It used to be a person would have to work to get a café racer. Or at the very least, pay someone else to do the modifications. These days manufacturers make it simple, styling bikes with the café aesthetic right from the start.
Whether that’s a positive shift or negative one we’ll leave to you to decide, but it’s our opinion that the more options riders have the better. And with the current crop of café racers on showroom floors, it’s clear that some companies are taking the genre seriously enough to make a compelling case for factory-built versions of these previously garage-fabricated machines. We sorted through and found five available in 2019 that are particularly appealing.
Trigger warning: We kept our selections to bikes that chase a more “pure” café racer configuration. Clip-on bars (or clip-on-style bars at least), racier ergonomics, straight(ish) lines running tank to tail. Of course, some of our picks break the rules a bit, but we didn’t dive into the neo-café pool (looking at you, Honda) for this list.
The Scrambler platform has been a boon for Ducati. It’s approachable, affordable, stylish, and actually performs, both on the road and in terms of the brand’s bottom line. So it’s no surprise that variations on the base have been high priority for the Bologna-based brand. The Scrambler Café Racer for 2019 is one of the more appealing versions of the platform, and is why this one makes the cut. The nostalgia is there, with the slight fairing/headlight wrap and perpendicular fluidity marked by the bright blue trellis frame running under the tank back underneath the seat. The seat and tailsection pay due homage to the style as well. We also like the fact that as the Scrambler line maintains its presence in the industry, more and more aftermarket parts and accessories are developed. That means you can still put your personal stamp on this Italian V-Twin without having to be an experienced fabricator.
The 2019 Triumph Thruxton R has it all in terms of lines and heritage, plus it absolutely rips. This 1,200cc parallel twin is the biggest engine of the bunch and will have no problem surpassing the ton, plus with the R-spec you get some of the best Triumph has to offer in terms of mechanical componentry. These bikes are absolutely stunning in person, and are fantastic examples of a company honoring its past while moving forward into the future. Many claim to be hitting that mark, but Triumph absolutely does with its Thruxton R. Our only gripe is the price, which starts at $15,400. That undermines the café spirit somewhat, which was born in the garages of more modestly paid riders with an insatiable desire to go fast and eke out every ounce of performance a motorcycle could muster. But it’s not enough of a caveat to undermine the fact that this is one of the best café racers out there that’s ready to ride home from the dealer.
The W800 is an homage to an homage, a bike that brings back a defunct line (ended in 2016) that itself honored a ’60s-era British bike clone from Kawasaki. Does this fact alone warrant its inclusion in the list? Absolutely not, but the air-cooled, 360-degree-crank parallel twin and gaitered fork, front fairing, and unabashed retro styling make a strong case. This is the café that seeks to recreate the café of old with a bit more period-correct authenticity than some of the others. That’s not to say there aren’t a few modern comforts like an assist and slip clutch, but still. It’s a bold move from Kawasaki, which had a fairly enticing option in the café-ish Z900RS already.
At the other end of the spectrum is Husqvarna’s innovative-looking café racer, the Vitpilen 701. This bike has a lot of care paid to its aesthetic detailing, with crisp, clearly café lines thoughtfully accented by the shaping of the tailsection, minimal pinstriping, and trellis frame. It’s packing a playful 693cc single and comes with solid suspension, high-quality brakes, and some nice touches like the APTC slipper clutch and switchable ABS. Whereas lots of others are aiming to recreate a look that feels familiar, Husqvarna decided to take a different route and to us it paid off big time.
The Suzuki SV650X takes an immensely popular and fun platform and gives it a few updates to fit the café racer style. The stitched seat, front fairing, clip-on bars all provide a café look, but do so without feeling overblown. Similar to the Ducati mentioned at the top of the article, the SV650X makes good use out of a well-known, marketable, and enjoyable model with some styling changes to differentiate it from the pack. This may be the most personal choice of the bunch, so definitely subject to bias, but I think the SV650X is a wonderful motorcycle that has just the right amount of aesthetic embellishment in this case to be even more appealing. Plus it’s the most affordable of the bunch.