The history of the café racer is steeped in lore. It fueled a motorcycling movement in England during the ‘50s when the Ton Up Boys began hanging out at the Ace Café, followed by the Rockers who wreaked havoc on North Circular Road in the ‘60s. And though the days of Tritons with Norton featherbed frames and Triumph parallel Twins are long past, there has been a resurgence in the popularity of café racer motorcycles, from the annual Mods vs. Rockers Vintage Motorcycle & Scooter Rally in Chicago to the current Sportster café culture in SoCal. And while buying a Honda CB350 off Craigslist with the intentions of throwing on rearsets and clip-ons is a fun project for some, there are a couple of OEMs who offer production café racers straight off the showroom floor. For this comparison, we’re greasing back the hair, throwing on our best studded leather jacket and hopping aboard a 2013 Triumph Thruxton and 2013 Moto Guzzi V7 Stone to see which bike is the most capable when it’s time to go “Ton Up.”
Triumph’s Thruxton ($8799) has been a staple motorcycle in the British brand’s line-up since ‘04. It pairs racy, old school looks with elements of modern technology to deliver a unique riding experience. Unlike the carb-fed Triumph Twins of old, this machine sports an authentic air-cooled Parallel Twin engine with fuel-injection that displaces 865cc. It rolls on a pair of wire spoke wheels (18-inch front, 17-inch rear) matched to hydraulic disc brakes. With a pair of low slung clip-ons and rear-mounted foot controls it has a very sporty riding position. Fittingly, it’s named after a racetrack in southern England where Triumph enjoyed racing success in the late ‘60s. Suspension components consist of a telescopic fork and a pair of coil spring shock absorbers.
Italian manufacturer Moto Guzzi thinks it has found the right vintage bike formula with its V7 series. Available in four versions, we’re testing its most affordable Stone model ($8390) since the Racer ($9990) wasn’t yet available. Like the Triumph, the ‘Guzzi is powered by a fuel-injected and air-cooled twin-cylinder engine. However its cylinders are canted at a 90-degree V and positioned traversely in the chassis. Engine displacement is a little lower too at 744cc. In contrast to the Triumph’s spoked rims the Stone rolls on similarly sized cast aluminum hoops with a single disc brake front and rear. Another key difference is the Stone’s more relaxed ergonomics which may be a boon for everyday road riding.
We didn’t have the pavement around the Ace Café for our test so we did the next best thing, logging miles on a variety of roads in and around our home base in Southern California. From the freeway to city streets and even some curvy stretches of tarmac we hit it all aiming to find out how these retro-styled motorcycles held up to the rigors of the day-to-day.