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Common Tread

Best café racer gear 2020

Mar 17, 2020

Riding motorcycles is cool. Wearing cool gear while riding cool motorcycles is, therefore, even cooler.

Today’s riders have plenty of options that look the part, but how many are actually up to the task of everyday riding? We took a closer look at the best street and cafe gear available today, and we’ve compiled our top picks in this handy gear guide.

Top street and cafe motorcycle gear 2020

Since RevZilla’s inception, we’ve watched the vintage and cafe racer segments grow into full-fledged gear categories. We even had to add a “Cafe” section to our site! Maybe you’re riding a street brawler, or a cafe racer, or a scrambler, or even a restored classic. You need gear that can commute, cruise, blend in around town, and hunt corners on the weekends. We found exactly what you’re looking for, and we split it up across two rider personas.

First, there’s the “modern cool” rider, who blends a streamlined style with classic materials. Then there’s the “vintage cool” rider, who’s kicking it old school and looking just as good as riders of the past. Let’s jump in.

Modern cool

The first style of rider, which we’re calling “modern cool,” probably rides a modern classic of some kind. Think Triumph Thruxton or Street Twin, BMW R nineT, Honda’s new CBs, or even a non-retro standard bike like a Suzuki SV650 or Triumph Street Triple. These riders want protective versions of stylish street clothes they already wear, with a little moto style throughout. If that sounds like you, read on.

Top modern cafe gear of 2020
Category Product Price Details
Helmet Arai Defiant-X Helmet $660-$680
  • SFL shell construction
  • DOT and Snell M2015 certified
Jacket Merlin Chase Jacket $399
  • CE Level 2 shouler/elbow armor
  • 100g removable thermal vest
Pants REAX 610 Jeans $179
  • Five-pocket slim straight fit
  • SAS-TEC CE Level 2 knee armor
Boots Alpinestars Distinct Drystar $220
  • Full-grain leather, vintage appeal
  • Drystar waterproof membrane
Gloves REAX Tasker Perf gloves $79
  • Touchscreen-capable
  • Cowhide outer, goat leather palm

Best modern street and cafe motorcycle helmet: Arai Defiant-X

Arai’s signature “sphere” shell shape brings a distinct look to their lineup. For the stylish modern rider, the Defiant-X utilizes all the class-leading safety you’d expect from an Arai helmet, then adds aggressive vents and retro looks. The Defiant-X’s balance between appearance and performance makes it a standout choice for the “modern cool” rider.

Arai Defiant-X Motorcycle Helmet
Aria Defiant-X helmet. RevZilla photo.

Arai’s Super Fiber Laminate construction gives the Defiant-X a strong, yet lightweight, shell. Inside, the Free Flow System keeps wind noise to a minimum while evacuating warm air from the helmet. In testing, we appreciated the included Pinlock lens, speaker cutouts, and customizable cheek pads. The Snell rating is just the cherry on top. Overall, the Defiant-X is one of the safest “cool” helmets we’ve ever seen.

Nitpicks: It’s a little awkward to reach up into the helmet to open and close the chin vents.

Best modern street and cafe motorcycle jacket: Merlin Chase jacket

A stealthy moto jacket that easily passes for streetwear is the holy grail for the “modern cool” rider. Merlin’s new Chase jacket is that grail, no doubt. Under the beautiful cowhide leather and effortless style, the Chase packs real-deal protection. CE Level 2 shoulder and elbow armor is along for the ride, plus a pocket for an optional back protector (back protector sold separately).

The Merlin Chase has a relaxed Euro fit that suits most riders. That means room in the shoulders with a taper to the waist. The jacket’s exterior is simple and clean with just a few touches of Merlin branding, while inside, a 100-gram removable thermal vest pushes the Chase jacket into cooler temperatures. In the end, the gorgeous leather and hidden armor made this our favorite among its peers.

Nitpicks: The seasonality of the Chase jacket is a bit confusing. It has vents, a thermal vest, and thick leather. We’d opt for a mesh jacket for the hottest rides.

