There’s a whole host of neo-classic motorcycles available today. Customers can choose from scramblers, bobbers, cruisers, a modern Honda Cub, and hand-built carbureted models based on 50s British bikes. Arguably, though, what kick-started this trend was the rise in café racers, previewed by the Ducati Sport 1000. Even Harley-Davidson is working on such a bike. And here, we’ve compiled the fastest brand-new café racers available today.
What is a café racer?
In some ways, café racers mimic bobbers. Both originated after WWII and were originally purely custom bikes based on the concept of removing ‘excess’ parts. But, while the bobber originated in the States, the first café racers, Cycle World explains, came from Britain. And unlike the bobber, which is ultimately cruiser-based, the modern café racer is built around a standard bike.
Café racer bikes share a few key features. In addition to minimal bodywork, they tend to have solo seats and clip-on bars rather than full handlebars. These lower grips, combined with the rearward-positioned footrests, make for a sportier, more aerodynamic riding position. This was further enhanced, Bennetts reports, by adding wind fairings.
But why ‘café racer’? Because the British riders who first built them mainly used them to race between roadside cafes along the UK’s growing highway network. These bikes were intended for short blasts, not long-distance riding.
How this café racer list was made
In listing other fast motorcycles, we’ve previously used 0-60 times to organize them. However, 0-60 times are rarely indicative of real-world performance. In addition, as the video below explains, 0-60 races weren’t actually what the riders of café racers were after.
In Britain during the 50s and 60s, one of the most significant motorcycling achievements was hitting 100 mph. Or, as it was known, ‘doing the ton.’ It was top speed, not acceleration, that mattered most. As such, although we do not condone doing high-speed tests on public roads, that is the method by which we created this list.
Husqvarna Vitpilen 701
Husqvarna makes more than just fast dual-sport bikes. It also makes a standard motorcycle, the Svartpilen (‘Black Arrow’) and café racer Vitpilen (‘White Arrow’). Although, as Cycle World explains, the Vitpilen’s styling is a more avant-garde take on the ‘traditional’ café racer ethos.
Beyond the styling, the $11,999 Husqvarna Vitpilen 701’s engine also makes it a unique entry on this list. It has a 693cc liquid-cooled single-cylinder engine, which makes 71 hp and 51 lb-ft. It’s also one of the lightest bikes hearing, weighing in at 362 pounds fully-fueled, which is 9 pounds less than the Yamaha MT-03, which has a 321cc twin-cylinder. However, because the Vitpilen doesn’t have much in the way of fairings, its top speed is only 125 mph, Carole Nash reports.
Still, in many ways, the Vitpilen 701 is one of the sportiest bikes here. It has a quick shifter, a downshift-smoothing slipper clutch, traction control, adjustable suspension, Brembo brakes, and ABS. The bike even comes with an auto-blip function for downshifts. And The Drive reports “it’s a blast to ride.”
Ducati Scrambler Café Racer
Another addition in the Ducati Scrambler lineup, the $11,995 Ducati Scrambler Café Racer certainly has the look down. However, Roadshow reports the sporty clip-on bars are still somewhat upright, and the foot controls aren’t moved from the standard bike’s position. This means this a café racer that can venture out beyond just the next espresso.
Like the standard Scrambler, the Café Racer has an 803cc air- and oil-cooled twin-cylinder, which puts out 73 hp and 49 lb-ft. However, Revzilla reports this version has different ECU and throttle-response tuning for smoother power delivery. And top speed, Rollick reports, is 125 mph.
On the road, Roadshow reports the bike is comfortable and reasonably sporty, and the 32” high seat is good even for shorter riders. The bike is also fairly light, with a 432-lb wet weight. The Ducati Scrambler Café Racer also comes with ABS as standard, though the cable-operated throttle means no traction control.
Triumph Thruxton RS
Although Ducati’s SportClassic line may have technically been first to hit the market, the Triumph Thruxton is arguably the modern café racer poster child. And the fastest, best-handling model in the range is the Triumph Thruxton RS.
Like the other Thruxton models, the RS has a 1200cc twin-cylinder engine. Here, though, it makes more power: 104 hp, to be specific. In addition, to improve acceleration, the 83 lb-ft torque peak arrives lower in the rev range. The RS is also 13 pounds lighter than the Triumph Thruxton R, thanks to a lighter battery and lighter engine components, Bennetts reports. Top speed, according to TopSpeed.com, is 135 mph.
Other upgrades specific to the Triumph Thruxton RS include fully-adjustable Ohlins rear suspension, adjustable Showa forks, and upgraded Brembo brakes. It also comes with 3 riding modes—Rain, Road, and Sport—which alter throttle response and traction control. It is the most expensive bike in the Thruxton range, with a $16,200 starting price. But, that’s only $800 more than the Thruxton R, and Motorcycle.com reports it’s worth the upcharge.
The Suzuki SV650 is one of the most-commonly recommended beginner bikes. And now, there’s a café racer version, the SV650X.
Compared to the standard version, Cycle World reports, the SV650X has the requisite clip-on bars, positioned lower but further forward than the standard handlebars. However, the riding position is not as aggressive as other café racers, which means the SV650X is still usable for highway riding.
Mechanically, the Suzuki SV650X and SV650 are identical. But that’s not a bad thing. The bike has a 645cc V-twin, putting out 68 hp and 43 lb-ft on Cycle World’s dyno. ABS is standard, though traction control isn’t. However, Cycle World reports the bike’s handling and relatively-low weight mean the SV650X does indeed serve as a good beginner bike. The brakes are also good, with a gentle initial bite, which is excellent for newer riders.
In addition, if inexpensive speed is what you’re after, the Suzuki SV650X has an advantage over the Triumph Thruxton RS. It has the same top speed—135 mph—but a lower, $8,399 starting price.
Kawasaki Z900RS Cafe
Kawasaki actually makes 2 café racer-style bikes.
The first is the W800 Café. Visually, it definitely fits the style’s requirements. However, its 773cc twin-cylinder only put out 46 hp and 44 lb-ft. And while every other bike here has a 6-speed transmission, the W800 only gets a 5-speed. And it only reaches a top speed of 110 mph, Rollick reports.
The $11,799 Kawasaki Z900RS Café, though, is the fastest bike on our list. Top speed, according to Motorcycle News and The Bike Market, is 140 mph. That’s thanks to a 948cc liquid-cooled four-cylinder that produces 111 hp and 74 lb-ft, Gear Patrol reports. Although the Z900RS Café doesn’t have clip-on bars, its handlebars are curved downward and rearward compared to the standard Z900RS. That being said, Motorcycle.com reports the Z900RS Café’s suspension is best suited to ‘8/10ths’ riding, e.g. sweeping back roads, not the racetrack.
However, the bike also comes with several other sporty features. Like the Vitpilen, the Z900RS Café has a slipper clutch, traction control, and ABS. In addition, Cycle News reports the Z900RS’ throttle response is significantly better than on the non-Café bike.
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