Top 10 most expensive motorcycles sold at auction in 2021

It’s amazing how much some people are willing to pay for a bike, especially a rare unit that is no longer in production or one of a kind. Again, rarity is not the only factor considered by bidders.

Many auctions are held in the United States, but here is a list of the most expensive motorcycles ever auctioned in the United States. The information collected here is mainly based on the 2021 Mecum Auction listing. You may find that there is a model in this top 10 list. You will find many Harley-Davidson motorcycles there as well as a few Vincent motorcycles and an Indian joker.

10. 1944 Harley-Davidson FL ($143,000)

1944 Harley-Davidson FL - Top 10 most expensive bikes at auction in the United States
1944 Harley-Davidson FL - Top 10 most expensive bikes at auction in the United States

Kicking off the listing is a Harley-Davidson FL that sold at auction for US$143,000. Yes, it’s the tenth most expensive bike on this list and we’re not even in the top five yet. The model is one of the first Harley examples to come with the overhead valve big-twin, but that’s not what makes it special. Only 172 FL units were produced in this model year due to the war effort, and this particular lot was purchased by the museum in 1989. It’s a rare bike, but it’s not the last FL model to be listed.

9. 1903 Indian ($143,000)

1903 Indian - Top 10 most expensive bikes at auction in the United States
1903 Indian - Top 10 most expensive bikes at auction in the United States
1903 Indian - Top 10 most expensive bikes at auction in the United States

Tied in tenth on the list is this early 1903 Indian motorcycle. Before motorcycles had big tires and a dedicated frame with big engines, that’s what your great-great-great -father probably hung out with motorized bicycles. However, what makes this model the most spectacular is the amount of documented history it has gone through. This Indian motorcycle once belonged to Gus Cheleini, one of the first motorcycle riders in the United States. He even has the documents to prove it with the same bike in the photos. Its new owner can only show that it is not legal for street or highway use, but what a show piece it is.

8. 1953 Vincent Black Shadow ($148,500)

1953 Vincent Black Shadow - Top 10 Most Expensive Bikes at Auction in the United States
1953 Vincent Black Shadow - Top 10 Most Expensive Bikes at Auction in the United States
1953 Vincent Black Shadow - Top 10 Most Expensive Bikes at Auction in the United States

New riders might not even recognize Vincent, but two-wheeled history buffs know he was the fastest motorcycle in the world from 1948 to 1973. That’s a 25-year reign. The model was able to reach a top speed of 125 miles per hour, which was stratospherically fast for its time in the late 1940s. The nameplate managed to achieve this speed thanks to a 998 cc V-twin engine which produced 55 horsepower when new. Most mid-weight motorcycles today can easily hit 125 miles per hour, but Vincent achieved it more than 70 years ago.

7. 1938 Harley-Davidson EL ($154,000)

1938 Harley-Davidson EL - Top 10 most expensive bikes at auction in the United States
1938 Harley-Davidson EL - Top 10 most expensive bikes at auction in the United States
1938 Harley-Davidson EL - Top 10 most expensive bikes at auction in the United States

Otherwise known as the most collectible HD of all time, the EL model featured a design that would shape and shape Harley-Davidson into the icon it is today. Otherwise known as the Knucklehead, no one really knew about the EL at the time as HD had not listed it in their 1936 catalog for fear that the public offering of an overhead valve V-twin is a recipe for disaster. Even the, however, is still a style icon for many aficionados, which is a big deal for many HD collectors.

6. 1936 Harley-Davidson EL ($159,500)

1936 Harley-Davidson EL - Top 10 most expensive bikes at auction in the United States

After the Harley-Davidson EL in seventh place, there is yet another EL, but this time it is one of HD’s first ELs. The nameplate debuted in 1936, and it happens to be one of the first 100 units of that same year. This is an early Knucklehead model, which makes it extremely collectible. As an early model, it comes with some rather unusual parts not normally found in later model years. It even came with a frame that was unique to the 1936 model year.

5. 1953 Vincent Black Shadow ($165,000)

1953 Vincent Black Shadow - Top 10 Most Expensive Bikes at Auction in the United States
1953 Vincent Black Shadow - Top 10 Most Expensive Bikes at Auction in the United States
1953 Vincent Black Shadow - Top 10 Most Expensive Bikes at Auction in the United States

Another Vincent motorcycle is on the list, but what makes this model more expensive than the other? Frankly, it could have come down to a one-upmanship between two buyers, but this model dates from the same year as the previous one. It has been well restored with new parts which include an exhaust system, seat and clutch among other parts, but the most important thing is that it works and has been tested. If you can put together a piece of history, I’m sure it’s worth every penny you pay.

4. 1947 Harley-Davidson FL ($192,500)

1947 Harley-Davidson FL - Top 10 most expensive bikes at auction in the United States
1947 Harley-Davidson FL - Top 10 most expensive bikes at auction in the United States
1947 Harley-Davidson FL - Top 10 most expensive bikes at auction in the United States

If you haven’t already noticed, Harley-Davidson motorcycles seem to be a favorite at auction in the United States. Can we really blame the collectors? While we had an earlier FL model in the list that was in 10th place, this particular FL is from 1947, the last year of nameplate production before the Panhead engine.

3. 1946 Harley-Davidson FL ($220,000)

1946 Harley-Davidson FL - Top 10 most expensive bikes at auction in the United States
1946 Harley-Davidson FL - Top 10 most expensive bikes at auction in the United States
1946 Harley-Davidson FL - Top 10 most expensive bikes at auction in the United States

Surprise-surprise, yet another Harley-Davidson FL, but this time it’s from 1946. The model year had lower production numbers than the 1947 production of the FL, which would justify its premium of priced over US$20,000 over the 1947 model. Compared to HD’s early FL-series models, this 1946 production model had more chrome end caps. Harley-Davidson ended up selling more FL units than EL units, selling about three for every two ELs that came out of the lot.

2. 1943 Harley-Davidson Model E ($220,000)

1943 Harley-Davidson E Model - Top 10 most expensive bikes at auction in the United States
1943 Harley-Davidson E Model - Top 10 most expensive bikes at auction in the United States
1943 Harley-Davidson E Model - Top 10 most expensive bikes at auction in the United States

In 1935, Harley-Davidson was eager to unveil its all-new Knucklehead overhead valve engine to the world at its annual convention. Engine development was delayed by the Great Depression, and the war effort was not going to make it easy on HD to produce this particular model for civilian use. It was also a time when HD was coming back just after surviving the Great Depression, and it was only one of two manufacturers to do so. Only 158 copies of this 1943 model year were produced by the brand, making it one of the brand’s rarest examples.

1. 1907 Harley-Davidson Strap Tank ($297,000)

1907 Harley-Davidson Strap Tank - Top 10 Most Expensive Bikes at Auction in the United States
1907 Harley-Davidson Strap Tank - Top 10 Most Expensive Bikes at Auction in the United States
1907 Harley-Davidson Strap Tank - Top 10 Most Expensive Bikes at Auction in the United States

A desirable Harley can take many forms, but this is the most desirable of them all according to auctioneers. This is the very first model from the Milwaukee-based company, and it’s called the Strap Tank. The bike passed through many hands before ending up at Mecum auction in 2021. Its highest price ever was $650,000, so the buyer who snagged it for just under three hundred thousand dollars is a very lucky individual.

Wiley C. Thompson