Lightweight, lightly powered motorcycle optimized for speed and handling. And all about the ’70s

Racing on bikes from café to café before a song could finish was the most therapeutic thing to have happened for motorcyclists in the ‘70s. Inspired by this culture, people and manufacturers started building motorcycles with minimal components to take them the distance in the shortest time. It embodied the classic café-racer cues taking us back in time with modern design bits and sophisticated packaging.

Here is our list of the best ten motorcycles of 2018 that remind us of that ‘70s. Round headlights, debonair half-shell fairing, humped seat, rear seat cowl, extended wheelbase, and the low-slung handlebar, it’s all in each one of these machines:

Kawasaki Z900

Top 10 Cafe-Racers of 2018 Exterior
- image 744165

Although inspired by the legendary motorcycle which had defined the term “Superbike” back in the ’70s, the RS models from Kawasaki are nowhere close to feeling old. The Cafe is no different. It’s underpinned by the same mechanicals as the standard RS but gets the obvious headlamp cowl, scalloped lower seat that is ribbed and lowered bars to give it a sportier progress and feel.

You cannot miss that beautiful looking lairy green and white paintjob, a reminiscent of the KR250/500 of the late ’70s. It complements the blacked out frame, forks, footpegs wheels and engine to give out a bold appearance. Enough for it to stand out amidst the rest of the Cafe-Racers flooded in the market.

Images: 2018 Kawasaki Z900RS Cafe - in the details Exterior
- image 744162

Like the RS, the Cafe carries a state-of-the-art 948cc hauled from the existing Z900 naked streetfighter and is re-mapped to give the former lower peak power that will help it accelerate better under 7000 rpm. But when it comes to numbers, the RS Cafe performs slightly lower with peak power coming down from 124 hp to 111 hp and the peak torque from 72.2 lb-ft to 53.5 lb-ft. Borrowed from the Z900 is the assist-and-slipper clutch making changing gears a breeze.

The Cafe also gets pampered with higher spec components like the radial-mount brake calipers and LED lighting all around. Rider aids include a switchable two-level traction control system that will prevent you from playing God with those Dunlop GPR-300 tires.

Images: 2018 Kawasaki Z900RS Cafe - in the details Exterior
- image 744164

The Z900RS Cafe is available in Vintage Lime Green only and is priced at $11,499. Enabling further customization options, Kawasaki offers a full line of genuine accessories for the 2018 Z900RS Café. Kawasaki says availability will be limited in the U.S. market.

Triumph Thruxton R

Top 10 Cafe-Racers of 2018
- image 746467

Over the last many years, the Triumph Thruxton has been giving us the unadulterated essence of motorcycling with its simplistic café racer stance and smooth power delivery. Making the timeless design further enchanting is the ‘Track Racer Kit’, a genuine accessory kit provided by Triumph worth $2500.

The kit enhances the café-racer appeal of the Thruxton R with a host of competition inspired sculpted headlamp cowl, lower clip-ons, rear mudguard removal kit, compact rear light, Vance & Hines slip-on silencers, knurled handlebar grips, and an authentic leather tank strap.

Buying a Thruxton R? You can now get a $2500 worth Cafe-Racer kit for free
- image 746466

It houses a 1200cc parallel-twin engine putting out 96 hp of power and 82 lb-ft of torque. Besides, the motorcycle gets a bunch of high-end tech features like ride-by-wire technology, switchable ABS, traction control and three driving modes. The clip-on handlebars and the slightly rear-set footpegs offer a sporty riding position.

The Thruxton 1200 R gets a combination of fully adjustable 43mm upside down Showa telescopic hydraulic forks at the front and fully adjustable Ohlins twin hydraulic coil springs with a piggyback reservoir at the rear. Dual 310mm discs at the front and a single 220mm disc at the rear, both of which have been sourced from Brembo, handle the braking department.

2016 - 2018 Triumph Thruxton 1200 / 1200 R
- image 757124
2016 - 2018 Triumph Thruxton 1200 / 1200 R
- image 757136
2016 - 2018 Triumph Thruxton 1200 / 1200 R
- image 757135
2016 - 2018 Triumph Thruxton 1200 / 1200 R
- image 757133

The base model Thruxton 1200 starts out at $13,000 MSRP, which is a carry-over from last year. Beings how the “R” model comes with a bit more of a race-tastic package, it’s no surprise that you’re going to have to skin that checkbook a little harder to score one - $ 15,000 to be exact.

