Best Modern Classic Cafe Racers
Triumph Motorcycles

11 Best Cafe Racers – Modern Classic Production Motorcycles 2024

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Factory café racers are the perfect balance of classic styling, modern technology and reliability. Once considered faddish styling exercises, nowadays retro bikes are crammed with modern technology that rivals contemporary-looking counterparts.

With continuing demand, nearly all major manufacturers have a retro machine in their lineup in 2024. And now here’s the definitive guide to the best modern classic café racers, both new and used.

Skip the preamble and jump straight to the list.

Best Café Racers: New & Used 2024

Thruxton 1200 R approaching
Crossing a cattle grid on a Thruxton 1200 R – Image: Chris P. Roberts

Renchlist has never produced a list of modern café racers before. That’s surprising, given the overwhelming subject matter of this site. Now with an abundance of modern classic racers available (and more coming in 2024), the time has never felt more right.

You’ll see on the list below that we’ve only included modern classic bikes and not neo-retro. (There IS a difference.) That said, there could be valid debate about two bikes that straddle the two retro sub-genres — hint: Scrambler Ducati and BMW R nineT. We’ll leave you to decide whether they do or not.

We’ve also included used café racers alongside new bikes. The secondhand market is teeming with barely-ridden bargains bought by riders seduced by the luscious looks of these dapper cafe hoppers.

Triumph Thruxton, Ton-Up Edition Outside the Ace Cafe London
Thruxton RS Ton-Up Limited Special Edition Model – Image: Triumph Motorcycles

1. Triumph Thruxton 1200 RS

Triumph Thruxton RS Chrome Edition
Triumph Thruxton 1200 RS Chrome Edition – Image: Triumph Motorcycles

First up is the Triumph Thruxton 1200 RS. Revealed in November 2019 and launched in 2020 it took on the mantle of café racer from the (2016) Thruxton 1200 R as the totem model in Triumph Motorycles’ Modern Classic range. (The R model didn’t get a Euro 5 update.)

The Thruxton RS is the epitome of modern-classic design. Its silhouette is an echo of the machines of the 1950s and 60s, finessed for contemporary appreciation. If your thoughts wander to factory street racers, this is the bike you most probably have in mind.

Its updated Bonneville 1200 HP (High Power) 270º cranked engine the RS makes 103 bhp at 4,250 RPM and 112Nm at 4,250 rpm. That’s circa 6 bhp and more than its predecessor. It also achieves peak power at 700 rpm lower. The R was no slouch off the line; neither is the RS.

It’s a torquey machine that corners well and is easy to handle. However, unlike the original shed-built counterparts of the last century, it’s heavy.

It’s not surprising that Triumph quotes the dry weight of 197kg rather than the wet which is closer to 250 kg. Thankfully that weight is carried low so once you’re moving you don’t feel it.

The TTRS is supplied with top-end parts and exquisitely finished with brushed and polished aluminium. The throttle body (masquerading as a carburettor), the top triple yoke and the dual dials are respectively fine examples.

The standard 2023 Thruxton RS is available in Jet Black or Competition Green & Silver Ice. There are however two special editions. You’ll get an Aegean Blue/Fusion White colour scheme if you opt for the Ton Up edition. Alternatively, there’s a gleaming chrome tank finish for the Chrome edition.

Triumph, launched the Thruxton FE (Final Edition) in Oct 2023 after announcing the end of production for this venerated model. Collectors wishing to own a piece of modern classic history might lean towards the FE model.

Triumph Thruxton RS Black
Triumph Thruxton 1200 RS Black – Image: Triumph Motorcycles

Triumph Thruxton 1200 RS Specifications at a Glance

  • Engine: 1200cc liquid-cooled parallel twin
  • Max Power:  105 PS/103 bhp (77 kW) @ 7,500 rpm
  • Max Torque: 112Nm @ 4,250 rpm, 700 rpm lower than its predecessor
  • Brakes:  (Front) Twin 310 mm Brembo floating discs, Brembo M50 4-piston radial monobloc calipers, ABS and (Rear) Single 220 mm disc, Nissin 2-piston floating caliper, ABS
  • Weight: 197 kg (Dry) 
  • Fuel Tank Capacity: 14.5 L

2. Yamaha XSR900 GP

2024 Yamaha XSR900 Legend Red
2024 Yamaha XSR900 Legend Red – Image: Yamaha Motor Europe N.V.

It’d be remiss not to include Yamaha’s latest ‘Heritage’ model, the XSR 900 GP, on this list. It’s a bike that not only pays homage to the Grand Prix era of the ’80s and early ’90s but also boasts the latest in Yamaha technology.

