The Top 10 Café Racers Straight out of the Box
The retro market is already huge with pretty much every motorcycle manufacturer on the planet presenting at least one mammoth un-faired beast in their line up. So I suppose, the brand new production café racers are just a sub-genre of that.
It’s not hard to see why either. The Velocette Venom, Vincent Black Shadow and Manx Norton, were all design classics in their own right. They typified the philosophy of a stonking engine in a clean frame and not much else.
There’s a big market today for motorcyclists obsessed with the greatness of the past. No doubt fuelled by the likes of Kawasaki and Triumph, rebadging new technology in iconic model names such as the 2017 Z900 and Thunderbird R to name but two.
But have the bike makers got it right? Follow me and let us find out. Starting in no particular order:
Top 10 Café Racers#1: Ducati Scrambler Café Racer
Ducati hit pay dirt the moment they released their recent Scrambler range, so much so, it rejuvenated the firm’s ailing bank account virtually overnight. With a six strong Scrambler line-up, the café racer joined them this year.
I’m pleased to say this is a Ducati free of all the complicated electronic wizardry and computer generated interventions. It’s just an 803cc air/oil cooled engine pushing out 75 good honest horses.
Available in black only, the Ducati hints at sophistication. The bike’s boomerang-shaped swinging arm, upside-down forks and purposeful looking 17’’ wheels, certainly don’t spoil its retro looks. It’s even got a single clock and bar end mirrors, what more could you ask for.
Top 10 Café Racers#2: Triumph Thruxton R
Triumph really pushed the boat out with this one. Launched in 2015, their new Bonneville range included four models that use the company’s all-new 1199cc fuel injected parallel twin engine.
The one that made our list is the top of the range Thruxton R and it’s easy to see why. Pushing out a whopping 81ftlb of torque at a paltry 3,500 rpm, the Thruxton R’s lightweight crank and fast revving engine make it a real street sleeper. And don’t let its retro looks fool you either.
Its bank of electronic rider aids such as ride-by-wire throttle, traction control, multiple riding modes, together with a slipper clutch, are all cleverly hidden away. Nothing interferes with the bike’s clean lines.
Top 10 Café Racers#3: BMW R nineT Racer
The R nineT is yet another bike that’s leant itself to a host of variations. For my money though, the 2017 Racer is the standout bike, not only of their R nineT range, but of their entire collection.
With simple classic lines, it has combined every café racer visual reference including clip-ons, rear sets, an elongated slab sided tank, seat hump and best of all the frame mounted half fairing. BMW risked looking a bit clichéd with the racer, but instead have nailed it on the head.
Top 10 Café Racers#4: Kawasaki Z1000
Now I know people may think this is an odd choice to include here, but for me it fits right in. The 140bhp, 16valve beast is a Café Racer for the 21st century, that manages to embody that vital element of sitting in the bike rather than on it.
Look at it from the side, the big Zed looks like an extremely pissed off alien. And if that hunched up, ready to pounce stance, doesn’t scream café racer, I don’t know what does.
Top 10 Café Racers#5: Royal Enfield Continental GT
All the bikes in this top ten are modern interpretations of a classic theme, even if, as in Ducati’s, and Triumph’s case, they are borrowing from their own back catalog. This bike looks like it has fallen through a time machine, because in reality it has.
The GT was launched in 2014 by Enfield India and represented a major shift in the company’s fortunes. They’ve been making bikes true to the original post-war design since the early 60’s, but this was the first new frame and engine overhaul in 50 years. As a result of demand for the 500cc GT, the factory has doubled production.
Top 10 Café Racers#6: Norton Commando 961
Another bike with a hundred year heritage, but like Enfield, also one that has been ping-ponged around from continent to continent. British businessman and bike enthusiast Stuart Garner launched the latest incarnation in 2010. And the 961 found an instant fan base on both sides of the Atlantic.
A MKII café racer version was launched in 2015 which ironed out the bike’s initial gearbox and crank problems and in the process became a big hit with retro enthusiasts. The engine may resemble the Commando power units of old, but it’s bristling with quality modern components and has guaranteed itself a placing, for the rear light assembly alone.
Top 10 Café Racers#7: Yamaha XV950 Racer
I do realize this is a bit of a silly bike to include with some real kick ass café racers, but I like it. There’s no disguising the fact though, that it started out life as the factory’s mild-mannered V-twin street cruiser.
And even if it looks exactly like Yamaha found an old store cupboard full of bits and just stuck them on, the XV950 still makes me smile. Besides, if Harley could get away with calling a slow, V-twin cruiser with a soggy suspension a café racer (the highly unpopular XLCR) back in the 1970’s, why can’t Yamaha?
Top 10 Café Racers#8: Moto Guzzi V7 II Racer
Strangely enough, although Moto Guzzi has called their latest CR based creation, the V7, as a nod towards its namesake. The original early 1970’s V7 Sport was kind of uninspiring in terms of style.
Which is a shame, as some of the Moto Guzzi café racers of the 1970’s were as uncompromising as they were unique. Classics like the 750 and 1000S and the iconic Moto Guzzi Le Mans, were groundbreakers and ground-shakers. Nevertheless, the V7 II is a handsome bike with classic lines and any modern motorcycle that emerges from the factory with a red frame and wire wheels is ok with me.
Top 10 Café Racers#9: Horex VR6 Café Racer
Unless you were hanging around German racetracks in the 1920’s it’s doubtful if you will have heard of the name before. A checkered past, has seen the small motorcycle company rise from the ashes more times than an asbestos phoenix.
But Horax has recently been taken over by the 3C Carbon Group and launched a completely barnstorming Supercharged 1218cc 6 cylinder roadster. The café racer version will be a limited edition run of just 33 bikes, so get one while they’re hot.
Top 10 Café Racers#10: Ariel Ace
Yet another name dating back to the dawn of time and resurrected by a modern philanthropist. Ariel is a bespoke car and motorcycle manufacturer, turning out limited numbers of vehicles in the UK.