Café Racer Motorcycle For Sale

The café racer style of motorcycles was born from a particular era. Just as small street bikes still draw inspiration from Japanese models of the 1970s and 1980s, modern café racers hearken back to British models from the 1950s and 1960s.

Post-World War II, Britain was a unique time and place. After the widespread poverty of the Great Depression and the horrors of World War II, a new generation entered an age of prosperity. Jobs were plentiful, and young British people had far more spending money than their parents had at their age.

This newfound wealth, along with the conflict between old-school British restraint and more relaxed modern attitudes, gave birth to the “rocker” subculture. Like their beatnik counterparts in the United States, these young Brits spent a lot of time in cafés, listening to rock music on the jukebox.

This new British rocker culture favored leather jackets and slick, chrome motorcycles. But British culture was less receptive to big hogs like the American Harley-Davidson. Instead, rockers preferred uniquely British street bikes, shortened for better maneuverability in an urban setting while retaining firm suspensions for long-distance comfort. Thus, the café racer was born.

Café Racer Buyer’s Guide

The first café racers were all custom jobs. Much like the first choppers, these were bikes people modified in their garage to their own design. It was only later that manufacturers started producing factory-built café racers.

Until the mid-1970s, modifications were relatively minor. Riders replaced their stock bars with backward-angled clubman bars and mounted small fairings around the headlights, creating a unique look and tighter handling without much added expense.

European manufacturers were the first to take note. In the mid-1970s, BMW, Benelli, and a handful of other established companies started offering café racer variants of their standard bikes. These were cosmetic variants only, but they were moderately successful, and the trend continued.

Around the same time, Japanese manufacturers were making inroads in the European and US markets. These new bikes came with lighter gas tanks and more powerful engines in a smaller form factor. Many of these bikes would become the basis for the next generation of café racers.

Starting in the 1980s, Japanese and American companies offered their own café racer variants. Honda debuted the GB250 in 1983, followed by the larger GB400 and GB500 variants in 1985. These bikes were also built with tighter frames, keeping with the slimmed-down café racer aesthetic.

Nowadays, many motorcycle manufacturers offer at least one café racer. As in the past, these are usually modified variants of existing models. You can still find custom bikes, but they are more expensive than they used to be and are typically collectors’ items.

The Best Places to Buy a Café Racer Motorcycle

The best place to buy a café racer is mainly dependent on what you are looking for. Given the style’s long history, there is a good chance you are looking for a used model. In that case, look for online listings, if possible, in your area. If you can’t find one in your area, hire a local mechanic to inspect it before purchasing the unit. That way, you will be able to give the motorcycle a once-over before you buy it.

For new café racers, find a model you like and call your local dealer. Call multiple dealers if you have more than one dealership in your area. There is a good chance that they offer different prices. If you get two or more dealers bidding against each other, you can sometimes negotiate a steep discount.

Honda CB1000R

Over the years, café racers have gotten more powerful, just like the very street bikes they are modeled after. The CB1000R is emblematic of that trend. First released in 2012, it boasts a powerful 998cc inline-four that has already been thoroughly refined on the Honda Fireblade. This motor redlines at 11,500 RPM, and with 143 horsepower, you will get plenty of torque and acceleration.

As you can see, the CB1000R doesn’t just look slick. It also performs beautifully. The current model year starts at $12,999 and comes in an attractive matte black finish. This finish covers not just the tank and the frame, but the forks, exhaust, trim, and other exposed surfaces, for a truly blacked-out look. Used models are available in several colors and styles and range from $6,000 to $12,000, depending on their condition.

Triumph Thruxton R

If you are looking for a café racer with raw power, the Triumph Thruxton R is tough to beat. It comes equipped with a 1,200cc water-cooled V-twin motor and 96 hp. It also has an adjustable suspension, anti-lock Brembo brakes, a multi-assisted clutch, and multiple riding modes. This is everything you want in a café racer, with a little bit of icing on the cake.

Not limited to sheer power, the Thruxton R is as attractive as it is fast. The bulk of the motorcycle is black, with a white tank and rear seat cover, chrome pipes and highlights, and gold forks and shocks. But it comes at a bit of a premium: the base model Thruxton R starts at $15,400 from a Triumph dealer. You can save a bit of money by buying used, though. Some earlier models can be purchased for as little as $11,000.

Ducati Scrambler

The original Ducati Scrambler was a dirt bike from the 1960s and 1970s. Starting in 2015, though, Ducati revived the model. Instead of a dirt bike, the new Scrambler is a powerful street bike with many dirt bike characteristics. In layman's terms, it is a track racer you can take off-road if needed.

Along with a sleeker, more modern aesthetic, the newer scrambler also comes with a powerful motor. With 803cc, it is not as big as the CB1000R or the Thruxton R., but it offers several modern features like a fuel gauge and traction control. You also get a lower price tag. The base model Scrambler Icon starts at $9,695, while the true café racer version costs $11,995. You can find a used one for between $8,000 and $12,000.