BMW R nineT Racer

Top 10 Cafe-Racers of 2018 Exterior Wallpaper quality
- image 783349

Released first in 2016, the Racer gave us a chance to relive the era of legendary superbikes, and it does that even today albeit with a modern 1170 cc mil and up-spec chassis elements. BMW purposefully made the Racer like a customized bespoke bike with innovative technology and in customary BMW Motorrad quality rather than gunning for just a retro machine.

The styling cues on this café-racer trumps many others in the industry when it comes to the built quality and finishing. It is quite different in style but equally classic in character. Although we would have loved if BMW equipped the machine with even higher spec components, the package definitely works here.

2018 BMW R nineT Racer Exterior
- image 783360

The Racer might be a homage to the yesteryears but has a heart made of a modern and a sophisticated package. Similar to the R NineT, the Racer makes use of an air/oil-cooled, flat twin 1170cc boxer engine that is endowed with a lovely long spread of power that produces 110 hp at 7750rpm and maximum torque of 86 lb-ft at 6000rpm. Claw-shifted six-speed transmission with helical-cut splines taking power to the rear wheel via shaft drive.

Characterized by the low-slung handlebar and the high rear-set footpeg, this Racer has the stance true to its name. The narrow body with the higher saddle position allows the rider to commit into the straights as well as the apexes. Conventional telescopic fork at the front and the BMW Paralever unit at the rear take care of suspension. Brembo 4-piston brake calipers, steel-wrapped brake lines and twin-brake discs with BMW Motorrad ABS handle the braking.


Apart from the ABS, there is not much of a tech-ridden spec sheet here. You will, however, be able to opt for ASC (Automatic Stability Control) to prevent the rear wheel from spinning on slippery roads, which is available ex-works. The R nineT Racer, which pays tribute to the café runners of the ‘60s and ‘70s, will retail for $13,545 (plus a $495 destination fee). The R nineT Racer will be featured in one color tone: Lightwhite non-metallic combined with multi-colored decor reminiscent of past BMW Motorsport colors, with the frame in Aluminum Silver.

Royal Enfield Continental GT 650

Top 10 Cafe-Racers of 2018 Exterior
- image 782058

The Continental GT 650 is Royal Enfield‘s way of making the most powerful and the lightest modern day cafe racer which blends retro style with modern appeal perfectly. This move is to reach a wider audience base in India and across the globe who are not saying to splurge on class leading products.

The contemporary urban styling cues are boldly shown with those clean looking lines and minimal bodywork designed keeping in mind the voguish attitude it needs to carry. It combines the old world charm with many modern world design bits. The fenders, headlight unit, and the wheel rims get blacked out appointments this time though on select color options.

Royal Enfield's new Continental GT 650 and Interceptor have twice the number of cylinders than usual Exterior
- image 744206
Mechanically, they are well equipped.
They feature Pirellis on 18 inch laced wheels, a single 320mm disc at the front and 240mm disc at the rear - both equipped with ABS.

An all-new in-house developed 648cc parallel twin engine that features a single piece forged crank with a 270-degree firing order. The engine is not built for speed, but for the character that will provide an unrivaled experience while producing 47 hp and 38 lb-ft of torque. The six-speed gearbox provides a strong low and mid-range performance and comes equipped with a slipper clutch.

The GT 650 is bolted onto a new double-cradle steel frame that blends authentic form of period classics with the handling and ride of modern engineering. The bike features Pirellis on 18 inch laced wheels, 100/90-18 up front and 130/70-18 out back. A single 320mm disc at the front and 240mm disc at the rear - both equipped with ABS to provide enough stopping power. Traditional 41mm upfront forks, with twin coil-over rear shocks, handle the modulations.

Royal Enfield's new Continental GT 650 and Interceptor have twice the number of cylinders than usual Exterior
- image 744204
Even after all these updates, the Continental GT has managed to maintain the Cafe-Racer stigma and simplistic minimalism.