Yamaha’s take on the retro bike theme has previously focused on the 70s and 80s with the various iterations of its heritage lineup.

Its ‘Faster Sons’ philosophy means the marque has not been shy about taking a more modern approach to its retro models. Blending old-school design motifs with Yamaha’s contemporary engineering prowess.

The marque relies on the same base platforms in its contemporary-styled range with old-school tweaks for the XSR125, XSR700 and XSR900 models. As such, they could be categorised as neo-retro rather than full-blooded retro machines.

Introduced as a part of the 2024 lineup, the XSR900 GP’s nostalgic, boxy race-inspired cowling sits above a thoroughly modern 890cc CP3 engine wrapped in an ultra-rigid Deltabox-style chassis. The XSR is no slouch and generates 87.5 kW (117 bhp) power at 10,000 rpm with 93.0 NM (68.6 ft-lb) torque at 7,000 rpm.

What sets the XSR 900 GP apart from some of the bikes on this list, is it doesn’t sacrifice the comforts and advancements of current technology. You’ll find cruise control, a quick shift system and an A&S clutch on this machine.

That’s coupled with an impressive tech cluster including a six-axis IMU that affords lean-sensitive traction and slide control alongside a wheelie lift system. Features like this mean it can go tire-to-tire with contemporary-styled bikes in its class.

If you like the look of retro bikes but you’re a die-hard middleweight track nut still sitting on the fence, this is the bike for you.

Available in the Marlboro Yamaha style livery (Legend Red) or the Power Grey, the XSR900 GP starts at £12,500 (or $15,800).

2024 Yamaha XSR900 GP Power Grey
2024 Yamaha XSR900 GP Power Grey – Image: Yamaha Motor Europe N.V.

Yamaha XSR900 GP Specifications at a Glance

  • Engine: 890cc 4-stroke, Liquid-cooled, DOHC, 4-valves, 3-cylinder
  • Max Power:  87.5 kW (119 PS) @ 10,000 rpm
  • Max Torque: 93 Nm (9.5 kg-m) @ 7,000 rpm
  • Brakes:  (Front) Hydraulic dual disc brake, Ø 298 mm (Rear) Hydraulic single disc brake, Ø 245 mm
  • Weight: 200 kg (Wet) 
  • Fuel Tank Capacity: 14 L

3. Royal Enfield Continental GT 650

Royal Enfield Continental GT650 Ventura Storm – Image: Royal Enfield

Launched by Royal Enfield in 2019, the Continental GT 650 offers a more authentic café racer experience than some of the other bikes on this list.
Its silhouette is decidedly vintage with stark straight lines running through the profile, reminiscent of street racers of old.

While its appearance may be from the past the GT650 was built on an entirely modern high-quality platform, albeit with less technology. RE calls this unencumbered riding experience “Pure Motorcycling”.

The positive translation of this, is there are fewer gizmos to distract the rider. Read another way, it means the bike is comparatively lacking in tech, compared to others on the list.

Like its roadster twin the Interceptor, the GT 650 is powered by a characterful air-oil-cooled, SOHC, 648cc, parallel-twin. Within the RE range, this middleweight took on the mantle of café racer from the underpowered Continental GT 535.

It has nearly double the power of its predecessor, 47 bhp (34.9 kW) at 7,150 rpm. That’s excellent for younger UK and European riders, as it can be ridden on an A2 licence.

The GT 650 like many of the bikes on this list is a torquey and rev-positive machine. It delivers that power evenly throughout the rev range, peaking at 52.3 @ 5,150 rpm. The exhaust note is exquisite and memorable.

Designed following the acquisition of the British frame designer Haris Performance Products by Royal Enfield the GT 650 has a reputation for handling well.

Stopping power comes in the form of a single disc at the front and rear; 320mm and 240 mm respectively. The brakes are competent but not overzealous, meaning newer riders grabbing a fistful of front brake aren’t going to be practising panic stoppies. Furthermore, it’s augmented by ABS.

Available in five colour schemes this bike is for riders who wholeheartedly embrace classic style and those seeking a new-rider-friendly big bike experience.

