8 Cool Retro Cafe Bikes That Won’t Break the Bank

A vintage Kawasaki and a new Z650 RS in green.

CUSTOM CAFÉ BIKES get our blood pumping. But we get it: not all of us have the time and energy to devote to a full café racer build. Luckily, manufacturers are here to oblige with off-the-shelf café and vintage-inspired bikes that have the looks of old bikes, yet they have modern amenities like ABS and traction control.

These eight cool bikes are great for those who are learning to ride, or for those of us who don’t need 120 horsepower to have a good time. Importantly, they all have good retro looks that even the guys at the Ace Café would likely give a nod to.

Yamaha XSR700 in black and gold.

The Yamaha XSR700, especially in black-and-gold, looks like a modern interpretation of a John Player Special Lotus. Yamaha took its fun 689cc two-cylinder MT-07 and then gave it a vintage suit. Sure, we would love more Kenny Roberts style graphics, but the XSR700 blends modern touches like a liquid-cooled parallel twin engine with a counterbalancer to smooth it out.

It has an LED headlight, a long flat seat, and one giant round taillight that sets it apart from the MT-07. The XSR700 weighs just 410 pounds, or 185 kilos, making it a lightweight willing companion in the mountain twisties and in narrow parking lots.

A rider and his green Kawasaki Z650rs beginner cafe racer.

A lot has been made of the Kawasaki Z900RS and its retro looks with modern handling. Well, the Z650RS is what happens when Kawasaki decides to scale back the hairiness of the 900. Kawasaki took the successful Z650 and de-modernized its styling to create the RS. That means you get Kawi’s smooth (if not particularly powerful) 650cc parallel twin, a retro tank, lower bars, and a proper round headlight.

Like the Yamaha, it has some nice modern touches, too. In this case, you get a slipper clutch to keep the rear wheel from locking up on downshifts and ABS. Though it has modern suspension, only the rear is adjustable, and that for preload only. To the casual eye, however, this bike looks right out of Kawasaki’s 1978 catalogue.

A yellow Ducati Scrambler icon beginner cafe racer.

The least expensive Ducati is also one of the coolest. For 2023 the Scrambler in Icon trim brings killer 1970s scrambler/café styling with a long seat and low bars, yet adds Ducati’s quick revving wheelie-inducing (don’t ask) 803cc twin.

It’s a little bit more expensive than others on this list and will likely take a bit more maintenance long term with its fancy Desmodromic valves. But for an unintimidating entry into high-performance motorcycling, it’s hard to beat the Icon. Behind that old-school tech, you get ABS, different riding modes, traction control, and LED lighting.

2023 BSA Gold Star

For 2023, the venerated BSA Gold Star name is coming back to some countries, thanks to India’s Mahindra. BSA, or Birmingham Small Arms, folded in the 1970s, but the name was picked up, much like Royal Enfield, by an Indian company that’s eager to show what it can do. Mahinrda makes a variety of bikes, but they’re generally smaller CC commuter bikes.

The new Gold Star comes with a Rotax-designed 652cc engine with water cooling and modern fuel injection. Other than that, this bike screams 1968, with an available chrome tank, high bars, and flat seat. It’s also priced near the Enfield, making it a bargain with a true retro feel.

The Triumph Street Twin was renamed the Speed Twin for 2023.

Of course we have to include the Triumph Speed Twin 900 on this list of beginner cafe racers Last year it was called the Street Twin, but with some new graphics to update it to look more like its bigger 1200cc brother, it got a name update for 2023. When most of us think Triumph, we think Bonneville. But we think the Speed Twin captures the Bonnie’s retro café styling just as well, but in a less-expensive and friendlier-to-ride package.

For 2023, the Speed Twin gets the water-cooled 900cc Bonneville twin engine that makes adequate power for most types of riding. Don’t expect to keep up with a Daytona, but with 64 horsepower on tap it has plenty of oomph under its long, stepped, narrow seat and classic tank.

A black-and-white Royal Enfield Interceptor

Few brands have as much old-school cred as Royal Enfield. Today, the company is working hard to overcome the reputation of the old Bullet 500 and is instead producing bikes with modern electronics and classic good looks. We love the Continental trim version which comes with a café seat and low bars off the showroom floor.

The 650 looks the part of a 70’s racer, and they ride the part, too, with power delivery and a sound that makes you feel like you’re riding something made during the Nixon era. But unlike a vintage bike, the Enfield will start every time thanks to well-sorted modern fuel injection. The 650 Enfield also makes a good platform for custom builds.

Moto Guzzi V7 Stone entry-level cafe racer

Mandello del Laro, Italy’s Moto Guzzi has always made some good looking motorcycles. Though they’ve been updated through the years, the company hasn’t strayed from its transverse 90-degree V-twin layout. Today’s V7 range, the smallest in the lineup, comes with a new 853cc engine that gives it much more oomph than the old 744cc mill that was discontinued after 2020.

While other companies proudly tout their new round headlights and classic styling, Guzzi never strayed from that style. It’s hard to call the V7 a retro bike, in some ways, because it’s really a continuation model that with the right paint could be mistaken for an early 1980s 850 T3. But, like the others, it has ABS, traction control, and bright LED lights.

Honda Monkey bike is a barrel of them to ride.

If you want to put a smile on everyone’s face at the café, show up on Honda’s new Monkey Bike. Looking every bit like a 1970s minibike, which includes its 12-inch tires and 125cc engine, this bike is small and fun. But it weighs just 231 pounds, or 104 kilos, so there’s not a lot of weight for that air-cooled single to push around.

To build the Monkey, Honda simply took a Grom and fitted a retro-looking seat, tank, and headlight. Though it looks comically small, the Monkey is a real bike that has fuel injection, ABS on both hydraulic disk brakes, and a five-speed transmission. And, it’s more fun than a barrel of you-know-whats to ride around town, while also providing a good platform for a cafe racer customization.