Best modern street and cafe motorcycle jeans: REAX 610 Jeans

Where would the “modern cool” rider be without a good pair of jeans? Today’s riding jeans category has grown from a niche to a riding staple in a relatively short period of time. Riding jeans look convincingly like regular jeans, yet they offer protection from abrasion and impact. Of all the options out there, the REAX 610s won us over with their slim straight fit, baked-in stretch, and included SAS-TEC CE Level 2 knee armor. Add more armor at the hips if you’d like. (Hip armor not included.) Aramid twill reinforcements are stitched into the seat, thighs, and knees in case you take a slide.

The traditional five-pocket design is available in 11.5-ounce washed blue denim, or 12-ounce black coated denim. We especially liked how well these pants blended in around the office, out on the town, and in the garage. The stretch makes them especially easy to live with.

Nitpicks: The 610 jeans don’t have external access to the armor, which gives them a clean look. The downside is that you’ll have to take the pants off to pull the armor out if you want to ditch it.

Riders seeking a straight-cut jean should look at REAX’s 215 jeans, which offer the same protection with a little more room.

Best modern street and cafe motorcycle shoes: Alpinestars Distinct Drystar boots

Ultra crisp, ultra clean. The Alpinestars Distinct Drystar boots are a thoroughly refined option for the “modern cool” rider. These boots utilize a full-grain leather construction, cut in a classic pattern with touches of Italian style. The whole exterior receives Alpinestars’ Drystar waterproofing to lock water out when rain interrupts your ride.

Alpinestars Distinct Drystar Boots
Alpinestars Distinct Drystar boots. RevZilla photo.

There are hundreds of classic leather moto boots on the market today. So why’d we go with the Distincts? The answer is style and substance, all for less than $250. The Distinct boots offer nice reinforcements to the toebox, heel, and ankle for a safer ride. Once broken in, the Distincts are nice for walking and offer great feel at the controls while riding. An added bonus is the zip-in side entry for convenience. Traditional laces still grace the front of the boots for the essential look.

Nitpicks: The Distinct boots just need a little reflectivity across the back to earn top marks across the board.

Best modern street and cafe motorcycle gloves: Reax Tasker Perf Gloves

The simple leather glove is a riding staple. REAX’s Tasker Perf gloves bring modern materials and subtle styling without trying too hard. No race-inspired carbon knuckles or crazy colors here. The Taskers are crafted from cowhide at the back of the hand, with goatskin across the palm for superior comfort. Flex ribbing adds style and dexterity. To protect against impacts, the fingers hide TPR inserts.

REAX Tasker Perforated Gloves
REAX Tasker Perforated gloves. RevZilla photo.

We found that these gloves suit a huge range of motorcycles and riding styles. Thoughtful features include the touchscreen-capable fingers and thumbs, full perforation, and vibration-dampening palm pad inserts. The Taskers will quickly become the gloves you reach for on every ride, and at the $80 price point, they’re a steal.

Nitpicks: The leather can take a little longer than other gloves to break in. Once they find their shape, you’re golden.

Vintage cool

The “vintage cool” motorcyclist is likely riding a truly old bike, or a new bike that looks a lot older than it is. These folks might be seen riding old Honda CBs, Kawasaki KZs, airhead BMWs, or other classics. Also think about new bikes that resemble their ancestors: Moto Guzzis, Bonnevilles, Sportsters, and so on.

Top vintage cafe gear of 2020
Category Product Price Details
Helmet Biltwell Lane Splitter $250
  • ECE and DOT certified
  • Hand-painted helmet finish
Jacket REV’IT! Worker overshirt $280
  • 11-ounce Cordura canvas
  • Seesmart CE Level 1 protection
Pants Rokker Rokkertech Rider jeans $280
  • 13.5-ounce denim blend
  • Fits like Levi's 513
Boots Rokker Urban Racer boots $449
  • Ankle, heel, and toe protection
  • Handmade in Portugal
Gloves Dainese Blackjack gloves $90
  • Goatskin leather construction
  • Hook-and-loop wrist closure

Best vintage street and cafe motorcycle helmet: Biltwell Lane Splitter

Biltwell is best known for their Gringo and Bonanza bubble helmets. As much as we love those lids, we recommend the Lane Splitter for a friendlier everyday experience. Unlike the bubble helmets, the Lane Splitter has a hinged face shield and front vents. Those changes alone make the Lane Splitter a lot easier to live with. (The Gringo S does have a hinged shield if you really want a classic round shell.) The styling remains rooted in the past, however, with some inspiration pulled from vintage auto racing helmets.