Royal Enfield Continental GT 650 Mr Clean
Continental GT 650, Mr Clean – Image: Royal Enfield

Royal Enfield Interceptor Specifications at a Glance

  • Engine:  648cc, parallel-twin
  • Max Power:  34.9 kW @7150 rpm (Kw/HP-rpm)
  • Max Torque: 52.3 Nm @5150 rpm
  • Brakes: ByBre320 mm disc, ABS (Front) – 240 mm disc, ABS (Rear)
  • Weight: 212 kg (Wet)
  • Fuel Tank Capacity: 12.5 litres

4. BMW R NineT Racer S

BMW R nineT Racer 2017 to 2019 - right profile
BMW R nineT Racer S, Single-Swing Arm – Image: BMW Motorrad

BMW built the R nineT to celebrate the 90-year anniversary of the inception of its air-cooled Boxer-twin engine. The marque has since revamped the platform to mark its centennial year, with the R 12 nineT – released at the end of 2023.

The original R nineT however was conceived during the era of head designer and custom bike aficionado Ola Stenegärd, the R nineT was a departure from the brand’s ordinarily progressive product design.

When it launched, the R 9T was the spearhead of the marque’s heritage line. At the time it felt somewhat experimental. The retro segment was nowhere near as established as it is today.

Evidently, the experiment was successful. BMW went on to release more variations of the platform including the Pure, Scrambler, Urban G/S, Racer and Racer S. And it’s the latter that’s on this list though not without some caution. (Although, it’s an image of the standard Racer featured here. The Racer S is fitted with wire-spoked wheels.)

While this half-fairing boxer was a competent machine, a stretched-out riding position comprised sales. As such, the Racer was barely in production for 1.5 years (between 2017 and 2019) before the model was stopped. Unsurprisingly, it was conspicuous by its absence when the R nineT range got a Euro5 update in 2020.

With Stenegärd’s influence, the R nineT platform was built to be customised. That’s evident with the easily removable subframe. Equally, there are many aftermarket parts that even novice tinkerers can fit, to individualise this Beemer.

Considering the Racer’s extreme riding position, the purchase of riser clip-ons should make the riding experience much more comfortable. If you’re okay with that, then it’s the secondhand market where you’ll need to search for the R 9T Racer S. You’re bound to find a reasonable deal on eBay or similar.

If you can’t find a Racer on the secondhand market and the purse permits, a new R nineT Roadster might be the way to go. If finessed with swan-neck clip-ons and a seat cowl, a more evident café racer aesthetic can be achieved. Importantly, you’ll also get a more relaxed riding position and better equipment.

Weirdly, the original Roadster was fitted with better suspension than the racer in the form of fully adjustable inverted forks standard. Whereas the Racer has traditionally mounted telescopic forks.

Actually, the standard Racer was just a Pure model with a half-fairing. Nevertheless, both the older Roadster and Racer have the same power – 110bhp (81kW) @ 7550rpm and 88 lb-ft (119Nm) @ 6000rpm.

With the introduction of the Euro5, the newer model loses 1 hp in power but achieves peak power lower in the rev range at 7250 rpm.

Apart from a couple of special limited edition colours, it’s mostly the BMW Motorsport colour scheme in which you’ll find the R nineT Racer.

BMW R nineT Racer 2017 to 2019 - left profile
BMW R nineT Racer S, Two-into-One Exhaust side – Image: BMW Motorrad

BMW R nineT Specifications at a Glance

  • Engine: Air-cooled, Boxer twin
  • Max Power:  110bhp (81kW) @ 7550rpm
  • Max Torque: 88 lb-ft (119Nm) @ 6000rpm
  • Brakes: (F) 2 x 320mm discs, four-piston caliper and (R) 265mm disc, two-piston calipers (Brembo)
  • Weight: 220 kg (Wet)
  • Fuel Tank Capacity: 17 Litres

5. Kawasaki Z900RS Cafe MY2020 UK or MY2023 US

Kawasaki Z900 RS Cafe UK & EU MY2023 Version
Z900RS MY2023 for North American Markets – Image: Kawasaki

Kawasaki’s entry to the retro motorcycle segment was hotly anticipated and eagerly welcomed. Rather than build an entirely new platform it used the tried and tested Z900 platform to create the Z900 RS and the Z900 RS Cafe which is featured here. There were a few tweaks to the torque and power curves.

As such the liquid-cooled Z900 RS is a capable machine that can go tyre to tyre with any contemporary bike of similar class. This bike puts out 82 kW {111 PS} at 8,500 rpm and 98.5 N•m at 6,500 rpm so in performance it can tussle with top two retro rivals, the Thruxton RS and BMW R nineT

With a design centred on the famed Z1 model of the 70s, the Z900RS was unsurprisingly an instant hit with the motorcycle press and riders alike. Subsequent reviews were also mostly glowing.

The bike features the distinctive duckbill tail end of the original Z1. However, in other areas, Kawasaki made some very deliberate choices in favour of function over form.

