Top 10 Cafe Racers 2023

Top 10 Cafe Racers of 2023

As we welcome in the new year it’s time to look back at 2023 and put together our annual editor’s choice ‘Top 10 Cafe Racers’ list.

There’s been talk of the cafe racer scene going quiet, but from where I’m sitting it’s still got plenty of life in it. Although some manufacturers have lessened their interest in the custom motorcycle scene, brands like Royal Enfield are fostering new talent with their Custom World projects. Many of our favorite workshops have started releasing limited-edition motorcycles and the aftermarket parts scene continues to grow exponentially year after year.

In 2023 we saw builders merging different styles, resulting in incredible genre-bending builds. We also saw an increase in the number of neo-retro creations, made possible by the uptake of rapid prototyping technologies and 3D printing. It’s an exciting time and I for one can’t wait to see what 2024 has in store for us. But for now, let’s enjoy the fruits of 2023 with these 10 amazing cafe racer builds. Here they are in ascending chronological order…

Tamarit 120 Monaco Triumph Thruxton 900

Tamarit Motorcycles Thruxton 900

During 2023 Europe’s premiere custom Triumph experts, Tamarit Motorcycles, showed no signs of slowing down. This motorcycle is the workshop’s 120th build which is no mean feat for a custom workshop. Coined the Monaco the cafe racer-styled build is based on an air-cooled Thruxton 900 and it appeared on these pages early in 2023.

Sporting single-piece, monocoque-style bodywork, Monaco is anything but run-of-the-mill. Similar to flip-top drag cars the bodywork of this Thruxton 900 lifts on a single hinge to allow access to the electrical components beneath it. The whole assembly also sits on a modified chassis that tightens its proportions. Along with supporting the new body, the new subframe doubles as a mounting point for the revised rear suspension which is now a monoshock configuration rather than the original twin shock arrangement. Complementing the monoshock setup is a bespoke swingarm.

Similar to the opulent sovereign city-state it was named after, Monaco is all-class. To achieve a premium look Tamarit, had to first remove all of the standard accessories and declutter it as much as possible. One key step in achieving this was to dispense with the factory oil-cooler which originally sat between the frame and the front of the engine. Rather than simply relocating the cooler Tamarit took their inspiration from Triumph’s history books and created their own OIF (oil in frame) design. Close inspection reveals cooling fins welded onto the frame rails and hard oil lines connecting the engine to the chassis.

In keeping with the luxurious styling much of Monaco’s chassis and accessories are finished in either chrome or mirror-polished brass leaving it looking like a high-end timepiece. The bike also wears a spattering of parts from Tamarit’s own Triumph aftermarket parts catalog such as the Pantera Springs that add a vintage look to the standard forks. Monaco also wears an extensive range of Motogadget components including a Motoscope mini pro speedometer which has been integrated into the top clamp, a keyless ignition system, mo.blaze disc and mo.blaze pin turn signals, and a Motogadget M-Unit Blue electronics controller unit. Add to that a Beringer brake upgrade, sleek deep blue paint, a rich red leather seat, and European homologation and you’ve got yourself one hell of a smart looking ride.

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Asohka Norton Commando cafe racer

Brent King’s Norton Commando 850

The big difference between a motorcycle built for a customer versus one you build for yourself is how much time goes into it. In the case of this incredible Norton Commando 850, time was clearly not a concern. Built by multidisciplinary motorcycle enthusiast/landscape architect/martial arts instructor/and replica vintage armor fabricator Brent King, his ‘Asohka’ cafe racer is unequivocally a rolling work of art.

After acquiring the bike from a friend, Brent invested countless nights and weekends creating his ultimate Norton cafe racer. Using his skills in metal fabrication, Brent hand-built the front fairing, tail unit, and belly pan from aluminum. He then embellished them with handmade trims that were inspired by the intricate trimmings on Japanese swords.

The bike’s bodywork is also highly functional since the tail unit doubles as the motorcycle’s oil tank. Oil is delivered to the engine and back by braided lines and the engine itself has undergone a complete rebuild. To step things up in the handling department the Norton now wears a modern front end (forks and brakes) courtesy of a Suzuki GSXR600 and a set of aftermarket piggyback shocks.

Completing the striking appearance of this impressive cafe racer is another nod to Japanese culture. Just before displaying the bike at the 2023 Mama Tried Show, Brent cut and engraved the engine’s primary cover using artwork inspired by ‘The Great Wave off Kanagawa’ by the Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai. Although there’s a lot to take in on this highly detailed build there’s no denying the finished result is a sight to behold; and well worth the effort.

