If you’d hung around London’s renowned Ace Cafe in the late 1950s, you’d have noticed stripped back, modified street racers being shown off and almost certainly given a blast: these were the original cafe racer motorcycles. Their riders were known as the Ton-Up Boys, because of their enthusiasm for reaching 100 mph on their highly modified machines. Cafe racer motorcycles today incorporate rather more in the way of safety and technology, but they retain all the stripped-back, essentials-only style of those pioneers. Stand by then for our pick of the best cafe racer motorcycles in 2024. Ace Cafe visit? Essential.
Best cafe racer motorcycles in 2024
Triumph Thruxton RS
Yes, of course you want it. Classic marque? Check. Perfect cafe racer motorcycles style? Built-in. Triumph say theirs are the bikes that inspired the Ace Cafe bikers, not least with success in the Isle of Man TT - and on tracks such as Thruxton, which gives its name to the RS. Chassis is, says the company, sports-focussed, 1200 cc twin provides significant punch, while Brembo M50 brakes make sure you’ll stop with panache, too.
Royal Enfield Continental GT
Blacked-out aesthetic and cast alloy wheels allow the colour of the tank to pop on Royal Enfield’s immaculate Continental GT. Frame, says Royal Enfield, is developed with British-based Harris Performance, renowned for their work since the 1970s. Gas-charged twin shocks add to the comfort, but you might just be too busy enjoying the handling and the performance from the thumping 648 cc twin to notice.
Kawasaki W800 Cafe
No-nonsense high performance by the experts at Kawasaki, not generally thought of as aficionados of cafe racer motorcycles. Here, though, vertical air-cooled twin has the look and the power, sculpted fuel tank is exactly what the Ace Cafe expects. Classically-styled headlamp in mini fairing hides powerful LED power, a significant clue to what Kawasaki has done here. There’s no stinting on the style of cafe racer motorcycles in the W800 Cafe and equally no holding back on what Kawasaki does best. Expect concealed hi-tech with performance to match.
MV Agusta Superveloce 800
Just look at it. Chosen by multiple world champions, notably the legendary Giacomo Agostini, each MV Agusta is a true Italian thoroughbred. Every detail on the Superveloce 800 references that stellar history, with all the updates that you’d hope for. Spoked wheels might resemble those on racing machinery, but electronics govern the exhaust system and there’s a carbon fibre cover for the passenger seat. Your perch is in Alcantara. This remains, though, a bike that’s true to the ethos of cafe racer motorcycles. Top speed would leave the Ton-Up Boys in your wake: think 150 mph.
BMW R nineT
Nice, isn’t it? BMW’s bikes are often seen as reliable and perhaps a little stodgy. Not the R nineT. Classic boxer twin is present, correct and contributing as ever to excellent handling, Akrapovic exhaust will let them know at the Ace Cafe that you’re on the way, LED lights tell everyone else. There’s even BMW’s Automatic Stability Control to make this one of the safest of today’s cafe racer motorcycles, without giving up so much as an inch of compromise on pace and enjoyment.
Yamaha XSR 700
All of Yamaha’s experience and technology is built-in, as you’d expect, to the XSR 700. The storied Japanese company doesn’t market this lean, stripped back machine as a cafe racer, but we’d say the XSR 700 has the credentials: all that you need and absolutely nothing more for that Sunday morning blast. You might think that the raised handlebars aren’t exactly in the style of classic cafe racer motorcycles, but you’ll forget that detail when you open the throttle.
Norton Commando 961 Cafe Racer
First introduced in 1967, the latest Commando 961 from revived British manufacturer Norton fairly defines what cafe racer motorcycles should be all about: built for the road and the ride and the joy of both. Past Nortons dominated track as well as the less racy sorts of tarmac, and today’s reinvented company draws on all of that heritage in this Cafe Racer version of the Commando: expect more than adequate performance from the big 961 cc twin and all the heritage of a British winner.