Although no official word on the launch and pricing is out, we can speculate it to be placed in a premium price bracket of under $ 7,500 ($1,500 more than the 535cc Continental GT brother). The Continental GT comes in three colors: Ice Queen, Sea Nymph and Black Magic and weighs in at 437 lbs.

Ducati Scrambler Cafe-Racer

Top 10 Cafe-Racers of 2018
- image 776208

The design of the Scrambler Café Racer may evoke the senses and feels of an old-school café racer of the past decades, but under the skin, it is a twenty-first century Ducati powerhouse by every bit. The reason it is in existence is credited to the purists and enthusiasts who started building one from other scrambler bikes.

Visually this Café-Racer hits the high note and is considerably the favorite one of the Scramblers. It has been treated with a glossy black coat which Ducati calls ‘Black Coffee’. Gold coach lines, logo and alloy wheels accentuate the black paint scheme highlighting the bike’s grown up design. It’s a color combo that just works. Then there is a classic cafe racer-style humped seat with a glossy black cowl, a Termignoni exhaust with anodized black covers and a minimalist front fender. Also, paying homage to legendary Ducati racer Bruno Spaggiari, there is a number board on each side of the bike with ’54’ written on it.

2017 - 2018 Ducati Scrambler Café Racer & Desert Sled
- image 776217

It is really a commendable job done by Ducati to have managed to spin the same engine and create that many Scramblers each having their own character. The loveable air-cooled 803cc motor is bolted on the steel trellis frame, and the Euro 4 compliant engine develops 75bhp at 8,250 rpm and 68Nm of peak torque at 5,750 rpm. Although it is the same motor, riders can now expect quite a treatment to their ears due to the Termignoni silencer. Promising smoother delivery of power and faster throttle response, especially at lower rpm, than ever before.

This street orient take from Ducati has a more aggressive riding position like a vintage, which features a running clip-on handlebar meaning you can take the twisty asphalt with panache. Acting behind the scene are Bosch 9.1 ABS equipped dual 330mm semi-floating rotors up front, with radial Brembo M4-32 calipers and a 245 mm single caliper at the rear.

2017 - 2018 Ducati Scrambler Café Racer & Desert Sled
- image 776216

Debuting in this scrambler are also the fully adjustable 41mm forks featuring 5.9 inches of travel, along with a pre-load adjustable rear shock. The Pirelli Diablo Rossi II’s keep you planted no matter who you are. The Café Racer comes with black sheet metal and a dark-tan saddle with an $11,695 MSRP.

Moto Guzzi V7 III Racer

Top 10 Cafe-Racers of 2018 Exterior Wallpaper quality
- image 725232

This could be the sportiest ever Moto Guzzi to come out of the factory gates. Produced in a limited run of 1000 units, this motorcycle deliberately carries the most exquisite mechanical elements and components of the four that possibly demonstrated MG’s true custom builds. On the steering yoke, you get the stamp of the limited-edition machine and the satin finish chromium fuel tank gets new graphics that highlight the red eagle.

Reminiscence of the 1971 V7 Sports series, nicknamed “red frame”, this Racer edition gets the “Rosso Corsa” color chosen to paint the frame and the swingarm with the humped solo saddle, which is also approved for a pillion. Anodized black aluminum adorns the new side panels and the throttle body guards while the number plate is made of brushed aluminum. The bike gets more premium components like the setback foot pegs machined from solid billets, the lightened steering stem.

2017 - 2018 Moto Guzzi V7 III Racer
- image 742940

The 744cc longitudinally-mounted 90-degree twin mill churns out a healthy 52 bhp at 6200 rpm, whereas maximum torque measures in at 44.25 lb-ft at 4,900 rpm. All this power is taken via a precise and smooth six-speed gearbox introduced on the V7 II with changed gear ratios for a smoother acceleration curve. Surprisingly, MG is making use of a dry single plate clutch that is said to improve sturdiness and reliability over time and also help in lighter clutch action.

