Ride in old-school style with the best café racers in the market today!
Nostalgia has been on the rise in the past decade. It seems like everyone has been going back to the good old days, especially when it comes to aesthetics. Motorcycle manufacturers are no different as they continue to churn out vintage-inspired bikes. Some even go on to rerelease models from their old catalogs. As the age of retro-themed motorcycles starts anew, we’ve seen an influx of scramblers that truly changed what’s hot this season. Perhaps, however, the most popular motorcycle that’s been making waves in the past years are café racers.
As motorcycle manufacturers take on the café racer today, we’re getting more and more diverse options as riders. This gives us not only high-performing bikes but also ones that are completely economical. There are various bikes on the market that also provide beginner-friendly features. The best part about this is that they’re typically off-the-shelf. You don’t have to modify these bikes so much anymore.
To help you make up your mind, we picked 6 of the best café racers of today. These bikes range from premium to beginner-friendly ones. Plus, a complete guide on this type of motorcycle and what makes it such a classic.
1. Royal Enfield Continental GT 650
Royal Enfield has been leading the game especially when it comes to café racers. You probably remember the 535cc Continental GT that the company released in 2012. This became a huge hit and the fans of the brand had a field day. Consistent with this, they released another massive hit six years later.
It all started when the company opened up a new development facility in England. According to some reports, Royal Enfield didn’t stop at just that. They also employed engineers from Triumph, specifically from their Hinckley facility. Words, being that they travel fast, started to go around that the company was developing a twin-cylinder Enfield. The community didn’t let it rest.
The last time Royal Enfield came out with a twin was around the 1970s. This is why the community commended the brand for bringing in the Continental GT 650. This model came out alongside another twin-cylinder bike, the Interceptor 650. There’s not a lot of difference between these models. To start, they both produce 47 BPH. They feature slipper clutches as well as a 6-speed transmission, and finally, ABS.
Practically speaking, the Continental GT version of the 650 is at a lesser price point than its Interceptor counterpart. It also doesn’t heavily imply café styling as much as the other entries on the list. However, it has all the quintessential parts of a café racer. You can expect to find rear-set footage on the bike as well as a single seat that comes with a wasp tail cowl. The handlebars are also in clip-on style so you’re sure that this is a true café racer.
At a very attractive price point, it seems that Royal Enfield can break into a bigger market. This is definitely worth checking out and incredibly great to invest in.
2. Kawasaki Z900RS Café
There’s no denying that the original Z-series bikes from Kawasaki are classics. You can easily spot the great jump when it comes to bike performance and power from their other offers. The advanced engines on these bikes were all that fans and non-fans need to deem them as classics.
To pay homage to the original Z bikes, Kawasaki redressed the Z900 streetfighter into something that looks like the classic bike. This resulted in a bike that was a mix of the past and the future, and we’re not complaining.
The Z900RS was highly anticipated in its own genre as a naked motorcycle. Soon after the release of that beast, Kawasaki went on to add a few café specs to the bike and called it the Z900RS Café. When it comes to their hearts, there aren’t many differences between both. Firstly, they both have a liquid-cooled, 948cc inline-four that produces 110 bhp. They also have ABS, adjustable USD forks, slipper clutch, and riding modes, as well as 98 Nm of torque. The main difference between the two models is the bodywork.
It’s a great homage to the Eddie Lawson KZ1000R with its bright green paint and overall look. It also has a retro fairing that gives it the ultimate café racer look. The seat also comes restyled.
The Kawasaki Z900RS Café definitely has that balance of classic café racer and modern-day beast. Surprisingly, the green appears to be of more historical value than anything. You can always mod it into a color you’d ultimately like.
3. Triumph Thruxton R
I dare say that there’s nothing better than the Thruxton R when it comes to café racers. It all started when Triumph came out with the Bonneville bikes back in 2016. The series truly changed the game not only for Triumph but for the entirety of the market. Perhaps the best release from the range, the Thruxton R is the best.
The Triumph Thruxton R has everything need from a café racer. It has that great retro aesthetic but with the performance of a modern bike. If you’re tired of seeing bikes with just the aesthetic and not the performance, look nowhere else but here.