The Z900 RS forgoes twin shocks in favour of a rather more modern mono-shock setup.
Notably, the exhaust configuration is a 4-into-1 rather than the original double-sided twin exhaust setup on the Zed from the 70s.

If you live in the UK/Europe the RS Café is missing from Kawasaki’s modern classic range. The nearest bike in specification terms is the Z900 RS SE. And while it has most of the equipment you’d expect to find on a modern classic racer, its stance and handlebars are that of an assertive roadster rather than a street racer.

North American markets however have an updated Cafe model. (featured below).

Versions of the RS Cafe for each market have a front cowl, lowered clip-on handlebars and a single racer seat with a more pronounced lip to make it a single-seater. The UK version is finished in Vintage Lime Green & Ebony – while the North American market gets a metallic black finish with gold stripes.

If you can get your hands on a used MY2020 RS Cafe model you’ll find a similar performance to the current model line-up. You should be able to pick up a 2020 model with relatively low mileage on eBay for circa £9,000 in the UK.

Kawasaki Z900 RS Cafe lhs [EU & UK]
Z900 RS MY2020 RS Cafe UK & EU – Image: Kawasaki

Kawasaki Z900 RS Café MY2020 Specifications at a Glance

  • Engine: 948 cc liquid-cooled, 4-stroke In-Line Four
  • Max Power:  82 kW {111 PS} / 8,500 rpm
  • Max Torque: 98.5 N•m {10 kgf•m} / 6,500 rpm
  • Brakes: (Front) Dual semi-floating 300 mm discs. Caliper: Dual radial-mount, monobloc, opposed 4-piston + (Rear) Single 250 mm disc. Caliper: Single-piston
  • Weight: 216 kg
  • Fuel Tank Capacity: 17 litres

6. Norton Commando 961CR

Norton Commando 961 Café Racer Silver
New Norton Commando 961 Cafe Racer Silver – Image: Norton Motorcycles

Launched just in time to make it onto this list is the new Norton Commando 961. Released in 2023, two new variants make up the model lineup: the SR (Standard Roadster) and CR (Café Racer).

TVS purchased Norton in April 2020, following the collapse of the former company. Since then it’s been working steadily toward fixing issues with the inherited model range and restoring faith in the brand by fulfilling previously placed orders.

The Commando 961 range is the first to roll off the production line at Norton’s new modern facility in Solihull, West Midlands, England.

And while there’s a strong resemblance to the previous model, Norton says it’s redesigned and rebuilt over a third of the bike. So far the reviews are good with handling and sound topping the positives list.

Where it falls slightly short is on performance figures. The Commando reaches its peak power of 76.8 bhp at 7,250 RPM. Nonetheless, it’s relatively torquey with 81Nm at 6300rpm.

So despite the higher price tag, the Commando 961 CR is not as powerful as the Thruxton RS, built by its historical arch-rival Triumph. Nor is it faster than the rest of the cohort. So, in performance terms, it falls somewhere between the fastest and slowest bikes on this list.

However, the Norton may just edge out its rivals through prestige and super-high-spec finish.
That’s something, given the universally acknowledged high standard of all its competitors.

Anodised billet aluminium and carbon fibre, plus, fine attention to detail on the hand-built 961 CR is coupled with top-of-the-range components. Ohlins forks and shocks, a full Brembo braking system and aluminium clip-ons.

Reviews of the two bikes have been positive. Both are available in two colour options including Matrix Black and Manx Platinum.

Norton Commando 961 Cafe Racer Black - lhs
New Norton Commando 961 Cafe Racer in Black Left-Hand Side – Image: Norton Motorcycles

Norton Commando 961 CR Specifications at a Glance

  • Engine: 961cc, Four-valve, pushrod, air-cooled parallel twin
  • Max Power:  76.8 bhp @ 7,250 RPM
  • Max Torque:  81 Nm (59.7 ft-lb) @ 6,300 RPM
  • Brakes: 2 x 320mm discs with four-piston calipers. ABS and 240mm disc, one-piston caliper
  • Weight: 230kg
  • Fuel Tank Capacity: 15 litres

7. Ducati SportClassic – Sport 1000 S

Ducati SportClassic Sport 1000 S Red
Ducati SportClassic Sport 1000 S Red – Image: Ducati Motor Holding S.p.A

Ducati’s SportClassic range was conceived by former head designer Pierre Terblanche. The Sport1000, GT1000 and Paul Smart limited edition concepts were revealed at the Tokyo Motor Show in 2003. The latter paid homage to short-circuit racing legend Paul Smart and his Imola 200 GP-winning bike.

