Cafe Racers are now an integral part of the modern retro bike genre, spawning its own subculture of clothing, customisation, aftermarket parts, exhibitions and trendy cafes and clubs.
It’s great to see many British companies leading the way in this arena as this popular style of bike has its roots in English moto folklore (see our Cafe Racer Guide for a history and guide to all things retro).
As a quick reminder, original Cafe Racers tended to include some, if not all, of the following attributes:
- A single headlight and solo seat (often with a rear cowl)
- Rearsets (set back foot controls) to create a ‘tucked-in’ riding position
- Clip-On (dropped) handlebars
- A parallel twin engine
- A half or full race fairing, but can equally be a naked bike
In this article, we’ve assembled our top 10 ten Cafe Racer list for your viewing pleasure:
10. Moto Guzzi V7 Special
First up is the legendary Italian company Guzzi’s offering. As far as modern retro bikes go, this one possibly retains many of the character features of its original Guzzi forefathers.
Although the 2021 model is more powerful with an extra 100cc engine, it still doesn’t offer stacks of grunt, and modern features are a bit thin on the ground.
However, the V7 offers a beautiful-looking Italian-style bike, with its unique 90-degree V twin cylinders and nicely shaped tank.
If you want to up the retro ante, the V7 Special 850 model offers a nice-looking brown bench seat, spoked wheels and a load of extra chrome. The V7 retains all the character and nostalgic looks of an original cafe racer bike in an easy to ride package.
9. Royal Enfield Continental GT
- Weight: 202kg
- Power: 47Bhp
- Engine: 648cc
- Price: £6,239
The classic GT is one of the most affordable modern cafe racers, the first of four British bikes on our list.
Its parallel-twin engine isn’t blessed in the power department, but they are one of the best looking retro Enfields (in my opinion) and offer amazing value as an entry-level retro bike.
Apart from some rather suspect rear suspension, the GT has pretty decent fittings and equipment for this price range, and the Chrome tank version is especially pleasing to the eye.
8. Yamaha XSR900
- Weight: 195kg
- Engine: 850cc
- Power: 113bhp
- RRP: £8999
Rather than being ‘all-out’ retro, Japanese cafe racers tend to be modern bikes in a subtle retro-styled outer shell, giving you many modern features such as LCD displays, traction control and rider modes. The XSR900, an MT-09 in a retro outfit, is a classic example.
It comes with retro round lights, chrome brackets, and stacks of options. Yamaha offers a ton of colour scheme options, with the ‘Kenny Roberts’ commemorative yellow being a personal favourite.
If you want a rare and unique version, check out the limited edition Arbath model, with its unique rear hump, rear sets and drop-down handlebars. Not everyone’s cup of tea, this ‘extreme’ model is for hardy riders who constantly stink of Deep Heat and are on first name terms with their physiotherapist.
7. Ducati Scrambler Café Racer
- Weight: 186Kg
- Engine: 803cc
- Power: 73Bhp
- RRP: £9950
The Scrambler is a beautifully light and nimble bike with an 800cc V Twin engine, and although it’s not a rocket, 73 Bhp isn’t terrible.
The Cafe edition has turned up the retro dial with the inclusion of a bikini fairing, proper clip-on handlebars, a lovely stitched leather scalloped seat, rear cowl and bar end mirrors.
I love the single digital clock, which contains an impressive amount of information in a really pleasant format. The bar graph rev counter that appears around the clock’s circumference is particularly appealing to my inner nerd.
6. CCM Spitfire Cafe Racer
- Weight: 142Kg
- Engine: 600cc
- Power: 55bhp
- RRP: £9,274
You will need to get your lumberjack shirt and tanned vegan leather gloves on for our second British branded cafe racer.
The Spitfire Cafe Racer looks like it’s been hand-forged in the basement of the Bike Shed, loaded with beautiful, unique touches that surely make this one of the best looking bikes on our list.
With its 55 Bhp 600cc single-cylinder Husqvarna engine, the Spitfire will never offer a full-on ‘blaze-up’ on an A road but will steal the show on a Sunday morning jaunt.
It comes with a host of quality features, including Brembo brakes, a slash-cut exhaust, gold spoked wheels, a hand-built TIG welded frame and one of the coolest quilted leather seats on the market.
5. Triumph Bonneville T120 Black (2021)
- Weight: 236kg
- Engine: 1200cc
- Power: 75Bhp
- RRP: £10,800
The third Brit on the list is a model that’s possibly most aligned to the original Cafe Racer ethos, the T120 Bonneville that Triumph relaunched back in 2016.