There’s nothing like the Thruxton R when it comes to aesthetics. Triumph did a great job in applying their already known retro aesthetic to this model. You’ll find that this bike is almost a completely new design, however. There are no components from other bikes repurposed to look new. Many manufacturers do this trick for cost-efficiency. Everything about this bike screams café racer. It’s a well-put-together bike and if you want some aftermarket accessories for this bike, Triumph has exactly that. That includes a half-fairing that you’ll want to have.
All that said, yes, the Triumph Thruxton R is a premium bike. Among the premium parts of the bike is a Showa and Ohlins adjustable suspension. At the heart of the bike is a high-power (HP) version of the Bonneville 1200cc water-cooled twin that produces 96 BHP. Aside from all these, the bike has an ABS, multi-assisted clutch, as well as switchable riding modes. The bike is also equipped with reliable Brembo brakes.
Truly, these features aren’t just for show. They exceed expectations especially when it comes to classics like café racers.
4. Norton Commando 961 Café Racer
Norton has been through a lot of ups and downs as a motorcycle manufacturer. Founded in 1898, the company saw different management changes and even stopped operations for a while. It was until 2008 that the company opened up a factory at Donington Park. Despite all these, however, there’s no denying that the brand definitely comes out with the best bikes of today. Today, the company creates hand-built bikes with a couple of café racers on the roster. Our ultimate choice: the Norton Commando 961 Café Racer.
This café-style motorcycle is a model under the Norton’s Commando series. The Commando bike is a lot similar to the previous entry on our list, the Triumph Thruxton. However, the modern-day Commando has been in production since about 2009.
The Commando 961 powers with a Norton 961cc, dry sump, parallel-twin. This engine puts out around 78 BPH and 90 Nm of torque. This impressive engine also comes paired with other superb parts such as an adjustable suspension front and rear from Ohlins. The brakes of the bike come from Brembo and it features twin discs at the front. The clutch gear also comes from Brembo while the exhaust is made especially for this bike.
The aesthetic of the Commando 961 is definitely reminiscent of the classic café racer. It has clip-on handlebars, rear-set footpegs, and color schemes unique to this type of motorcycle only. All that said, this is a premium bike so might want to prepare your budget if you want to own this bike.
5. Moto Guzzi V7 III Racer
Italian brands surely know their way around the motorcycle market. Moto Guzzi is no stranger to café-inspired models. In fact, we can go as far back as 1967 to trace the history of the V7. That year, the company launched the iconic V7. 40 years later, in 2007, the company launched a new V7 range. Today, we’re experiencing the third generation V7 from Moto Guzzi. There are a total of 8 models under the V7 III range and among those, we’ll focus on the café-inspired V7 III Racer.
The great thing about this iteration is that it’s a limited-edition motorcycle. Moto Guzzi released only 1000 editions of the bike, so they’re truly unique. The bike also runs Ohlins shocks which other V7 III bikes don’t have. The entire range, including this one, carries the 744cc 90-degree V-Twin engine. It produces a good 52 BPH.
If there’s anything you should consider about this bike, it’s the weight. Not a lot of people are in favor of a heavy bike so that’s one thing that the manufacturer may want to improve upon in the future. Moreover, this café racer, unlike the others on the list, focuses a lot more on aesthetics.
It carries a very bold color that is red and you’ll get the same café styling on the rear part of the bike. It has great paintwork as well so you’re sure that this is the best-looking V7 III bike ever made.
All that said, there’s a bit of a splurge on this bike but that’s mostly due to the fact that it’s a limited-edition motorcycle. Aside from that, everything else about the bike seems reasonably priced.
6. Husqvarna Vitpilen 401/701
You probably already know of this brand. Husqvarna is one of the oldest manufacturers in the world. Those who know of the brand would tell you the same thing. It’s a great Swedish brand with sleek designs and impressive specs available to its bikes.
Now, the Vitpilen, in particular, made waves when the company revealed it to the world in 2014. However, it’s only recently that the bike was actually released. The Vitpilen definitely looks unique and it deserves all the attention it got.
You would expect that there has to be one thing about this bike that will call for criticism but so far, none has been reported. In fact, it only produced stellar reviews from fans and non-fans alike.