All bikes were universally admired, so in 2005, Ducati announced that sales of the range would commence in the spring of 2006. Duly, the SportClassic became the early champion of the modern-classic factory cafe racer segment.

Featuring a 992cc L-twin engine, the SportClassic design sought to echo the café racer style of the 50s and 60s. This primarily centred on the 1974 Ducati 750 Super Sport ‘Imola’ (based on Paul Smart’s 750 race bike). It borrowed style notes too from the MH900e also designed by Terblanche.

The 750 SS is likely to feature in the dream/fantasy garage of most lovers of classic bikes. (Not a bad-looking bike on which to base a modern classic.)

With its contemporary, torquey air-cooled, 90º Desmo 1000 Dual Spark engine the SportClassic range was simultaneously modern yet classic. A new-ish concept in motorcycle innovation at the time.

While looking back Ducati had created a machine ahead of its time. Its only competitor was the asthmatic air-cooled Thruxton 900 and a similarly panting Kawasaki W650. And yet, once real-world road tests began, the first of the SportClassic range received widespread criticism. It was mostly centred on the extremely stretched-out riding position.

Ducati released the upright GT1000 with a shorter fuel tank in 2007 (to reduce the reach for the bars) alongside the Sport 1000 S featured here. The 1000 Biposto [single seat] also followed in 2008 with raised clip-ons. Nonetheless, the initial negative first impressions remained and despite the improvements, sales failed to lift. The line was discontinued in 2010.

Ducati didn’t even wait to review the results of its heavy product placement in the Tron Legacy movie. (The protagonist… (spoilers ahead) rides the Biposto version in the opening action sequence and end scene of Disney’s sequel).

Combined with its magnificent looks and scarcity the SportClassic is now a collector’s bike. Although initially priced at circa £7,500 in 2006 you can expect to pay north of £15,000 for the Sport 1000S and up to £30,000 for the limited edition Paul Smart.

Ducati SportClassic Sport 1000 S Black
Ducati SportClassic Sport 1000 S Black – Image: Ducati Motor Holding S.p.A

Ducati SportClassic – Sport 1000S Specifications at a Glance

  • Engine: 992 cc, L-twin cylinder, 2 valves per cylinder Desmodromic; air-cooled
  • Max Power:  67.7 kw – 92 hp @ 8000 rpm
  • Max Torque: 67.3 lb-ft – 9.3 kgm @ 6000 rpm
  • Brakes:  (Front)2x320mmsemi-floating discs,2-piston,2-sintered pad floating caliper – (Rear) 245 mm disc, 1-piston floating caliper
  • Weight: 179 kg
  • Fuel Tank Capacity: 15 litres

8. Moto Guzzi V7 Racer III MY20

Moto Guzzi V7III Racer 10th Anniversary Cafe Racer
Moto Guzzi V7 III Racer 10th Anniversary Edition – Image: Moto Guzzi

Moto Guzzi’s current V7 range takes its moniker from the V7 motorcycle first manufactured in 1967. Relaunched in 2010, the range has undergone three iterations and is now fitted with the most powerful engine it’s ever had.

The V7 Racer featured here is the 10th Anniversary edition launched in 2019 for MY20. It could be said that it’s styled after the 1971 V7 Sport. However, there isn’t any lime green in sight so perhaps styled in ethos but not aesthetic is more appropriate. It’s simply a sportier version of the V7 Roadster. Although it must be highlighted, the Rosso Corsa frame and swing arm echo the telaio rosso (red frame) of the 70s Sport.

With its shaft drive, distinctive fuel tank and unique transverse 750cc v-twin engine, the Moto Guzzi V7 is an instantly recognisable and adored shape.
The Racer model is of a more refined nature than the standard V7 Stone model. Most notable is the use of black anodised aluminium liberally across the bike.

While its moniker may be Racer, speed is not necessarily found in its nature. The V7 Racer is at the more sedate end of the segment. With 52 hp at 6200 rpm at 60 Nm at 4900 rpm, much like the Royal Enfield GT Continental and W800, it’s suitable for beginners.

Regardless the bar end mirror coupled with the bikini fairing with windshield gives this moto a mean look.