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Rajputana Customs TVS Ronin cafe racer

Rajputana Custom TVS Ronin

In the Western world, the TVS Motor Company brand is relatively unknown, but in India, it’s a different story altogether. TVS is India’s third-largest motorcycle manufacturer and they have annual sales exceeding 3 million units. That’s a hell of a lot of motorcycles and a figure that the biggest Western brands would be envious of. TVS also happens to be the company that stepped up to save the Norton Motorcycles brand.

Amongst TVS’s latest releases is the Ronin, a neo-retro motorcycle designed to challenge the latest Royal Enfield range. Powered by a 225cc thumper it’s no beast, but is the ideal size run-about for Indian roads. In standard dress, the Ronin is a bit of a mixed bag of styles, but eager to show punters it can be a good basis for customization they tasked Indian workshop Rajputana Customs with modifying it.

Rajputana Customs founder Vijay Singh Ajairajpura took inspiration for this build from the Ronin name. The resulting cafe racer was coined ‘Wakizashi’ after a short-blade Japanese sword. To achieve the new look Rajputana first revised the bike’s stance by adding custom wheels and modifying the front end. With the bone line sorted they fabricated a tightly proportioned subframe and then set about building the bike’s new aluminium bodywork.

Inspired by classic cafe racer styling the bodywork includes a long low fuel tank with deep knee cutouts and a tiny rear cowl that has the tail light and frame rails integrated into its design. To complete the look it’s been left bare and fitted with a filler cap featuring Rajputana’s crossed Katar dagger emblem.

The riding position of this cafe racer has also been dutifully revised with clip-on bars and rear set pegs. To finish things off Rajputana fitted the bike with a handful of Motogadget accessories and gold anodised fasteners to complement the golden front end. To top it all off this whole project was completed in a mere 8 days from start to finish, a feat that speaks volumes of Rajputana Customs’ ability.

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Ka-Speed Honda cx500 custom project

Kaspeed Honda CX500E Sport

Although not a cafe racer in the traditional sense, this stunning Honda CX500 custom holds a well-deserved place on this list. Built by the German workshop Kaspeed the project was based on a late-model CX500E. Produced during the final years of the CX’s run, the CX500E was a vast improvement over the previous models thanks to updates to the suspension, brakes, and electronic ignition which made it an ideal starting point for a performance-oriented custom.

Kaspeed’s approach with this build was to add lightness. The spartan appearance of the CX is a result of dispensing with all of the stock bodywork, bar the fuel tank. They then tightened the bike’s proportions by fitting a custom subframe and relocating the license plate to a custom-made hugger assembly on the rear wheel. Sitting on the subframe is an upswept seat that grips the fuel tank like a claw and the fenders have been carefully designed to minimize visual impact.

There’s no shortage of trick aftermarket parts here to complete this Honda’s transformation. The rear suspension uses a YSS monoshock finished in the same Willow Green as the pinstripe on the tank. DNA pod filters, a Pro Race exhaust, and Arrow mufflers add punch to the water-cooled longitudinal v-twin and the turn signals come courtesy of Kellermann. Upfront an LED headlamp sits beneath a tiny custom fairing and behind it is a Koso digital gauge and LSL handlebars.

As I’ve already said this isn’t a cafe racer in the traditional sense, but Kaspeed has captured the essence of what cafe racers are all about with this build. It’s lean, capable, and sure to turn heads everywhere it goes.

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Benjie’s Cafe Racer Honda CB400F

Benjie’s Cafe Racers have been around for as long as we can remember. Back when shop owner Benjie Flipprboi was selling GRP cafe racer body kits you’d find bikes sporting them popping up worldwide. Although aftermarket parts were an important part of his business model, it was Benjie’s in-house builds that impressed the most.

In mid 2023 I was very happy to receive news that Benjie had completed another build. In typical BCR style, their Honda CB400F took a traditional cafe racer approach. By dispensing with any non-essential items and replacing the bodywork with handmade alternatives they’ve built yet another exceptional cafe racer that every purist is sure to appreciate.

As Benjie puts it, “We find insurmountable joy in taking a bike that has long since past its last mile and reviving it to a version of itself that leaves its original life roosted in the dust,” and this build is the perfect example. The donor was a 1976 CB400F in a very sorry state. From the bodywork to the engine, it was what many would consider a basket case. But Benjie and the BCR crew knew otherwise. So after a complete teardown, and I mean complete, they rebuilt the entire engine increasing its capacity to 466cc, and mated it with an entirely new electrical system. Next, they cleaned up the frame, fitted an upswept rear hoop, and had the entire assembly, swingarm and all, chrome plated. To get the bike rolling again they built new wheels using classic shouldered rims and added a reproduction leading 4 drum brake to the front end.

Fabrication of the CB’s all-new bodywork is where the fun began. The fuel tank is a hat tip to ’60s race bikes. Behind it is a frame-hugging rear cowl with a custom upholstered seat and fully integrated lighting. The headlight is new too with a speedometer and warning lights built into the bucket and the whole assembly is held in place by fork shrouds with built-in headlight brackets.

