Cafe racers are powerful, lightweight motorcycles optimized for speed and handling.
Named after the cafe regulars who’d challenge each other to street races, cafe racers are enticing for anyone and everyone excited by motorcycles.
If you’re new to riding you might be wondering if this style of bike is suitable for someone of your experience level, and this article will address just that.
Here’s Why Café Racers are Good for Beginners
Cafe racers are a solid choice for a first bike. A first bike should have a comfortable riding position, exemplary handling, inspiring style, and an engine that’s an appropriate size, and cafe racers have all this and more.
Below are a few more of the pros of hopping on a cafe racer as a beginner, and I’ve listed a few cons as well.
- Mid foot-controls and low seat make learning easy. A bike with mid controls feels like a bicycle – feet square with your shoulders. Forward controls mean your legs are extended out in front of you, leaning your upper body slightly back into a subtle recline. Rear controls (like a sports bike) means your legs go back behind you, leaning your upper body forward.
- The riding position makes handling easy and cornering less intimidating to master.
- Cafe Racers are iconic, with style all of their own. For many, this style is the classic hip motorcycle look.
- Cafe Racers are generally in the midrange of engine size, perfect for getting comfortable in every speed-range.
- Parts for a Cafe Racer are generally inexpensive, and its simplistic vibe makes customizing easy.
- Cafe Racers have limited space for the storage required for long trips. As the name implies, cafe racers are meant for jaunts around town.
- Cafes start to get uncomfortable after a decent riding period. Again, they’re built for city streets.
- Vintage cafe racers are unreliable, although nowadays, many of the top brands offer a cafe racer-inspired modern bike, and these are as reliable as any other new bike.
Are Café Racers Comfortable to Ride?
Cafe Racers are comfortable when ridden the way they were intended to be- around town.
Long trips on a low seat that squats you down onto mid-controls will cramp even the most seasoned rider’s style.
For around town, though, they’re perfect.
A low skinny frame with an upright stance makes it easy to jump, quick to park, and as graceful as bikes get when it’s time to bob and weave around the inner city’s obstacles.
How Does a Café Racer Compare to Other Bikes?
As far as the frame is concerned, cafe racers are somewhere between a sports bike and a mid-sized cruiser.
Let me be more specific for any welcomed newcomers poking around with interest in bikes. A sports bike is like a Kawasaki Ninja, and a small cruiser is like a Harley Sportster.
Cafe racers are smaller and lighter than cruisers but bigger and bulkier than a sportbike. Again, I’m speaking to the shape of the bike, not to the power.
The power varies with the era, but a typical cafe racer ranges between 300-1200cc size motor.
The modern 1200cc cafe races are pretty comparable to a medium-size cruiser in speeds and power, although the cafe’s light weight often results in a slightly higher top speed, depending.
Please also read our article on motorcycle chokes
Which Café Racers are Good for Beginners?
Triumph Street Twin
Triumph has recently overhauled its historical line of cafe racers, fitting them with contemporary features like ABS, ride modes, traction control, and a more powerful motor, all from underneath the same vintage style.
Honda CB series is arguably the definitive Cafe Racer, and if it’s not, it’s undoubtedly still the most sought after. Their CB1100, although packing the style punch of hold, now boasts a large, 1,142cc fuel-injected engine.
Norton Commando 961 Cafe Racer
When people tell stories about rockers racing from cafe to cafe in Egland, back in the day, chances are somebody they’re name dropping rode a Norton. Its 961cc Parallel Twin motors push the bike with 78 horsepower, working together with Ohlins adjustable suspension and Brembo twin-disk brakes to create a smooth, stylish ride.
You may also be interested in our article: why the Yamaha Bolt is a great starter bike
What is the Typical Cost of a Café Racer?
A cafe racer’s price varies depending on what era, size, make, model, how many original parts it has, and the bike’s overall condition.
For clarity’s sake, let’s examine the cost of new and old cafe racers separately.
A brand new Cafe Racer costs between $5000 and $20,000, depending on what you’re looking for.
Times have changed since the days of rat-racers, and the modern cafe racer comes fitted with all kinds of premium performance parts.
|Make and Model||Cost|
|Triumph Street Cup||$8,999|
|Kawasaki W800 Cafe||$12,260|
|Norton Commando 961 Cafe||$19,999|
For the sake of brevity, I’ve exampled the prices of vintage cafe racers that are ride-ready and modest for a price range of $2,000-$12,000.
With older cafe racers, the difference in price range is drastic, as the condition of the parts used during the rebuild and added collector value must all be factored in. You can find great deals on project bikes that don’t run at all if you know how to build them yourself.
You’ll also find vintage cafe builds that are sculptures, pieces of art, more than they are vehicles.
Let’s take the middle path and examine some functional, ride-ready, cafe racer builds.
|Make and Model||Cost|
|1971 Honda CL175||$1500|
|1974 Kawasaki KZ400||$5,500|
|1975 Yamaha RD350||$6,750|
|1987 BMW R80||$7,000|
|1974 Honda CB360||$7,500|
An oil change runs between $100 and $200, depending on how big the motor is(and how much oil it takes), and most standard, routine maintenance like an oil change and service are about the same on old and new cafe bikes.
However, rebuilding the carbs and replacing parts on a vintage cafe racer adds more financial stress on a more regular basis.
Are Café Racers Reliable?
Again, this depends on quite a bit. For vintage bikes, it depends on how well the previous owner(s) maintained the cycle, how they stored it, how often it sat, how often they rode it, and with what parts it was rebuilt(and by whom).
Modern technology, like fuel injection, advanced suspension, and CPUs, make the new Cafe Racers much more reliable.
Are Café Racers Good for Commuting?
Commuting is where they shine.
Cafe Racers are excellent town bikes- commuting is what these bikes were built to do.
Their agility makes dodging the obstacles of inner-city riding a breeze, and their size makes parking a cafe bike as simple as parking a bicycle.
Are Café Racers Good for Long Rides?
This is where their shine starts to dim a little.
These bikes are small and straightforward.
They weren’t designed to be long-distance highway roosters. These are town bikes through and through, and they don’t have much room for luggage.
Sure, you modified a cafe cycle with sissy bars and touring bags, but at that point, you’re bogging it down with extra weight and spending loads of cash, so you might as well go for a medium cruiser instead.
What’s the Difference Between a Café Racer and A Bobber?
The main difference between a Cafe Racer and a Bobber is that Bobbers are cruisers that have been chopped up for aesthetics, usually with the suspension removed in favor of a spring saddle (that bobs up and down when you ride), whereas cafe racers were modified to be fast and nimble.