Moto Guzzi V7 MKIII Racer 10th Anniversary LHS
Left-side view of the V7 III Racer 10th Anniversary Edition – Image: Moto Guzzi

Moto Guzzi V7 Racer III Specifications at a Glance

  • Engine: 744cc, air-cooled v-twin
  • Max Power:  38 kW / 52 hp @ 6200 rpm
  • Max Torque: 60 Nm / 44.2 lb-ft @ 4900 rpm
  • Brakes: Single 320mm disc with 2 piston caliper – (Rear) Single 260mm disc with 2piston caliper
  • Weight: 193kg (Wet)
  • Fuel Tank Capacity:  21-litre

9. Scrambler Ducati 1100 Sport Pro

Ducati Scrambler 1100 Sport Pro
Ducati Scrambler 1100 Sport Pro, High-Mounted Twin End Cans – Image: Scrambler Ducati

Next up is another Ducati. The good fortunes of Ducati in the last decade have been inextricably linked with the launch of its scrambler range through a dedicated subsidiary.

Scrambler Ducati has been churning out a steady stream of street scramblers, plus a serious off-roader, the Desert Sled. All have been bought in droves by riders, in turn adding to the fortunes of the prestigious Italian marque.

A decade after the launch of the SportClassic Ducati was reticent to revive the model line, despite the swelling body of riders now bitten by the retro bike bug. Instead, it launched the Scrambler in 2015, based loosely on its 70s model with the same moniker.

Ducati’s Scrambler 1100 Sport Pro was released in 2018/19 and received a makeover in 2020/21. It is, for all intents and purposes a café racer, making it somewhat oxymoronically named.

However, not to the same degree as the practically contradictorily named Scrambler Ducati Cafe Racer. That model was previously found in the 800 Scrambler range but has subsequently been replaced by the Scrambler Nightshift.

Back to the 1100 Sport Pro, with its matt-black finish and contrasting brown leather seat, it borrows heavily from new-wave custom style. Ducati’s Custom Rumble competition had through up similar designs before the Sport 1100’s launch.

Appearance aside, this 1048cc oil-air-cooled, two-valve L-twin Ducati puts out 86 hp (63 kW) at 7,500 rpm and 65 lb-ft (88 Nm) @ 4,750 rpm.

It’s also fitted with top-of-the-range components, including fully adjustable Ohlins forks and preload and rebound adjust springs on the rear. That, in some way partly justifies its higher price tag of £14,495.

Juxtaposed moniker and genre aside it’s a great-looking bike, despite not having what could be classed as the typical café racer look

Ducati Scrambler 1100 Sport Pro lhs
Ducati Scrambler 1100 Sport Pro Swing-arm side – Image: Scrambler Ducati

Scrambler Ducati 1100 Sport Pro Specifications at a Glance

  • Engine: L-Twin, Desmodromic distribution, 2 valves per cylinder, air-cooled
  • Max Power:  86 hp (63 kW) 7,500 rpm/min
  • Max Torque: 65 lb-ft (88 Nm) @ 4,750 rpm
  • Brakes:  (F) 2 x Ø320 mm semi-floating discs and (R) Ø245 mm disc, 1-piston floating calliper Brembo
  • Weight: 206 kg (wet)
  • Fuel Tank Capacity: 15 litres

10. CCM Spitfire Café Racer

CCM Spitfire Cafe Racer
Produced in Limited Quantities – CCM Spitfire Café Racer – Image: Clews Competition Motorcycles

Only 250 CCM Spitfire Café Racers were ever built. That makes this lightweight, single-cylinder interpretation incredibly rare. Admittedly, the prospects of owning one are slim. Nevertheless, this list would not be complete without including such a celebrated bike.    

The Bolton, England-based manufacturer was founded in 1971 by former trials rider Alan Clews and was more commonly known for building lightweight off-road motorcycles and competing in FIM Motocross. 

At various points in its history, CCM has used modified BSA engines – additionally Rotax, Suzuki and Kymco.

Hand-built by Clews Competition Motorcycles (CCM) in 2019 the Spitfire line marked a departure from the British marque’s off-road machines.  With its smoothly curved tubular steel, trellis-frame the Spitfire Café Racer is an original interpretation of the genre. 

As such, it was particularly well-received by aficionados of custom motorcycles during its time on display at The Bike Shed, London. You’d know why if you’ve ever been up close to one of these bikes. An exquisite finish might have something to do with that.

This bike simultaneously breaks the mould, yet still manages to channel heritage design.  The brown diamond-stitched single seat and gold spoked wheels are the greatest proponents of that.

Powered by liquid-cooled, 4-valve Husqvarna 600cc single which achieves a peak power of 55 bhp and generates 58 Nm of torque at 5,500 RPM. 

With the combination of its single cylinder and custom hand-wielded exhausts, the CCM has a distinctive deepish burble. Weighing in at 142kg (Dry) ensures nimble ride a between cafés.

At the time of writing, bike 131 of 250 is available through CCM’s Approved Bike programme.

