How the Royal Enfield Café Racer changed from concept to production

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After last week’s news that the Royal Enfield Café Racer will enter the US market next summer, an HFL reader who’d seen the near-production version of the bike sent in these photos from EICMA. Same idea as the concept, very different execution. Have they ruined it?

This is the concept bike, as currently making the IMS show tour around America. Probably the most authentic representation of café theme ever executed as a modern bike. It’s not a retro, it’s basically the same bike someone visiting the Ace Café way back in the ‘50s or ‘60s would have ridden, just available in 2013 with low monthly payments and oil tightness. We’ve previously published a metric ton of images of the café racer concept.

Now, here’s the near-production version shown at EICMA in Milan. Note that this is NOT the bike on tour with the IMS, it’s pretty much the version that will go on-sale next summer priced a little over $7,000.

Looking at these photos, we spot the following changes:

1. Different top yoke.
2. Clip-on handlebars above yoke.
3. Forks appear to be from RE Thunderbird. Additional height raises front end.
4. Different heel guards.
5. Seat “cover” that doesn’t cover anything.
6. Larger tank doesn’t fit flush, lifting it up at the rear and altering the key horizon split line.
7. Visible weld seam added to fuel tank.
8. Fuel cap is much taller, making it appear awkward.
9. Different headlight and taillights appear to be generic “parts bin” items.

Can you spot anything else?

In isolation, any single one or even a couple of those changes wouldn’t fundamentally alter the look of the bike, but cumulatively they change it fundamentally. Which version do you prefer?

Some photos via

  • VagrantCoyote

    I wouldn’t say they have ruined it, looks to be about the best production cafe bike available. Performance likely to be uninspiring, not really my thing, but it looks the part.

  • Daniel Silverman

    Concept version has better lines.

  • Rob Johnson

    I wonder how many forks are going to be swapped out from the start…such a shame that they’ve spoiled the lines….

  • markbvt

    Definitely unfortunate they skewed the lines of the production bike; it just doesn’t look quite right. But on the other hand, the higher clip-ons will make for a more comfortable riding position…

  • David

    The way the tank is manufactured is annoying, but the rest of the changes don’t really bother me. The clip-ons, especially, can always be moved lower, but are the sort of thing that would turn off some buyers in the showroom if they were too low and uncomfortable.

  • Mark Gardiner

    I agree with David — the bars can probably be lowered, and it shouldn’t be too hard to adjust the front ride height. Overall, the first impression I have is that this bike got from concept to production with fewer than the average number of compromises. I think that, for the people who *would* buy it, it’s a viable alternative to a bike like the Triumph Thruxton. One of the more interesting new bikes in a welcome-to-the-real-world sense…

  • Chris Davis

    The metal housings for the thumb switches on the concept were much cooler. In general I prefer the brighter finish used on many of the concept’s components. It looks more custom, less mass produced. The concept’s blood red hue was classier than the production model’s corporate red: PMS201>PMS186.

  • sevier3

    Nice looking bike even coming into production with compromises – but if performance “likely to be uninspring…” why hasn’t RE come out with the Triumph-killer twin like the Interceptor?

  • Yannis Tsiapas

    The seat “cover” looks great, the photos are taken from knee-height, so you see things that you wouldnt be able to see normaly, the triples look great, and I prefer the black switches

  • Dave Hargreaves

    I think it’s close enough… I’ve seen the concept @ Long Beach IMS, and chatted the guys up a bit. They even said that some of the parts were ‘nicer’ aftermarket parts that would likely be simplified for production. Looks like it. Not bad, overall.. Pretty good start, methinks.

  • alex

    oh snap! I think I saw one today on the road in so cal. Used to seeing pre pro porsches and other cars because of the design centers near me but never a bike, except an 013 1000rr about a month ago. Ha ha I just thought it was another old bike and didnt look twice.

  • Emmet

    compared to other manufacturers, the fact that the bike is relatively unchanged from concept to reality is amazing.