The overall design of the bike can be credited from Kiska, a design firm that Husqvarna employed for this bike alone. The design firm came up with a design that celebrated the company’s heritage. They also gave the bike a truly futuristic look. This motorcycle is a true work of art and there’s a lot about it that would stand out anywhere you drive this bike on. For instance, the tank unique to Vitpilen will definitely turn heads.
The thing is that it’s not officially a café racer. However, the overall styling of the bike says it is so we’ll just claim that it is. Some of the telltale signs include low handlebars as well as tight proportions. Yes, it’s a futuristic-looking bike but it does give a recall of the 1950s racers, don’t it?
There are two models available for the Vitpilen. Both runs with the liquid-cooled, single-cylinder engine. However, there are differences as well. For instance, the Vitpilen 401 runs at 373cc and churns out 44 BPH and 37 Nm of torque. That’s already impressive as it is but it’s further improved by the Vitpilen 701. The 692cc bike produces 75 BPH and has 72 Nm of torque. Moreover, the 701 weighs around 157kg. That’s 9kg heavier than the 401 at 148 kg.
Aside from that, everything about the bikes is pretty similar such as the ABS and traction control. They also both have a ride-by-wire throttle.
Best Café Racers Guide & FAQs
A Brief History of Café Racers
To trace the history of café racers, we have to back to after World War II in England. At the time, there was a rise in motorcycle demand. Many men are also returning home from the war. More than just buying a bike to flex them, these men were buying bikes to modify them. They’re improving the overall performance of the bike and there’s a community for them. Typically, they meet around local cafés around the UK.
These cafés became the default meet-up point if you want to show off your bike. Among these cafés, the most popular are either Ace Café in London or the Bee Café located in Watford. This gave birth to the term “café racer.”
By definition, café racers are typically modified bikes, customized in home garages. With the youth of England looking for a ride that they can ride fast with, they had to find a way to maximize the potential of their previously owned bikes. Most bikers don’t have access to professional-grade motorcycles so at home remedies were in place.
At the time, the UK also saw growth and potential when it comes to Grand Prix racing. British racers such as Bob Foster, Fergus Anders, Freddie Fruth, Geoff Duke, John Surtees, Phil Read, and Mile “The Bike” Hailwood led the pack in the 1950s and ’60s. These people and the Grand Prix culture definitely inspired many in the café culture.
They ultimately adopted the aesthetic seen in the early days of the motorcycle Grand Prix. However, there’s no telling which manufacturer came up with the first produced café racer. What we know today is that the new age of café racer appreciation started in 2003 when Ducati unveiled an L-Twin with vintage looks.
What Makes a Café Racers
Due to the influence of the Grand Prix on the café racers at the time, there are specific traits to look for in these bikes. These are not just aesthetically pleasing bikes that take inspiration from the 1950s. These should be bikes with powerful engines, performance-focused with a ton of upgrades.
Typically, café racers come with clip-on handlebars and foot-pegs. This allows the rider to lean forward for a more aggressive riding position. Because it has low cockpits, the headlights are often lowered as well.
Aside from these, the typical passenger bikes become Monoposto or those with a single seat. The tail sections are also capped off and replaced with a hardtail cowl to give it a sportier look. Not to mention, this helps a lot when it comes to aerodynamics. Also for aerodynamics, you can expect the bikes to have partial fairings and windscreens. As for the gas tanks, they’re typically replaced with lighter cells that are low-profile.
What to Consider When Buying Café Racers
Café racers are not cheap motorcycles. Some can be fairly affordable but not everything is. So, you would have to consider checking the price and setting a budget. That said, aside from the upfront price, consider other fees you’ll need when buying motorcycles. There are a few items on that list such as insurance, taxes, registration fees, maintenance, and a whole lot more. Make sure that you have enough resources to maintain your bike.
The bike’s engine is the heart of the vehicle. Consider checking out the displacement, number of cylinders, and engine configuration. Aside from this, you should also consider other parts of the bike such as brakes, wheels, and suspension. These are just the basics you need to cover. If you have these nailed down, however, you’re well on your way into owning a café racer.
With café racers, it’s always a combination of classic aesthetic and modern technology. This is what we love about this bike the most. It has an important piece of history hidden within its design. However, it respects what the future has in store for motorcycles and the industry.