Biltwell Lane Splitter Helmet
Biltwell Lane Splitter helmet. RevZilla photo.

The Lane Splitter further sets itself apart from the competition with Biltwell’s outstanding hand-stitched interior. They use a brushed Lycra liner with BioFoam at the chin. The result is positively plush. Biltwell included speaker pocket cutouts, a chin curtain, and… that’s pretty much it! The Lane Splitter is wonderfully spartan and perfectly styled for most vintage machinery. Biltwell’s huge range of colors should satisfy most.

Nitpicks: The post-and-hole shield lock isn’t the greatest design. Maybe Biltwell can improve it next time around.

Best vintage street and cafe motorcycle jacket: REV'IT! Worker overshirt

You won’t be channeling your inner Malcolm Smith or Steve McQueen in a neon textile jacket. Trouble is, those guys didn’t have the option of wearing modern protection. REV’IT! has bridged the gap between rugged vintage clothing and modern protection with the Worker overshirt. The Worker stands out from the many overshirt-style options out there with its quality materials, impressive protection, and near-invisible branding.

The main construction is 11-ounce Cordura canvas, with CE Level 1 armor tucked below at the elbows and shoulders. A pocket is ready to accept a back protector. (Type RV back protector sold separately.) Some riding shirts don’t include provisions for back protection, so that’s nice to see on the Worker.

The overall style is so simple and old-school that you might find yourself wearing the Worker when you aren’t even riding. That is the marker of success in this category.

Nitpicks: The Worker has some ventilation, but it isn’t enough to keep cool in the warmest weather. That’s the price you’ll pay for the style of that burly Cordura canvas.

Best vintage street and cafe motorcycle jeans: Rokker Rokkertech Rider jeans

Rokker is one of the industry leaders when it comes to premium riding denim. The new Rokkertech Rider jeans are on the affordable side for Rokker, even at $300. We know that’s a little steep for riding jeans, especially if you’re new to today’s offerings. The quality and durability of Rokker’s jeans are totally worth the price of admission, in our opinion. They last forever and carry a style that few jeans can match.

A slim, straight cut looks right at home on any vintage bike. In creating the 12.5-ounce denim, Rokker’s Armalith process combines cotton with abrasion-resistant materials. That means the Rider jeans boast serious slide protection without sewing a layer of aramid fibers under a normal denim chassis. Rokker takes the jeans to the next level by adding a little elastane for comfort and flexibility. They’ve got their denim absolutely dialed.

Nitpicks: We wish armor was included. We’d suggest SAS-TEC Flex armor for the Rider jeans’ hip and knee pockets.

Best vintage street and cafe motorcycle boots: Rokker Urban Racer boots

Rokker strikes again with their Urban Racer boots, our top pick for the “vintage cool” rider. They take a similar approach to the Rokkertech Rider jeans: heirloom quality, killer style, and top materials. The star of the show is the greased leather cowhide, hand-formed in Portugal. These are simply beautiful boots.

Rokker Urban Racer Boots
Rokker Urban Racer boots. RevZilla photo.

Moto-specific protection includes an shock-absorbing insole, plus ankle, heel and toe protection. Look, you could buy a few pairs of leather motorcycle boots for the $450 Rokker’s asking for the Urban Racers. After a few hard years of riding, our money’s on the Rokkers every time.

Best vintage street and cafe motorcycle gloves: Dainese Blackjack gloves

If the REAX Tasker gloves above are too modern for your taste, you’ll want to consider our “vintage cool” choice, the Dainese Blackjack gloves. They’re the same basic formula with more classic styling. They use goatskin leather and elastication to deliver the precise feel that your vintage motorcycle demands.

Dainese Blackjack Motorcycle Gloves
Dainese Blackjack gloves. RevZilla photo.

We liked that there’s hardly any branding on these gloves. The precurved leather quickly forms to the rider’s hand. Dainese’s asking less than $80 for the Blackjack gloves. We’d choose these gloves every time for a fair-weather ride on a retro bike.

Buying the best street and cafe gear... for you

That’s all, folks. Whether your flavor of cool is modern or vintage, we’ve suggested head-to-toe riding gear for your next excursion. And if you're new to this style of riding, swing by Common Tread to learn more about what makes a cafe racer a cafe racer. See you out there!