A Retro-Flavored Future

November 1, 2023 | By Mike Seate

While building, riding and maintaining classic cafe racers holds charms and rewards you just don’t experience with a modern ride, plenty of custom bike enthusiasts have taken the altogether different route: they modify new school motorcycles to look like classics. Some purists- folks with muscular kickstart legs and grease permanently embedded beneath their fingernails- would disdain such things as cheating, but who’s to say? CRM’s managing editor Kim Love has owned and ridden a Kawasaki W650 for over 20 years – long enough for the retro twin to now straddle the worlds between classic and contemporary motorcycling. She gets a kick out of folks frequently mistaking her bevel-drive Japanese bike for a vintage BSA or Triumph which is precisely how the engineers at Kawasaki Heavy Industries foresaw the W650 when it was conceived.

Dennis Stemp’s Yamaha/Vincent replica, circa 1984


Further afield, several custom motorcycle builders have developed dedicated fan bases- and a steady stream of paying customers- by handcrafting machines to resemble their two-wheeled forebearers. Way back in the early 1980s, late IronWorks magazine publisher and handy bike designer Dennis Stemp was among the very first riders to realize the striking mechanical similarities between Vincent’s V-twins and Yamaha’s then-new Virago 920. Both bikes were designed to utilize the engine as  stressed member of the chassis, while the engine layouts- both air-cooled V-twins- were too similar to be believed. Even the rear suspension systems bore some similarity, although the Yamaha’s monoshock set-up was far superior to the bare metal springs that Vincent’s team tried to pass off as actual “dampers.” Nevertheless, the custom Vinny replica that Stemp piloted back in the day remains one of the more imaginative modded streetbikes we’ve ever seen, paving the way for builders like Iowa’s Greg Hageman who would create a cottage industry for customized Viragos a couple of decades later.


Honda Hornet etro

Likewise, we’ve been turned on as of late to the remarkable work being done by Italian custom visionary Andrea Silverio who has somehow managed to transform Honda’s late-model 600cc Hornet naked sportster into a CB550 look-alike. Silverio’s work is a brilliant blend of old school aesthetics and new school tech, turning the otherwise staid-looking Honda four into the kind of stripped-down, urban roadsters that customers everywhere are clamoring for. At a quick glance, these retro-modded 21st century machines could easily be mistaken for air-cooled, first-generation Honda CB550s, and the frequency with which the original bikes have been restored and customized proves Silverio’s formula could potentially draw an even bigger audience than Hageman’s mock-Vincent Viragos have. Will the OEM’s eventually embrace this melding of vintage style and modern tech? Plenty already have (Kawasaki Z900RS, Triumph Bonnevilles and BMW’s R9T) but there’s obviously room for even more. We hope!