Originally, priced at £9,274.00, you might be able to find a preowned Spitfire for a tad over that price now. This retention of value should give you a strong indication of the bike’s potential to be a future classic.

CCM Spitfire fuel tank with stripes
CCM Spitfire Cafe Racer tank with stripes – Image: Clews Competition Motorcycles

CCM Spitfire Café Racer Specifications at a Glance

  • Engine: 600cc Single cylinder, Four-stroke  
  • Max Power:  58 BHP (0.41 HP/kg)
  • Max Torque: 58 Nm @ 5,500 RPM
  • Brakes: Single 320 mm Disc Front and 240 mm Disc Rear
  • Weight: 142kg (Dry)
  • Fuel Tank Capacity: 14 litres

11. Kawasaki W800 Cafe

Kawasaki W800 Cafe rhs
The More Sedate Kawasaki W800 Cafe – Image: Kawasaki

Appearing on this list is another Kawasaki although at the opposite end of the power scale. Where the Z900RS is a modern bike in retro guise the W800 Cafe is a more sedate retro bike with modern accoutrements.

Originally produced from 2011 to 2106 and then reintroduced in 2019, Kawasaki’s W800 line is the successor to the W650. The latter was arguably the first bike to have been categorised as retro.

Launched shortly before the Bloor era Bonneville, it was built between 1999 to 2007. (Although Moto Guzzi might argue that it never stopped producing retro bikes.)

Despite that, it’s fair to say that Kawasaki was well ahead of all other motorcycle manufacturers in this regard. However, the original sixties W model was a follower rather than a leader.

It took inspiration from the British parallel twins, produced by the likes of BSA and Triumph. The form of those bikes is still very present in the design of the current W800 line-up.

In many respects, the W800 Cafe featured here is more like a British twin of old than Triumph’s original modern classic range.

This old-school machine more closely embodies the lean aesthetics of the era it emulates and should appeal to bona fide retronauts.

Kawasaki W800 Cafe
Kawasaki W800 Front-Right Profile – Image: Kawasaki

Kawasaki W800 Cafe Specifications at a Glance

  • Engine:  Air-cooled, 4-stroke Vertical Twin
  • Max Power:  35 kW {48 PS} / 6,000 rpm
  • Max Torque: 62.9 N•m {6.4 kgf•m} / 4,800 rpm and Single 270 mm disc. Caliper: Twin-piston
  • Brakes: Single 320 mm disc. Caliper: Twin-piston
  • Weight: 223 kg
  • Fuel Tank Capacity:  15 Litres

Editor’s Picks: Which Modern Classic Café Racer?

If like me you wholeheartedly embrace modern classic style, you’d be pleased to own most of the bikes on the list above.
I’m a Thruxton 1200 R rider so entirely biased about which of these motorcycles I’d buy (shh… it’s the Thruxton).

Nonetheless, there wasn’t much air between it and the BMW R nineT Racer when I test-rode them.

The TTR won because it fully embraces that modern classic motif despite the greater power offered by the R NineT.

Thruxton 1200 R riding into the sunset
Nate Kwarteng riding Thruxton 1200 R into the sunset – Image: Chris P. Roberts

Nevertheless, I’ve often pondered whether I made the right decision each time I’ve found myself sitting next to the Beamer at traffic lights… while admiring its profile, listening to the delicious burbling idle exhaust note and then hanging back so I can hear the joyous sound as it accelerates away.

If scarcity wasn’t a factor, then the Ducati SportClassic for its iconic style would be the bike for me.

On (yet) another hand, if it were about value while rigorously sticking to the sixties silhouette, then the Royal Enfield would win.

But for uniqueness, it would be the CCM Café Racer. Usually, the decision is made after a test ride but each of these bikes might win you over regardless.

Cafe Racer Motorcycle: Overview & Origins

59 Motorcycle Club Members
59 Club Members on Café Racers – Image: 59 Club

In 2024 the term café racer is loosely bandied about. Pop onto any insurance broker’s blog these days and you’ll find a list of “cafe racers” populated with very upright, standard roadsters. Or alternatively, you’ll find bikes that merely purport to be retro/modern classic motorcycles but barely pay even lip service to classic styling.

So, what does the term mean? What is a café racer?

Succinctly and without delving into a history lecture, café racers are standard street motorcycles customised by riders (mainly in the 1950s and 60s Britain) for speed. They were mostly home/shed-built, single-seat street racers. They’ve seen a resurgence with the rise of new-wave custom culture.

What makes a motorcycle a café racer?

