Last Updated on 08/04/2021
A reader asked which of the retro motorcycles would make a good commuter as he’s fed up with paying the London congestion charges every day. As he didn’t tell me which of the retro genres he favours I have included one from each. So, here you go Jim from Camden Town….
What are the best retro motorcycles for commuting?
- Triumph Bonneville T100 – A thoroughly modern classic with all the aesthetics of its predecessors.
- Ducati Scrambler – The pick of the current retro Scramblers
- Yamaha XSR700 – A bags of fun retro UJM
- Triumph Street Cup – Cafe Racer styling for the 1950’s vibe
- Honda CMX500 Rebel – A practical Bobber (if there is such a thing)
WHAT MAKES FOR A GOOD RETRO COMMUTER?
To make a good retro commuter a motorcycle needs to meet certain criteria. I scored each motorcycle on the following and divided by 5 for an average total score.
- Have the retro vibe (obviously)
- Excellent low to mid range torque and manoeuvrability
- Good fuel economy
- Practicality – Are their genuine luggage accessories available? Is it a suitable all weather ride?
- A fun ride – you should be arriving at work with a big grin on your face
Good fuel economy is essential for any motorcycle to be considered a good commuter so rather than give it a score I simply used the mpg as the score.
Triumph Bonneville T100
You don’t get more retro than a Bonnie. While all the other manufacturers have been busting a gut to get a piece of the retro scene Triumph just carried on producing Bonnevilles, patiently waiting for them to become fashionable again!
The T100 is the 900cc version of the T120 Bonneville. It’s the entry level Bonneville and shares the same water cooled engine as the Street Twin but it’s a more refined motorcycle. It has over 150 accessories available too so you can custom it to make it your own.
The T100 oozes quality and although a heavy bike, thanks to its low centre of gravity and low to mid range torque goodness it makes a great commuter.
The 75 mpg (64 miles per US gallon) and excellent handling makes the T100 the ideal motorcycle to throw your leg over twice a day for the trip to and from work. It’s great for weekend rides to no where in particular too.
Available restricted for an A2 licence (European) and once you have your full licence your Triumph dealer can remove the restrictions so need to upgrade to a more powerful ride. With full power available your Bonnie will feel like a new ride again. Just one more reason I have the T100 as the best retro motorcycle for commuting on the market today.
What others said:
For the T100 Bonneville’s natural environment, namely on the city streets and as a Sunday morning A road swinger, I’m scratching my head and wondering why I wouldn’t want to leave that extra £1500 in the bank. – Bennets Paul Taylor when comparing the T100 to the bigger 1200cc T120 Bonneville.
Starting at £8900. More details at Triumph
Ducati Scrambler Icon 800
You can currently pick up a low mileage 2015 Scrambler icon from a dealer for around £5000 so this makes a great budget retro commuter.
There’s also an A2 licence version available for the European market and a larger 1100cc option for 2019. I would consider that too big for a commuter though.
The upright sitting position gives you a good view while weaving in and out of the traffic queues and it’s comfortable too.
Plenty of aftermarket products available including saddle bags.
With its Italian heritage and looks the Ducati Scrambler has been a huge hit for Ducati despite the fact it’s not intended for off road use. They soon introduced the Desert Sled version though that was ‘capable’ of some green lane riding.
As it uses the old Ducati Monster engine the only thing to let it down as far as being a retro commuter is its 56 mpg (47 mpg US) fuel consumption.
If you like the Scramblers styling you should also consider:
- Triumph Street Scrambler
- Yamaha SCR950
- BMW R Nine T Scrambler
What others said:
You don’t have to be a fashionable hipster to enjoy the (Ducati) Scrambler, its qualities shine through without the clever marketing. It’s easy to ride, small and light, has a lovely useable air-cooled V-twin with lots of low to mid-range power. MCN
Around £5000 for a 2015 low mileage used model or just over £8000 for a new model. Details at Ducati Icon
I test rode one of these when they first appeared and it’s bags of fun. So much fun I was close to getting the cheque book out.
The XSR700 has a claimed 56 MPG under steady riding conditions but no one is going to ride this steady. It demands you to make the most of the low to middle torque but the throttle response is smooth so you can control the front wheel lifting as you set off from the stop light.
The XSR700 is basically the best selling and much loved MT-07 (FZ-07 in North America) dressed as a retro naked.
