a five speed transmission and held in place with an open-cradle frame. Unlike many motorcycles of the time, the Super Sport was the right tool for a wide range of jobs, from everyday riding, to touring, and to winning races – as demonstrated by Paul Smart who rode the 750 Super Sport into first place at the 200 Miglia d’Imola in 1972, followed by Bruno Spaggiari in second. The Ducati 750 Super Sport also won the Daytona 200, piloted by Cook Neilson, too. Many Ducati models have come and gone, but very few are as iconic as the 750 Super Sport.
#04. The Moto Guzzi V7
Founded by Carlo Guzzi and Giorgio and Angelo Parodi in 1921, Moto Guzzi has enjoyed a long and illustrious life. The company’s first motorcycles were horizontal single-cylinder engine’d machines that helped drive the firm to racing success in the mid-1930s. Building on that success, Moto Guzzi became the first company to employ wind tunnels and develop aerodynamic racing technology. However, new ownership in the 1960s saw Moto Guzzi drop their original engine configuration in favor of a new arrangement: an air-cooled, 700cc V-twin with a longitudinal crankshaft that we know and love today…the Moto Guzzi V7.
The V7 is one of the most instantly recognizable Italian motorcycles out there – in fact, that classic V-twin arrangement makes it incredibly unique. Very few engines have withstood the test of time quite like the Moto Guzzi V7, but unlike the V7 III models we have today, the original V7 wasn’t as advanced. The original V7 was released in 1967 and the engine produced 45 horsepower, with power delivered through a four speed gear box. Things have advanced quite a bit since then, but the V7 is still an industry mainstay that shows no signs of disappearing – making it one of the most successful Italian motorcycles of all time.
#03. The Ducati Desmosedici RR
Before the Desmosedici Stradale powered Panigale V4, if you wanted to ride around on a V4 powered Ducati then your only available option was to invest in the highly exclusive, and ridiculously expensive Desmosedici RR. Unless you were a world class motorcycle racer, that is. And most of us aren’t. Even so, getting your hands on a Desmocedici RR is almost as difficult as becoming a MotoGP racer! This incredible limited-edition, low-production volume racer was touted to be the first serious race replica motorcycle ever built. With a price tag of $72,500 a pop, you’d expect nothing less than the best, right?
Ducati delivered on that promise, by building a motorcycle that is a cut above the rest. The 989cc V4 engine produced a power output of 200 horsepower, could reach top speeds of 188 mph, and came wrapped in top end technology. Built around a tubular steel hybrid chassis with a carbon fiber subframe, carbon fiber bodywork, Ohlins gas-pressurized suspension, with forged magnesium wheels, and more titanium accoutrements than you could care to count, the Desmosedici RR really was a marvel. A race kit was also thrown in as standard, with a race specific ECU and a race-only exhaust system…and new owners were also treated with three years of warranty and servicing. Nice touch. Of course, it was a performance powerhouse, but it was also easy on the eyes too. That’s what makes this one of the most amazing (and rare) Italian sports bikes to go into production.
#02. The Bimota DB7
There are plenty of Bimota models worthy of this list, but we’ve decided to choose one and only one: the DB7. What we have here is essentially a Franken-bike that takes the best components and ideas from other motorcycles, and puts them back together (by hand, no less) into one faultless machine. In short, the Bimota is a Ducati Testastretta 1098 engine made better, put in a bespoke carbon frame, and equipped with the best technology on the market. How do you make a Ducati better? Buy a Bimota, I suppose. Boasting 160 horsepower, an outlandish aesthetic, a fiery Italian temperament, and a history of excellence, the Bimota DB7 is one of the greatest Italian motorcycles ever.
With each model built by hand by two Bimota technicians, you can rest assured that the Bimota DB7 is an exclusive motorcycle. But how does that translate into real world riding? Well, it’s fast, it’s powerful, and incredibly agile thanks to its carbon frame and modern swingarm arrangement. It’s not for the average rider though – to make the most of it, you’re going to need to know how to set up a motorcycle for your riding style. Then again, since the Bimota DB7 came with a price tag of over $30,000 when it first came out, beginner riders probably weren’t their ideal target market. Bimota build the quirkiest Italian motorbikes, but “different” is good. If you get the chance to take one of these beauties, or any of Bimota’s other oddballs out for a spin one day, we heartily recommend it.
#01. The Aprilia RSV4 FW
While we like to talk about Ducatis and MV Agusta motorcycles, let’s be honest, if we were tasked with buying a top-shelf Italian superbike, then there really is only one sensible choice: the Aprilia RSV4 – in any configuration. When the RSV4 first rolled onto the scene in 2009, it was the company’s first ever production four-cylinder motorcycle, and back then it produced some excellent performance specs. While 178 horsepower was good then, the current RSV4 models have totally eclipsed the older models. These days, your average RSV4 can churn out around 201 horsepower, produce about 85 lb-ft of peak torque, and hit top speeds in excess of 180 mph.
And that’s the regular version. Now, very few people will be able to take an Aprilia RSV4 and use all of its available power on a race track, so when Aprilia announced the RSV4 FW (Factory Works) kit we were shocked. In addition to an already powerful motorcycle, Aprilia treat owners with new cylinder heads, forged pistons, a full Akrapovic race exhaust system, a flashed ECU, a lighter weight lithium battery, all-new bodywork and a sh*t load of machined and carbon fiber parts. All of that pushes the Aprilia’s power output to somewhere in excess of 215 hp. All that, and with cool MotoGP winglets too. Sure, the Ducati might be easier to recognize, but if we’re comparing Italian motorcycles, we’ll take the Aprilia any day of the week.