Originally, they were characterised by their stripped-back aesthetic, their straight profile lines, drop bars and single seats with a cowl. The definition in the 21st century is largely the same. Although, modern-classic, factory machines are rarely as stripped-back as their original home-built historical counterparts.

The original café racers were mostly built using Triumph, BSA, Norton, Royal Enfield or AJS motorcycles as a base. They were nearly always fitted with clubman or clip-on bars. In the late ’60s, some riders began to opt for the newer more powerful Japanese bikes.

Nevertheless, perhaps the most famous of all such bikes is the Triton which featured the featherbed frame of the Norton and a powerful parallel twin engine from Triumph.

Why are they called café racers?

These shed-built bikes were often raced between transport cafés. As such the epithet was almost inevitable. However back then in colloquial British English, it was pronounced caff racer – because pronouncing any French words properly was frankly, just showing off.

1950s to late 60s: Ton-up Boys & Rockers

‘Or Glory: 21st Century Rockers’ – Image: Horst A Friedrichs

The group synonymous with this motorcycle genre was the anti-establishment Ton-up Boys (later Rockers). They were inspired by the style of RAF pilots, American movies, music and films, such as Wild One (although that particular film was banned in Britain until 1968). Nonetheless, stories and stills made their way across the Atlantic, which informed the gear worn by these new rebels.

Apart from tinkering with their bikes, Ton-boys were known mostly for their love of Brylcreem, rock ‘n’ roll, leather jackets, reaching a ton (100 MPH) and the occasional spat with Mods

New Wave Customs

New Wave Custom Ducati on Display at the Bike Shed Show
Ducati Custom at The Bike Shed Show – Image: @motophotonate

Back in the 21st century, café racers are recognised worldwide but the term has taken on new meaning. Motorcycle manufacturers now build them. 

Some marques remain mostly true to the genre while others have their own contemporary interpretations. Regardless, all manufacturers can credit new-wave custom bike builders for their inspiration. 

Moto Guzzi Cafe Racer - Custom Top Yoke

Some people feel that café racers should be built not bought. Furthermore, major manufacturers have co-opted a subculture (Kustom culture) to sell more bikes and t-shirts. Others feel manufacturers are simply responding to the demands of the market and their customers.

The reality is of course somewhere in between that.  In any case, the relationship between manufacturers and custom motorcycle builders has always been one of symbiosis. 

Manufacturers: Modern Production Café Racers

Modern Classic Triumph Thruxton RS and R | Duncan Adler
Triumph Thruxton RS and R – Image: Duncan Adler

Manufacturers have forever released progressive new motorcycles that eventually evolve into genres. Bike builders adapt and fine-tune these bikes. That in turn generates new ideas for manufacturers who release new bikes. Builders then customise those bikes and inspire new manufacturer designs/styles. And on it goes.

Several manufacturers hold annual competitions or run programmes to encourage further customisation of their neo-classic ranges.

Ducati has its Custom Rumble competition and Yamaha has the Yard Built programme. And in recent years we’ve seen Triumph dealers compete with each other in custom build shootouts

It’s a cost-effective way to discover which way the wind is blowing in terms of styling/design and taste-test potential customers. That’s how neo-retro motorcycles have evolved in the last decade.  

Modern factory café racers were once arguably designed to generate incremental revenue through nostalgia marketing. With one exception (the Ducati SportClassic) the first motorcycles to be released in the genre struggled to compete against wholly modern equivalents.  Nonetheless, riders bought them in droves but soon, demanded more. Manufacturers responded. 

There are now several retro bikes in production that pack as much punch (sometimes more) as their contemporary-looking counterparts.  These bikes look like they’re from a bygone era and should go slower. But they don’t; not always anyway.

Modern Classic vs Neo-Retro

Retro Riders Cafe Racers by Gijs Coolen
Retro Riders – Cafe Racers – Image: Gijs Coolen

Modern-classic motorcycle models fervently emulate the design lines of the past. From a distance, machines in this sub-genre could be confused with historic models. Such machines can typically draw a direct line between a model from a manufacturer’s past — whether that’s through a moniker or emulation of design. The whole Triumph Motorcycles Bonneville range offers perfect examples of modern-classic motorcycle design.

Neo-retro motorcycles on the other hand are contemporary in design. 

Their form, however, embraces some aspect of classic motorcycle design, such as a half-front fairing, single round headlight or a subtle reflection of classic design in the lines formed by the bike. Nonetheless, typically the design of these bikes takes a decidedly more progressive approach to the genre.

An excellent example of a neo-retro motorcycle is the MV Agusta Superveloce 800.

If you’re a young rider or looking for a more sedate bike in the same genre, then view our list of the best 125 cafe racers.