This is the golden era of cafe racers. From Italy to Indonesia via Sweden and New York City, motorcycle conversion studios are taking run-of-the-mill machinery and transforming it into something individual, special and above all bespoke. These are machines that speak to the 21st century appetite for the authentic and the artisanal. Here are five of our favourite cafe racers right now:
Honda CB500 Scrambler | Built by Paal Motorcycles of Malmo, Sweden
Not all cafe racers see everyday use. This one is very much conceived to do just that. It’s a rugged take on the very idea of a cafe racer from Fredrik Persson's renowned Paal operation, responsible for 30 builds and counting. Paal retained just the engine and frame from a CB500 set for the scrapyard and each of these was meticulously rebuilt to better-than-new standards. A new rear frame houses a freshly-built seat pan for the bespoke saddle. There's a unique four into two exhaust system to maximise performance. LED lighting is by Kellerman. Custom off-road suspension supports a pair of Hidenau K67 dual-sport tyres. The finish in matte black underlines the brute purposefulness of the CB500. Scandi-perfect.
Buell Cherry Salt | Built by Plan B Motorcycles of northern Italy
If you’re looking to go fast in a straight line, look no further. Plan B's Cherry Salt drag racer is in every way uncompromising. The look is dominated by the handmade fibreglass fairing, the top half, according to Plan B's Christian Moretti, inspired by - believe it - a bull terrier's head. To add bite to the bark, the original Buell 1203 cc engine now powers a much lighter machine than it was designed for. There's a tiny 12 litre aluminium fuel tank hand-fashioned from aluminium, also used for the new seat - nothing fancy like an actual saddle here - which means no rear subframe is needed. You may just have noticed the huge slick rear tyre from drag specialists Hoosier. Suzuki GSX-R forks are fitted front and rear. Let off the leash, the Buell Cherry Salt is perfect for a quarter mile dash, not so good at corners.
BSA M33 Manx Style | Built by Studio Motor of Jakarta, Indonesia
Based on an all-time classic, this immaculate BSA seeks to recreate the look of the all-conquering Norton Manx of the 1950s and 1960s, stalwart of the Isle of Man TT. To our eyes, Donny Ariyanto and his team at Studio Motor have done that - and then some. Ariyanto based his design on photographs alone, which makes his achievement all the more remarkable. The tank was hand-made from 1.2mm steel, also used for the elegant pointed tail. New TK Wheels are shod with classic-style Firestone Champion Deluxe tyres. Handlebars are minimalist clip-ons from a Honda CBR400, sporting just the bare essentials of controls in keeping with the less-is-more philosophy of this build. The stainless steel exhaust is by Jet Hot and the refurbished 500 cc single cylinder thumper now breathes through a KOSO carburettor. Period style paintwork completes this as-new re-creation. A timeless tribute.
HellGate K1100 LT | Built by HellGate Moto of New York City
Look out, here's the future. Anthony LoGalbo and Nick Rovello of HellGate Moto have created a brutalist machine to prowl the mean streets of their home city. The basis is a BMW K1100 LT, stripped back to nothing but its hefty inline four cylinder engine – ready for a substantial upgrade – and its frame. Hellgate's take on the K1100 LT naturally leaves no room for a passenger. Instead, there's a freshly engineered rear end with a fibreglass tail unit by Twisted Brothers aft of the bespoke saddle in black leather. New rims wear aggressive Bridgestone Battlax AdventureCross tyres. The original BMW's large fairing is gone, replaced by a mere plastic mudguard. Frame and engine were refinished in gloss black, contrasting with the Tungsten Silver Metallic used on the upper parts of the bike, a colourway borrowed from Aston Martin. Could this be James Bond's latest two wheeled steed? No one's denying it.
Yamaha RD350 | Built by Scales Studio of Houston, Texas
Here's a homage to a father's racing past, built by a son intent on perfection. John Scales made a name racing RD350s in the 1970s. Son Trever, whose stellar reputation is in building high-end hot rods as well as show cars for the likes of Mercedes-Benz, acquired a 1974 RD350 as the start of this very personal project. That's not to say Scales Jnr has stayed true to the RD350 blueprint. This RD350 wears a tank, fairing and tail from a 1969 Benelli, imported from Italy and finished in Kiwi green with a touch of metallic flake for a hint of period glamour. On the mechanical front, pistons have been trimmed, the head shaved and the transmission rebuilt, the engine now breathing through a pair of Mikuni 32mm VM carburettors. The rear is now a mono shock set up using a Showa spring from a Ducati. Clip on handlebars house just one instrument, a rev counter positioned so the red line is top and centre. All the RD350 now lacks is a racetrack. A breathtaking family masterpiece.