There are of course countless other trick details that make this CB400 unique, but best of all is the swooping stainless steel exhausts that Benjie and his team built from scratch. As they say, if you’re going to do something, you may as well do it right, and this is the proof.

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Jerem Motorcycles Nebula BMW R100 RT

Jerem Motorcycles BMW R100 RT

Taking 350 hours to complete, this R100 RT BMW cafe racer by French builder Jerem-Motorcycles changed my entire opinion of the color purple! The neo-retro styling and resto-mod build approach has resulted in a cafe racer that is both visually striking and top-performing and it’s clear that during this build Jerem left no stone unturned.

Several of the performance parts on this R100 RT have been transplanted from late-model Beemers. These include an Ohlins-equipped set of BMW R9T forks, their accompanying twin-disc Brembo brake assembly, and a pair of rebuilt 17-inch BMW 850GS wheels. Complementing those additions are a custom-built Ohlins monoshock in the rear, Dunlop Qualifier tires, and a CNC top clamp that holds the new front end in place.

Additionally, the R100 RT, which was named ‘Nebula’, is sporting a comprehensive list of premium aftermarket parts. Starting with the lighting there’s an LED headlight and a pair of Kellerman LED turn signals. At the rear, recessed into a custom-made cowl, is a space-age-looking tail lamp originally designed for an XSR900. Alongside it sit more LED turn signals but this time they are custom-made with lenses turned from plexiglass. Sitting above the headlamp is a slick digital gauge by Aeon Aria that’s sitting in a machined alloy housing. The rest of the electrics have been upgraded too using parts from the Motogadget catalog and there’s no obvious ignition thanks to the fitment of a Motogadget keyless ignition unit.

Surprisingly Jerem opted to retain the original BMW fuel tank, but it’s been lifted 4cm in the front to level the bone line. At the pointy end of the bike, there’s a one-off fairing with Moto GP style winglets, and at the rear, an equally unique-looking tail unit. Completing this bike’s look is that metallic purple paintwork and an eyebrow-raising purple accent tartan seat.

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French Moto custom Interceptor 650 cafe racer

French Moto Royal Enfield Interceptor 650

If you were a kid in the eighties like me, you’d probably remember the 1986 sci-fi classic ‘Flight of the Navigator’. When I saw this polished alloy-bodied Royal Enfield cafe racer memories of that film came flooding back to me. In the movie, a 12-year-old is abducted by a chrome-plated UFO and subsequently pilots it. Although this motorcycle wasn’t based on the UFO in the film, it certainly has an intergalactic feel about it, hence the name, ‘Stellar’.

Stellar started its life as a 2023 Royal Enfield Interceptor 650. French Moto founders and siblings Thibault and Florian Klingler created the bike as part of an ongoing initiative they developed for their business. The idea is to build custom motorcycles the way they like and then raffle them off through the sale of t-shirts. The idea sounds somewhat implausible, but it’s proven to be a game-changer for the brothers and has helped to give them the kind of creative freedom most builders could only dream of.

Despite being destined to be given away, the Klinglers haven’t taken the easy route with this build. Before any work on the motorcycle began they spent 6 months planning and conceptualizing the project, and it was well worth it. All of the aluminum bodywork was hand-shaped by French Moto’s go-to coachbuilder and his work on this bike speaks volumes of his skill. The long fuel tank features 2 digital screens that have been integrated into its design. Featuring 80’s inspired graphics each screen relays information back to the rider via an onboard computer. The upper works as a speedo and tacho while the lower offers information about the performance of the motorcycle. Wrapped around the entire front end is a full alloy fairing and there’s also a set of alloy side covers that double as exhaust brackets for the high-mount pipes.

As for the tailpiece, it’s been hand-carved from Linden wood by the brothers and there’s a matching set of grips to round things out. Beyond the styling changes this bike also got a raft of performance tweaks. Although the engine is stock aside from the exhaust, they’ve added a €3000 Beringer brake upgrade and custom suspension front and rear. The finished bike has been valued at €40,000 which is a huge jump from the Interceptor’s very affordable RRP, but it’s easy to see where the added value on this one comes from.

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Treasure Garage custom Kawasaki ER6N

Treasure Garage Kawasaki ER6N

Another mind-bending neo-retro motorcycle that landed in my inbox in late 2023 was this wild Kawasaki ER6N. Built by the Indonesian workshop Treasure Garage, it wowed audiences and judges at the 2023 Kustomfest show.  The bike belongs to Treasure Garage frontman Nuel who had grown tired of the motorcycle’s stock appearance. So with a talented team of builders at his disposal and a penchant for futuristic-looking rides he set about creating this one-of-a-kind ER6-N.

