General

These classic bikes are best suited for building cafe racers

1971 Norton Commando

In recent years, the retro motorcycle scene has grown tremendously and we are in the midst of an industry-wide trend.



In all likelihood this craze, like all previous ones, will pass, but for now we are blessed with some of the most incredible brand new retro bikes. But if you’re looking for something a little more authentic, you’re still spoiled for choice, as most bikes that lend themselves well to café racer builds are still quite affordable, but require some mechanical skill and several hours of labor.

With all the options out there, you’d be forgiven for not knowing where to start, but we’ve got you covered, these are the best “donor bikes” for every kind of budget.

Related: Norton Motorcycles V4 Cafe Racer Prototype Looks Beautiful


8 Honda CB750

If you find an all-original CB750, it’s probably worth something. However, the vast majority are far from original and that’s fair game.

The old CB’s design is the perfect blend of performance, reliability and aesthetics, as these bikes look as good as any authentic Brit.

7 BMW R80

Not exactly an obvious choice, but once you strip it down, things quickly fall into place. First, it has a shaft drive which is great as long as some maintenance is done to the bike. Second, the air/oil-cooled boxer twin looks incredible.

It also has a stock tank which is quite large and will highlight any color scheme you choose, while the rear can easily be converted into a monoshock if you wish.

Related: This 1982 Custom BMW R100 RS Scrambler Build Will Have You Reaching Your Tools

6 Suzuki GS400

If budget is really an issue this could be an ideal starting point as these bikes are next to no value.

It has the perfect classic design, plenty of power and is very reliable. Even if something goes wrong, it’s fairly easy to fix and may be one of the few builds worth more as a cafe racer than an original bike.

5 Triumph Bonneville

This is one of the few authentic cafe racers you can buy newbut that will be expensive, and so will the bikes from the early 60s, even the ones that have already been converted at some point in their lives are worth a bit of money.

The golden mean is the less desirable bikes of the 80s, unfortunately they are less desirable for a reason and will almost certainly break down, but that’s the price you have to pay for authenticity.

Related: Everything You Need to Know About the 2022 Triumph Bonneville Gold Line Editions

4 Yamaha XJR1300

The Yamaha XJR1300 is for those looking for something that offers more power. In this case, however, there is no substitute for displacement.

The huge old touring bike is quite heavy and won’t be for the faint of heart, but there’s no denying that it looks incredible once you’ve got its rear end sorted out, and some clip-ons to replace the chunky handlebars.


3 Kawasaki GPZ900

These were formidable sports bikes in their day, but their time is long gone and their peak performance has caused several of them to leak, destroying their precious fairings.

Bikes with a bit of road damage are both very affordable and common, and these look particularly good when stripped down. The fact that so many are going down should serve as a warning though, either limiting peak power output or upgrading the brakes should be a priority.

Related: A Detailed Look At The Kawasaki Motorcycle Tom Cruise Rode In Top Gun

2 Norton Command

If budget isn’t a limiting factor, then having an original custom cafe racer built for you may be the best way to go. There are now several places that will want to take your money and your expensive old bike for cafe racer conversion.

If you are willing to spend this kind of money then? you might as well go with the guys who do full restorations too on these types of classic motorcycles the end results are often breathtaking, the more pressing question is whether you’re willing to ride the art or just look at it.

1 BSA Gold Star

It’s virtually impossible to say exactly who started the cafe racer trend, but we’re willing to bet it’s a collaborative effort between BSA, Triumph and Norton.

Out of the three, we’d have to guess that BSA would have been the first choice in the beginning, as they had a marginal performance advantage over the others, and reliability was pretty miserable for all of them, so wouldn’t be in the comparison. Today these bikes are hard to find, but they are the epitome of authenticity.