At a whisker under £7k ($8499 in America) the XSR700 appears to be a lot of machine for your money. Unfortunately after its first winter here in the UK (2015) the fact it had been built to sell at a low entry point soon showed up with corrosion becoming a big problem for lots of owners.
Hopefully this has been addressed in the later models but even so, if you are unlucky enough to ride in a country that grits its roads every year you may want to use more WD50 than usual for the winter months.
If you like the UJM (universal Japanese Motorcycle) retro looks also consider:
- Kawasaki W800 Street
- Honda CBR650 Neo Sports Cafe
What others said:
The XSR is an incredibly easy to handle machine, thanks mainly to its lightweight, smooth engine and predictable throttle response. Not once did the XSR surprise me with anything unexpected. Part of its brilliance is the way it’s rewarding for both newbies and experienced riders alike – MCN
More details at Yamaha
Triumph Street Cup
Truth be told you could include all of the 900cc Triumph modern classics in a list of retro motorcycle commuters but I’ve gone with the Street Cup as I wanted to include as many of the retro genres as possible to cover all tastes.
The Street Cup is a Cafe Racer version of the Street Twin using the same engine as the above Triumph Bonneville T100 (keeping up?)
If you like the cut of the Thruxton’s jib but (you correctly) consider it too big and costly to be a genuine commuter then the Street Cup is for you. Yes, it has that sportier riding position but it’s light and nimble around town earning its spot as one of the best retro motorcycles for commuting available.
Like the T100 Bonnie, it is available with an A2 restriction (Europe only) but unlike other A2 legal rides, once you have your full licence Triumph can remove the restrictions.
Starting at £8800 it’s just £100 less than the T100 so I would personally go with the Bonnie but if you like the Cafe Racer styling the Street Cup is the commuter for you.
However, you might also consider:
- Kawasaki W800 cafe
- Royal Enfield GT Continental
What others said:
Despite the sporty look, there’s a good chance that many of these are going to spend their lives as cool commuter bikes and as Sunday afternoon toys for relatively new riders. That’s no bad thing, and to this end the Street Cup delivers an engaging yet unintimidating ride – Bennetts first ride review
More details at Triumph
Honda CMX500 Rebel
In truth there’s not much competition for the Honda CMX500 so it was an easy choice if I wanted to get a Bobber option into this list of retro motorcycle commuters.
Pushed along by a remapped CBR500 parallel twin water cooled engine that’s designed with both commuting across town and longer weekend cruising.
It produces 45 bhp which is a nod to European A2 licence holders but don’t let that put you off. The remapped engine produces plenty of low end torque for acceleration but will also cruise along comfortably at 70mph motorway speeds.
Although there is an option for seat pad on the rear fender and foot rests, the fact that Honda have gone with a single seat for an authentic Bobber appearance should be applauded. Even if a single seat costs it in the practicality score.
That low seat height does make it an ideal commuter though, especially for shorter riders so it gains a few points back plus it has saddle bags as an optional extra.
At 64mpg it is only bettered by the two Triumphs while a price tag of just £5399 means the CMX500 is around the same price as a second hand Ducati Scrambler.
The CMX500 is the most suited Bobber for commuting around town but you might also want to have a look at:
- Moto Guzzi V9 Bobber
- Yamaha XV950R
What others said:
The CMX500 made me smile when I rode it, got me where I wanted to be pretty much as quickly as anything else, was good on fuel, easy to ride and, at £5399 isn’t a lot more expensive than some of the posher 125s. As an alternative to a scooter for commuting it’d be brilliant, as a first big bike for urban-riding A2 licence holding hipsters or goths, I can’t think of a more suitable machine – Bennetts CMX500 UK road test
More details at Honda
While all 5 picks are obviously subjective I have chosen what I believe to be the best options for commuting around town within each particular retro style – Modern classics, Scrambler, Cafe Racers, UJM and Bobbers.
While you could make a case for the T100 and Ducati Scrambler being best of class that is not what this list of best retro motorcycles for commuting is.
For example, is the Honda Rebel a better Bobber than for example the Harley Street, Indian or Triumph Bobber.
It clearly isn’t, it’s not even in their league. It is however a better option than the other Bobbers mentioned for someone who needs a commuter to get to work and back who happens to like the styling of a Bobber/Cruiser style ride.
Have I missed a retro motorcycle out? Let me know in the comments.