  • JB

    From any concept certain concessions must be made to produce something DOT approved at a lower production cost. The yoke, foot controls and tank on the concept are all high priced parts. The tank in particular has a flush bottom on the concept but shows the weld seam on the production bike. The difference in manufacturing costs between those two designs can prove significant, especially when you consider that Enfields are relatively cheap bikes. The company experienced some of the common pitfalls of factory café bikes with this one; they produced a beautiful concept and then mucked it up in their efforts to make production feasible. Where sport bikes, dual sports, standards, etc. are bought for their practicality and performance, cruisers, customs and cafés are sought for unique, defining details. Thus the idea of a cheap factory cafe bike is an anamoly because custom details are too cost prohibitive. This results in a cheap retro styled standard with some café farkles rather than a true, cheap, factory cafe bike.

  • Mike McGill

    “Probably the most authentic representation of café theme ever executed as a modern bike. It’s not a retro, it’s basically the same bike someone visiting the Ace Café way back in the ‘50s or ‘60s would have ridden, just available in 2013 with low monthly payments and oil tightness.”

    Nope. The true cafe racers, being poor kids in post-war England just took standard bikes and stripped as much unnecessary stuff off to lighten them to make them faster. They couldn’t afford race-inspired features such as piggyback reservoir shocks, crossdrilled disc brakes, electric starter, fuel injection (where’s the carburetor on this?), rearsets or Monza-style flip-up gas caps. They certainly didn’t have bar end mirrors. The mirrors were probably the first thing they stripped-off for weight savings. You know how they say that every pound shed is an equivalent to a 7hp gain.

    I think the idea of what a cafe racer looked like has been perverted by time.

    A stripped down modern Bonneville makes a much more honest cafe racer than this thing, costs only a tad more and will at least be able to do the ton, which should be the minimum requirement of any “cafe racer”.

    • Sasha Pave

      For those of us with a more pedestrian view of a retro cafe racer, I’d say that RE nailed it. Most buyers like me don’t shop for authentic, rather we look for something inspired. It’s like a modern retro UJM will have FI and dual 4-pistons, I don’t discount it. In fact the modern bits make a much nicer, safer ride. Even if I was old enough to know the original.

  • RealistRider

    I prefer the version I can actually purchase. . .

  • Kr Tong

    This was the difference between fabricating a beautiful bike and pulling one out of a parts bin.

  • Chris

    Absolutely GARBAGE!

    Joking. It’s refreshing to see a (or any at all!) production version of a cafe that’s so damn close to what people want in one. While some of the details like black plastic controls vs. metal controls and the ugly version of red for the paint… it’s incredible. People purchasing this bike are either going to love it and keep it as is or change it. For those that want to change it a little… well that’s just it… a LITTLE. only minor customizations need to be done to make this bike look like a perfect cafe.

    That aside, here are some changes that should be made and wouldn’t raise the cost of the production model:

    - round tail light built in to the seat ‘cover’ and bring the signals in tighter. Factory license plate/signal/tail light/reflector units are not for the cafe-minded. In fact I don’t think they’re even for the motorcycle-minded.

    - bring the rear bit of frame behind the seat in closer. So ugly and unnecessary.

    - Put the damn clamp-ons back down. (they lost sight of the target market and got scared that people would be worried about the riding position.

    - tip the tank back and lose the tall cap.
    - use an off the shelf round gauge cluster with a RE faceplate rather than the double.

    After all that they can work on a new parallel twin to put in it. Not to say this engine is crap, it’s just not quite ‘it’. I’ve ridden their other bikes and they are ‘neat’ to ride and feel more powerful than they really are. You can also play with the pipes and get an AWESOME sound of them.


  • sparra

    I prefer the concept model, as I am sure hundreds of others do from all the comments I have read on the numerous motorcycle forums out there!

    Royal Enfield, you too know which version looks better and would by far sell better. So which one are you going to put into production? Or will you give your costumers the option of both versions?

    Allow your new Cafe Racer to do Royal Enfield proud and to make history once again, put out the Concept Version, it is a work of art; and works of art, as I am sure you know is what Royal Enfield has always endeavored to produce.

    So I ask you now, please give the world the “Concept” Cafe Racer you first put on display at the Auto Expo in New Delhi in 2012.

    Why show your loyal and/or potential customers a “work of art”, then later offer them a lemon!

    That is the same as a jeweler selling brass in place of gold!

  • Paul Rewind

    i like the concept version more. shame they couldn’t make it into production but i guess a few compromises had to be made.
    at least the tank & color should have been done like the concept, that would have enhanced the bike’s looks so much more.
    also raised front end does’t feel right.

    p.s – the wheels have also been changed