We decided to follow up our list of the 2019 Top 10 Custom Motorcycles with the most popular cafe racers we featured this year, based on traffic and social engagement. Some of these were real darlings of social media, accruing thousands of likes on Facebook and Instagram, while others can boast “long legs,” continue to garner traffic month after month. Some stretch the “cafe racer” label — more endurance racers or track weapons — while others utilize uncommon platforms like the Goldwing or BMW K100 “Flying Brick.” Without further ado, here are our Top 10 Cafe Racers of 2019, presented in alphabetical order by builder.
At first, Alf and Mihaela — the husband/wife duo of Romania’s Bandisca — weren’t so sure about using a first-generation SV650 as a donor, but then Mihaela came up with the design, inspired by one of Alf’s favorite motorcycles, the 1990 Suzuki GSX-R750. They spent many hours adapting a ’90s GSXR fairing, crafting the aluminum tail and custom subframe, and much more. But the bike was not meant merely as a showpiece — they wanted a true race bike. They fit a fully-adjustable Showa fork and bespoke YSS rear shock, and then Alf completely overhauled the engine, with special cams, carb tuning, water pump, and more: “I worked hundred of hours on the engine… Basically all you can modify in this engine I modified.” The result is the “Caballo de Hierro” (Iron Horse), which raced at 2019 Glemseck 101.
Chi-hyun Kim of South Korea’s Crazy Garage focuses on custom bikes that don’t just look good, but perform well on the track and in the twisties: “The concept of the shop is mainly that of making bikes that can be enjoyed on the race circuit or winding roads… I enjoy riding on the circuit with custom bikes…” This custom BMW S1000RR was built for a customer who, like Kim, loves 80s-style bikes and wanted a high-performance track weapon with the outward appearance of an old endurance racer. The result is RR#11 (RetroRacer #11), a retro-style track bike that spends more time on the track than the street.
Sukhkaran Singh (Sukhi) and Baljit Singh of Ludhiana’s Cycle City Customs focus not only on the aesthetics of their custom builds, but the peformance. Aptly named “Vajra” — the Sanskrit word for Thunderbolt — this Classic 500 cafe racer weighs 84 pounds less than stock (339 lbs) and makes double the horsepower at the rear wheel. The single-cylinder engine has been punched out to 612cc with high-lift cams, competition valve train, forged piston, and a stroker crank. It has a quickshifter, Power Commander 5, and Autotune — along with USD forks, an FZR swing-arm, and upgraded brakes. Never have we seen an Enfield that blends such single-minded performance and pure beauty into a single machine.
Pablo Sebastián of Spain’s Dragon’s Motorcycles started with a 1977 GL1000, hoping to complete the build for the Madrid Bike Show — a Herculean task. The original flat-four engine is gone, supplanted with a low-mileage 1500cc flat-six from the Honda Valkyrie, and the big engine is now fed by two banks of Weber carburetors from a 1968 Porsche 911. The tank is from a Honda CB750 Super Sport, but instead of mounting it in traditional fashion, he joined it to the seat and tail in a single monocoque assembly, which can be operated by remote control, using synchros to lift from the chassis and give access to the electronics and a small glove compartment to carry the motorcycle’s documentation! The bike was finished just hours before the Madrid Bike Show, where she took Best in Show.
Dylan Johnson (@dyno_dylan) is a cardiac sonographer who learned his love of motorcycles from his grandfather, who’s been riding for more than five decades. Back in 2014, Dylan and his best friend, Matt Sarale (@8o8wrx) — a pair who share “a mutual love of things that go fast” — began work on this 2008 Ducati 848, intending to build their own take on a modern cafe racer. These two builders have a history with the Subaru WRX, so it shouldn’t be surprising that they decided on forced induction as the way to go, basing the build around a polished GT17 turbo. After some five years of work, with multiple design changes and not a few all-nighters, Dylan and Matt had the bike ready for the 2019 One Moto Show. Says Dylan: “The final product is our take on a modern cafe racer. Aggressive, but clean.”
The stunning CB350 you see here is the work of Mark Kouri, a United Airlines aircraft mechanic and the founder of Merlin Cycleworks. Mark and his wife ride sport bikes together, and he wanted a retro machine that she could ride alongside his own ’74 CB450 brat. That said, she was accustomed to her Ninja, so Mark had to make sure this ’72 Honda CB350 could meet her expectations. He focused on improving the suspension, brakes, and acceleration: “I like to think of this as something Honda would have presented, as a factory racer, if they had this technology back in 1972.” Mark did all of the work himself except paint and powder, employing aviation practices and aviation-grade materials in the wiring, hand-forming the aluminum bodywork from .060 aluminum, rebuilding the engine with Wisco 10.5 :1 pistons and a custom cam, and adapting a GSXR-750 front end with color-matched fork tubes — a signature element that’s sure to be copied by other builders.
Arjun Raina of India’s MotoExotica has become one of the world’s foremost RD350 tuners. After pursuing an education in mechanical engineering and a masters in machine design, he opened his shop in the northern city of Dehradun, located in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains. Believe it or not, the bike you see here is a 1984 RD350 — that’s right, while the RD350 was only available from 1973-1975 in most of the world, it was made in India until 1990! Arjun says the expansion chambers alone have probably 100 man-hours in them, and the bike also boasts a monoshock conversion, carbon fiber fender, 3D-printed side panels, rebuilt engine, and much more.
Nova Motorcycles was founded in 2013 by Sayre Anthony and Pete Chilton. Sayre, whose mother was a European car mechanic, cut his teeth at Brooklyn-based vintage Grand Prix motorcycle racing team Team Obsolete. Pete, meanwhile, grew up in a family of builders and woodworkers and spent thirteen years in the music industry before pursuing a career in design. The 1980 KZ1000 you see here came into the shop with worn shift forks. When the decision was made for a rebuild, the client upped the ante with a request to retrofit a swinger from a 2004 ZX-6R. The retrofits and upgrades continued from there, and soon the crew had this full-fledged custom KZ1000 on their hands.
Ardy Attaporn of Hatyai, Thailand, opened his small workshop Ruby Cafe — or simply RBCF — back in 2015. Like many, Ardy became interested in the unique engine of the K-series: “I’m fascinated by the engine of this BMW K100 and would like to create my own unique motorcycle.” He succeeded in creating one of the most stunning K100 cafe racers we’ve ever seen, a bike that echoes BMW’s great M-car heritage and employs a trick rear linkage suspension setup.
Since building his first bike in 2015, Francisco of Portugal’s Rusty Wrench Motorcycles has expanded his business so that he’s building full-time, as well as managing a store open to the public — a dream come true. “Blue Moon” is a 1986 BMW K100RT built for client who wanted a modern cafe racer. Given the vast array of custom work and updates, it’s hard to imagine that this bike rolled out of the factory some 33 years ago!