Utilising their parallel twin Bonneville engine, it offers stunning retro looks, modern performance, good build quality and is surprisingly easy to ride. The 2021 model includes an assisted clutch, riding modes, an LED headlight and cruise control.
The T120 Black is the premium choice, but several other Bonneville models could easily have made the list. With honourable mentions to the Street Twin, Speed Cup, Speedmaster, Bobber and my current steed, the Street Scrambler.
4. MV Agusta Super Veloce
- Weight: 173kg
- Engine: 798cc
- Power: 148bhp
- RRP: £18,500
Admittedly the Super Veloce is probably stretching the Cafe Racer qualifications a bit, as it’s an Agusta F3 sports bike in a Shoreditch outfit.
But it has a 70’s style nose cone, single swing arm, inline-triple engine, rocket launcher exhaust, and oozes class and retro style.
For me, having the speed and the looks surely make this a dream bike for any cafe racer speed fan (with a wallet full of folding stuff).
Google the saucy ‘Alpine’ and ’75 Anniversario’ limited edition models if you fancy even more retro luxury.
3. Kawasaki Z900RS SE
- Weight: 216kg
- Engine: 948cc
- Power: 109Bhp
- RRP: £10949
As with the XSR900, the 2022 Z900RS SE is a modern bike in a retro suit built from the thoroughly modern Z900 Roadster.
Packed with tons of retro touches, the RS is probably the best Japanese attempt at a modern Cafe Racer with a nostalgic style that’s a clear homage to Kawasaki’s 1970’s Z1 and its original Z range.
The 2022 model has an impressive 109 Bhp four-cylinder engine, Ohlins adjustable rear suspension and front/rear LED lights.
There’s also a ‘Cafe’ version that ramps up the retro, with a bikini fairing, lowered handlebars and a cafe racer style seat that Kawasaki describes as having “a more pronounced step”.
It’s only available in a weird snot green colour that will probably appeal to Kawasaki purists.
2. BMW R9T Racer
- Weight: 225kg
- Engine: 110Bhp
- Power: 1170cc
- RRP: £11050 (New)
A bike very close to my heart, the R9T Racer was discontinued from Motrrad’s popular R9T lineup in 2017.
However, as an ex long term owner and R9T fan, I can tell you it’s still one of the most beautiful bikes I’ve ever seen.
Bursting with mid-range grunt and full of character, its unique looks and customisation potential makes it a much-loved bike with owners.
With its 70’s Motorrad colour scheme, single swing arm, front fairing and rear cowl and unique BMW Boxer engine, it’s a full-on retro affair.
Despite what Racer owners will tell you, it has a pretty uncomfortable riding position that I never really got used to. For me, it limited saddle time to about an hour; however, handlebar riser kits are available to improve this.
As with the XSR900 Arbath, if you’re prepared to put up with a few trips to a Chiropractor, it’s one of the most unique retro bikes out there. With only a small number registered in the UK and production ceased, it’s got to be a future classic.
1. Triumph Thruxton RS’ Ton Up’ Edition
- Weight: 197Kg
- Engine: 1200cc
- Power: 103Bhp
- RRP: £13000
Our fourth and final Brit bike is Triumph’s 2022 flagship retro bike. It’s often regarded as the darling of the retro scene, oozing quality with its chrome and retro charm, ensuring its number one spot.
The Thruxton is a sports version of the T120, with a highly tuned version of Triumph’s HT 1200cc parallel twin Bonneville engine. The updated 2020 RS model sees a minor 7 Bhp increase in power but a massive 6kg weight saving.
It has everything, from comfort, stunning looks, rocket ship power and stacks of little touches that the Triumph designers have nailed. For me, it ticks all the boxes; hence it’s number one spot.
As if the Thruxton didn’t already have top-notch Cafe Racer credentials, Triumph took this honour one stage further creating the ‘Ton Up’ edition. With retro graphics and a chrome headlight bezel, it beautifully pays homage to the original cafe racers of the ’50s and ’60s (see our Cafe Racer History Guide).
Its standard chrome top yoke, chrome rims, and twin clocks help make the Thruxton look like a genuine 70’s bike (even more so with the optional front fairing).
The Thruxton’s age is only truly revealed on closer inspection when you spy the LED headlight, digital readout and all-round Brembo shocks and brakes.