The V7 has a pullback, sweep up and back for a relaxed position handlebar with wide saddle and repositioned footpegs offering a neutral riding position that is comfortable enough on long rides. Though the V7s are tuned for a soft ride, suspension setup on the bikes was basic, and standard non-adjustable forks at the front and Ohlins piggyback shocks at the rear. A pair of Brembo 4-pot 320mm disc and 2-pot 260mm disc provide predictable stopping power at a peg-scraping pace.

2017 Moto guzzi V7 III Exterior
- image 725231
2017 Moto guzzi V7 III Exterior
- image 725238
2017 Moto guzzi V7 III Exterior
- image 725235
2017 Moto guzzi V7 III Exterior
- image 725233

Electronic rider aids include dual-channel ABS by Continental and standard Moto Guzzi traction control (MGTC) having two modes. The V7 Racer has a price tag of $9,990 and gets its own Rosso Corsa color edition.

Yamaha XSR900 Abarth

Top 10 Cafe-Racers of 2018 Exterior
- image 718835

The child of the Japanese Blue team and the Italian powerhouse Abarth looks absolutely stunning. The XSR900 Abarth is a limited-edition "Sport Heritage café racer special" based on Yamaha’s XSR900 847 cc inline-triple neo-retro motorcycle. It is a lightweight, high-performance retro special whose authentic café racer design reflects the true spirit of the motorcycles in the 60’s era. But make no mistake, it is very much futuristic. This is the perfect blend of ultra-cool retro style with the grunt of a sports racer.

The XSR900 was already a butch off-road version of the MT-09, a bike that flaunted a new classic design with a round headlight. With Abarth coming in, it raised the appeal even higher by adding a carbon nose cowling and rear seat cowling along with a low-slung handlebar to make it so much more distinctively retro. Add a suede seat, grey paint job with red speed blocks and the Abarth logo, your perspective of beauty on two wheels gets a new definition.

Yamaha XSR900 Abarth Exterior
- image 718831

At the heart of this beautiful machine, lies the same 850cc, liquid-cooled, in-line three pot, 4 stroke power mill that is regarded as one of the most exciting power plants running on any two-wheeler. The motorcycle’s three-cylinder engine produces 115 bhp and 65 lb-ft of torque. Equipped with a traction control system and an assist slipper clutch mechanism, this powerplant provides high levels of controllability in varying conditions. Then there is a full Akrapovič titanium exhaust system.

Don’t let the bike’s retro 60’s styling fool you into thinking this as an oldie. It might look one but has all the equipment one could need to be packed between two wheels. 41mm USD at the frot and a mono-shock unit handles the damping while a dual hydraulic disc with four calipers at the front take care of the stopping. The traction control system offers you three levels of interventions as well as an off function. This will help you prevent rear wheel spin and gives you a better-controlled ride.

Yamaha XSR900 Abarth Exterior
- image 718837

The production of this Abarth XSR900 is strictly limited to 695 units. According to their website, the price of this motorcycle is £9,999 inc. VAT ($ 12,851 appx.). When got here, expect another $600 up mark on the price.

Suzuki SV650X

Top 10 Cafe-Racers of 2018
- image 779391

What looks like a standard SV650 kitted with aftermarket parts, the SV650X isn’t groundbreaking per se. It gets a few styling tweaks in the form of a slotted headlamp cowl and side panels in the front that has a nice flowing design.

Then there is the clip-on bar that replaces the flat handlebars, the tuck and roll saddle gets ribbed stitching, and that’s about it for the ‘70s charm the bike wishes to flaunt. You can opt for the optional LED fog lamps for superior light distribution characteristics. You get one black and silver paintjob with red pinstripe, which I believe Suzuki could have done a better job at to give the bike a myriad of colors instead. Nonetheless, for some, this will make the bike unmistakably distinctive otherwise.

2018 - 2019 Suzuki SV650X
- image 779405

The chassis and powertrain are borrowed from the SV650 unchanged. The beating heart is a water-cooled, 645 cc, 90-degree V-twin that makes 75hp and 47 pound-feet of torque. The Idle Speed Control feature helps stabilize the idle and aid with cold starts, and the Low RPM Assist helps smooth out your holeshots by boosting rpm as you release the clutch and begin to load up the engine.

