Top 10s

Top 10 production café racers

Our pick of the latest crop of café racers, from 50 to 1200cc, catering for every budget

TO some, the very idea of a production café racer is the antithesis of the genre’s essence. But while there’s no doubt a hand-crafted machine can be a thing of wonder, there’s clearly a huge market of café racer fans who lack the time, skills or both to actually build their own. Fortunately there’s no shortage of factory-made café racers to appeal to every budget. Here’s our top 10...

10: Skyteam Ace

Weirdly, of all the factory café racers on sale today, the £1,699 Skyteam Ace 125 and the £1,599 Ace 50 arguably hit the styling nail most squarely on the head. That’s because they’re basically direct copies, in terms of appearance, of Honda’s 1990s Dream 50 – itself a tribute to the CR110 racer of the 1960s. Of course the Skyteams are Chinese-made, with all the baggage that brings. However, if you see them -  as many owners do – as a tinkering project of your own, in true café racer style, then there’s plenty of scope to upgrade their quality, handling and performance.

Taken purely as a motorcycle, the Yamaha XSR900 Abarth would be relatively near the top of this list. Based on the three-cylinder MT-09, it’s got more power than most bikes here at 115hp, an aluminium frame and modern electronics and suspension. It’s not the most comfortable thing, for sure, but what café racer is? If it’s got a problem it’s that the balance of modern and old is done so much better by others, particularly in terms of styling. And if you’re not buying a café racer for the look, then why have one at all?

CLICK HERE TO READ OUR REVIEW OF THE YAMAHA XSR900 ABARTH.

Does the CB1100RS even qualify for this list? It lacks key elements like dropped bars, but it’s the closest Honda currently comes to making a factory café racer. It’s a beautiful thing in its own right, with that air-cooled four-cylinder engine and high quality suspension, just more of a UJM than a real café racer. And that’s perhaps its biggest problem. In typical Honda style, its makers seem to have pulled back from the brink at the last minute and toned down the bits that might have made it really stand out. In attempting to broaden the bike’s appeal, they might have neutered it instead. However, do a bit of spanner-work (clip-ons, maybe a new exhaust) and it can hold its head high in the café racer crowd.

CLICK HERE TO READ OUR REVIEW OF THE HONDA CB1100RS.

At a little over £5k the Continental GT is one of the cheapest bikes on this list, and like the Skyteam it’s one that comes closer than most to hitting the traditional café racer aesthetic on the head. With a Harris Performance-designed frame, Paioli shocks and Brembo brakes, it’s not even too low-specification. Not that its fast – the engine is a 535cc version of Enfield’s single, making 29.1hp. It’s by no means the best brand new motorcycle that you’ll get for £5200, but it’s the best factory café racer you’ll get for that much money.

CLICK HERE TO READ OUR REVIEW OF THE ROYAL ENFIELD CONTINENTAL GT.

You could pick almost any of Norton’s current range to go on this list, from the crazy-expensive Dominator to the 961 Sport, but the 961 Café Racer both has the right name and the most suitable look. As with all the Donington-based firm’s machines, the components are top quality- Ohlins, Brembo and the like – and there’s surely no better name to have on a café racer’s tank. As a thing to caress and ogle, it’s among the best. On the downside, it’s relatively pricy, it’s not the most powerful machine on this list and isn’t the most useable on a day-to-day basis.

One bike that you will surely be considering if you’re in the market for a retro café racer is the Guzzi V7. Oddly, the really café-racer-style ‘Racer’ isn’t currently listed on Guzzi’s UK website, but the £9002 Anniversario is close to hitting the mark (although you’d want to add dropped bars and rearsets to get the proper café racer feel). With 52hp it’s not a fireball, but there’s something authentic about the V7’s styling that many others lack.

CLICK HERE TO READ OUR REVIEW OF THE MOTO GUZZI V7 RACER.

The new Street Cup is Triumph’s decaf café-racer. Based on the Street Twin, with the 55hp, 900cc version of the firm’s latest parallel twin rather than the full-fat 1200, and with styling that hits café racer notes without going full-retro. Like the rest of Triumph’s latest Bonneville range, it’s packed with technology including ride-by-wire with switchable engine modes. It errs towards the practical side of café racerdom, too – this is a useable, everyday bike, and that’s not something that’s true of everything in the class. You’ll struggle to find better at the price.

CLICK HERE TO READ OUR REVIEW OF THE TRIUMPH STREET CUP.

Even Ducati has been taken aback by the success of the Scrambler range, and while a Scrambler Café Racer is a contradiction in terms, it’s a bike that’s hard to ignore if you’re in the market for such a thing. Far less retro than most of the bikes on this list, the Ducati carries off its modern-café-racer vibe more successfully than Yamaha’s XSR900 Abarth, and achieves the right stance without creating a tortuous riding position.

CLICK HERE TO READ OUR REVIEW OF THE DUCATI SCRAMBLER CAFE RACER.

The R NineT Racer is the bike that many have been crying out for BMW to make ever since it entered the neo-retro market with the original R NineT. The addition of a bullet fairing, dropped bars and a BMW Motorsports-inspired paint-job is just as successful as you’d hope, too, instantly making the Racer the most distinctive of all the R NineT models. It’s well over the £10k mark, but with 110hp it’s also more powerful than most of the bikes on this list.

CLICK HERE TO READ OUR REVIEW OF THE BMW R NINET CAFE RACER.

While other firms strive to combine modern technology with classic styling, few achieve it as confidently as Triumph has with its latest, water-cooled Bonneville range. And the Thruxton and Thruxton R are the best of the bunch. The normal Thruxton hits all the right retro notes, while the Brembo-and-Ohlins equipped R adds a twist of 21st-century handling to the mix. The engine mightn’t be as powerful as you’d hope (96hp from 1200cc) but it’s tuned to give grunt where you need it rather than in pursuit of big peak power.  There’s simply no better factory café racer on the market right now.

CLICK HERE TO READ OUR REVIEW OF THE TRIUMPH THRUXTON R.

See how this top 10 has changed since 2013 here.

Check out our top 10 six-cylinder production bikes.

Click here for more Visordown top tens.

Join the conversation!

Let us know what you think, just sign up for a free account, leave a comment and get involved!
Register Now

Latest Reviews

Latest Videos

Feature
Article
Article