Nuel’s goal with this project was to create a motorcycle that appeared as though it had ridden out of the neo-noir-styled computer game, Cyberpunk 2077. Anyone who’s played that game is sure to agree he’s done a great job of it. From the bold, geometric graphics to the angular, futuristic-looking bodywork, it’s unlike anything you’re likely to find on the streets of Indonesia, and we love it.

Looking at this custom Kawasaki ER6-N it’d be easy to assume the bodywork is made from a composite material, but it is infact all hand-shaped aluminium. The most impressive of the new components is the tail unit which is reminiscent of a fighter jet with a central ‘fin’ positioned between 2 outer wings. Topping it off is a custom brake light assembly complete with a one-off resin lens. At the front of the bike, Nuel’s added a projector-style LED headlamp that features a red halo DRL, conjuring up memories of the HAL 9000 computer from the movie 2001 Space Odyssey. In terms of performance, this ER6-N’s only engine upgrade is to the exhaust system, which exits under the tail via 2 custom mufflers.

This design approach has become Treasure Garage’s signature new look and I can’t wait to see what they have in store for us in 2024.

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Blacktrack Bell and Ross Indian Scout

Blacktrack Motors BT-06 Indian Scout

Don’t ask me where the trend originated, but I love it when a watch brand collaborates with a custom motorcycle builder. This heavily customized Indian Scout cafe racer is the work of Blacktrack Motors. Built in conjunction with luxury watch brand Bell & Ross, it’s a far cry from the roadster styling of the original Scout, and it’s all thanks to Blacktrack Motors’ multidisciplinary founder, Sacha Lakic.

This isn’t the first collab Bell & Ross has undertaken with a motorcycle builder, although it’s been almost a decade since the last. The merging of these 2 brands makes a lot of sense considering Sacha’s design background which has seen him work on architecture, furniture, product, and automotive projects. For this unique collab, rather than building a motorcycle inspired by the design of a watch, both the watch and motorcycle were developed simultaneously with Sacha involved in the design of both.

The Indian Scout named BT-06 is a neo-retro-styled cafe racer. During its design, Sacha found inspiration in the lines of the Lockheed Martin F-117 fighter jet which is embodied by the sharp lines of the bodywork. The new bodywork is made up of premium quality 3D components and CNC machined alloy. Throughout the bike, you’ll find design elements that are common with the wristwatch which takes pride of place atop a custom top clamp.  There’s also an all-new trellis-style subframe in the rear, custom blacked-out suspension courtesy of Ohlins, Rotobox carbon wheels, and Beringer brake components.

The Blacktrack Motors BT-06 is a limited edition motorcycle that can be ordered via their website. Each bike comes complete with a Bell & Ross BR 03-94 Blacktrack Ceramic chronograph watch which is valued at around $7,700 on its own. The Scout may not be the most expensive model in Indian’s current offering, but you can bet this version of the bike would be.

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46 Works KTM 690 Duke cafe racer

46 Works KTM Duke 690

Slipping through the gates just before the year wrapped up is this 690 Duke cafe racer by Japan’s 46 Works. It was built as a personal project of workshop founder Shiro Nakajima. Building a big single sport bike has been a long-term dream of Shiro’s so with the 2023 edition of the Mooneyes Yokohama Hot Rod Custom Show fast approaching, he decided to make it a reality.

Shiro has coined this project ‘ Building the Ideal Big Single Sport’ on his Youtube channel where he documents the build of his bikes in exquisite detail. His idea for the project stemmed from the ownership of a Yamaha Sr400 some 15 years ago. Since then his skills and riding ability have changed significantly, so rather than starting with a mild-mannered SR, he opted for a much more lively LC4-powered KTM 690 Duke.

Kicking off the long list of custom work done to the KTM was a new truss subframe with an aluminum air/electrics box integrated into its design. Not wanting to mess with the bike’s excellent geometry, Shiro focused his efforts on restyling it. This resulted in all-new bodywork that’s been hand-shaped from aluminum sheet. In keeping with the retro styling approach the wheels are spoked items wrapped in purposeful Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa rubber. Looking over this bike you’re unlikely to recognize many of the components as standard Duke equipment. This is because Shiro has painstakingly created everything from the footpegs to the chain guard himself.

One of the only bolt-on parts you’ll find on this project is the belly pan. The reason for its presence isn’t just about looking cool though. Performance and rideability play a big part in every 46 Works project and Shiro’s KTM cafe racer is no exception. The real reason for the belly pan is that it is necessary if you want to ride a motorcycle on many of Japan’s race tracks. And that is precisely where Shiro put this new daily rider to the test.

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46 Works KTM 690 Duke cafe racer