As with the 2018 naked SV650, even this retro “X” variant will get updated gain preload adjustable front forks that will benefit the forward riding position in the SV650X. The link-type monoshock handles the rear suspension with a seven-notch preload adjuster. In the braking department, the bike gets dual 290 mm front discs with twin-pot Tokiko caliper and a single-pot caliper pinching the 240 mm rear disc with Nissin ABS.

2018 - 2019 Suzuki SV650X
- image 779402

It runs on Dunlop Roadsmart III tires and tips the scales at 437 lbs at the curb. Pricing has yet to be announced for the U.S. market. The 2018 SV650 ABS is $7,499, so I imagine the “X” will add a few bills to that. MSRP on the “X” is $8,299 in the Canadian market.

Norton Commando 961 California

Top 10 Cafe-Racers of 2018 Exterior
- image 742444

For its 50th anniversary, the British maker has given it an update and launched the 2018 Commando 961 California. ‘The easy riding roadster’. It ditches all the darkness and adorns a timeless classic styling with chrome all-over reminiscent of the ‘70s American motorcycling.

The shiny chrome is seen on a host of places, and there is even carbon-fiber complimenting the candy metal flake paint job. Flat handlebars also get replaced with Semi-Ape hanger bars and are given the blingy chrome treatment. This is the first Norton Commandos’ to have a high handlebar, it’s what used to be termed a Western Bar back in the ‘70s.

Norton launched the new 2018 Commando 961 California Exterior
- image 742441

The current Norton Commando mill that has been in production since 2010 makes a scene here but gets scores of updates. It’s powered by a 961cc fuel-injected, air-cooled parallel twin engine with hydraulic actuated overhead pushrod valves. Norton claims 66.3 pound-feet of torque at 5,200 rpm backed up by 78.8 horsepower at 6,500 rpm from this engine. A balancer shaft helps keep swaying and vibrations at bay.

This Commando used top-spec equipment custom made for them. The Ohlins piggyback shocks get lengthened slightly, giving more cornering clearance and putting more weight on the front wheel for quicker turning. 41mm Ohlins forks are as good as you can get for road use. The twin 320mm discs and Brembo radial brake package provide controllable, effective stopping power with just the right degree of sensitivity. Dual Brembo four-piston calipers at the front and a two-piston at the rear.

Norton launched the new 2018 Commando 961 California Exterior
- image 742445

The California comes with the option of running a solo seat complete with a cafe’-tastic rear spoiler/fender (as a standard), or in a two-up configuration that comes with a hard cover. Although Norton has not released their official pricing for the 2018 Norton Commando 961 MKII, do expect it to be near the $22,000 mark. The good-ol’ Café came with a $21,395 sticker itself. You can get the Commando 961 California in four unique liveries, with a bike cover and paddock stand to suit and will be limited to just 50 numbered units.

Denzel Electric Cafe Race

Top 10 Cafe-Racers of 2018 Exterior
- image 752439

Designed by Barcelona-based Pablo Baranoff, this e-bike has been built with the help of a Chinese electric vehicle company East Gem, aka Denzel. The whole idea was to create a functional, good-looking motorcycle, and with what we get to see, I think they have done just that.

Prototyped using a Honda 125cc Cafe Racer, the folks at Denzel replaced the internal combustion with an electric powerplant and managed to give it all the cafe-racer elements like the round headlamp, spoked wheels, and the curved saddle. Fit and finish remain top-notch. The electric motor and battery components get neatly packed behind the huge front grill and plastic panels that also come with nifty little compartments.

How about an E-Cafe Racer for you? Exterior
- image 752451

The bikes are built to compete against the 125cc motorcycles and are loaded with features that make it a bargain. The 7500W motor sucks power from 72V Panasonic lithium-ion batteries to put out an impressive 60mph top speed, and a range of 75 miles.

Kelly KLS 7218SW controllers display battery and motor properties right onto an LCD display unit embedded within the tank. You also get wireless access key with alarm, electronic brake system with regen function, and cruise control function to help the rider gain positive experiences on these bikes.

The Denzel Electric Cafe Race will be available for pre-order starting from January 2018 and will cost $5000. The final products will be shipped in May 2018 and will come with a 5-year warranty too.

What do you think?
Show Comments
Motorcycle Finder: