Comparison test of retro bikes BMW R nineT, Honda CB 1100 EX, Triumph Thruxton, Yamaha XJR 1300 Racer

37 Pictures

King of the Hills: We ride the classic mountain race tracks on classic looking bikes.

As with Schorsch Meier: the brushed aluminum rear apron conveys historic racing flair. A must for soloists.

Peter Klein judges the BMW R nineT.

BMW R nineT, Honda CB 1100 EX, Triumph thruxton 900 and Yamaha XJR 1300 Racer.

Yamaha XJR 1300 Racer: With a displacement of 1251 cm³, the XJR has the largest air-cooled four-cylinder engine. Nice: the polished cooling fins and the color-contrasting housing cover.

Careful: the digital display ventures between the two classic-looking round clocks much more cautiously than with the BMW R nineT and the Honda CB 1100 EX.

Matt stovepipe as the rear silencer of the 4-in-1 system.

Café Racer: While the lamp cover only determines the look of the Yamaha XJR 1300 Racer, the handlebars change their essence – considerably.

Stefan Glück about the Yamaha XJR 1300 Racer.

BMW R nineT, Honda CB 1100 EX, Triumph Thruxton 900 and Yamaha XJR 1300 Racer.

Triumph thruxton.

Reduce to the Max: Speed, revs – that’s all the Triumphator needs to know. Stop, the kilometer display is still in the LED window in the left clock.

Sweeping: Even the rearview mirror attachment demonstrates stylistic finesse. Despite such fine nuances, the Triumph Thruxton remains the cheapest bike in the test field at 9840 euros.

Consistent: The British take the classic look to the extreme. Every detail is dedicated to yesterday. The injection also has a carburetor look.

Photo driver Sven Loll’s verdict on the Triumph Thruxton.

Modern technology in a classic outfit: the Ducati Scrambler uses the same recipe as BMW uses for the nineT – both with success.

Yamaha SR 400: Revival of the former SR 500 – sales disappointed.

Also nice: Akrapovic noise bags.

Also just beautiful: the transition between the seat and the rear frame is adorned with a noble-looking aluminum casting.

Just nice: the brushed tank flanks give the R nineT an extraordinarily elegant appearance. The fuel tank is one of the central style-forming elements.

The curves on Monte Bondone, Trento’s local mountain, for example, are classic. An experience even without timing.


We drove these five hill climbs in the test.

Many of these routes have now been forgotten, but not at …

… Alberto Gambini (75, center). He stood for many years …

… as a marshals in Caprino Veronese.

We were able to learn a lot from his tips, which was useful for the subsequent mountain stages.

First of all: BMW R nineT, Honda CB 1100 EX, Triumph Thruxton and Yamaha XJR 1300 Racer all cut a fine figure.

Honda CB 1100 EX.

Appearances are not deceptive: the very relaxed seating position thanks to the high handlebars makes a significant contribution to the confident and light driving experience on the Honda CB 1100 EX.

True to style: quilted bench seat, chrome-plated fenders – the rear view also remains true to the Ur-Four. Even if the lamp and turn signal housings are made of plastic.

True to the line: in the EX version, the CB 1100 follows the lines of its historical model, the CB 750 Four, even more precisely, …

… not least in the form of the spoked wheels.

Judgment by Peter Mayer about the Honda CB 1100 EX.

BMW R nineT, Honda CB 1100 EX, Triumph thruxton 900 and Yamaha XJR 1300 in the test.

BMW R nineT.

Right in the middle: the digital display fits neatly between the two round instruments, so it is easy to read and yet not too intrusive.

fact / Joachim Schahl

Kawasaki W 650: first classic attempt in 1999 – still current as the 800.

BMW R nineT, Honda CB 1100 EX, Triumph Thruxton, Yamaha XJR 1300 in the test

Retro bikes in comparison

Decades ago the fastest climbing axes in Italy were looking for the ideal lines here. Today the former mountain race tracks offer pure driving pleasure. The four retro bikes BMW R nineT, Honda CB 1100 EX, Triumph Thruxton and Yamaha XJR 1300 create an arc of time.

S.ergio Lorenzini points with the palm of his hand in the direction of the next right bend and stamps his foot on the ailing asphalt. “If you caught this pothole while braking, then you could only dream of the ideal line up there. “The hand relaxes, waves it away. Sergio should know. The 58-year-old had organized the hill climb from his hometown Levico Terme up to Vetriolo for 21 years and was often at the start himself. 

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BMW R nineT, Honda CB 1100 EX, Triumph Thruxton, Yamaha XJR 1300 in the test
Retro bikes in comparison

A trip into the past

Sergio knows them all, those former racing tracks around Lake Garda. It leads us to the five most popular. A trip into the past. Suitable for these machines, retro bikes. With a language of form that gives rise to excitedly changing design trends. A technology that is closed to the faster, higher and further. Ultimately, concepts that rest in themselves.

What does calm mean here? Peter lets the BMW R nineT run quickly. The dreamy picnic bulge, formerly the starting point for the mountain sprint between Levico Terme and Vetriolo Terme, 1000 meters higher, only wipes past in the corner of your eye. Peter also scrapes purposefully past the asphalt patch in front of the right-hand bend and turns ambitiously a few meters later. The R nineT does not seem to convey a contemplative retrospective to its driver.

BMW R nineT places its pilot further back

Form follows function – many retro machines with discreetly motorized or rudimentary chassis do not adhere to this target. The BMW is different, although the first contact is deceptive. Because the BMW R nineT places its pilot further back, just like in the old days, and gently stretches the butted handlebars towards him. Still, it doesn’t get too cozy. The relatively acute knee angle and the narrow, tightly upholstered seat cushion stifle nostalgic feelings in the bud.

Even in the bends, the BMW R nineT is anything but tranquil. Despite the set back driving position, the driver puts enough pressure on the front wheel in the bends, draws the line spotlessly, brakes before the next bend with the biting double disc system like an anchor – so that the past catches up with him at the apex of the bend. In a positive sense, however.

Boxer comes from the R 1200 R.

Because the air-cooled boxer, which was still in service in the R 1200 R until 2014, comes in softly. Even because of the short overall gear ratio, he does so hard, as if he wanted to rehabilitate himself afterwards in front of his livelier, but more excited, water-cooled successor. The 110 hp flat twin pushes the fully tanked vehicle weighing 222 kilos up the ridge. Nine serpentines wind their way over the 13 kilometers to the destination, which is 1,500 meters high. First of all, it is not surprising that the rest of the trio consisting of the Honda CB 1100 EX, Triumph Thruxton and Yamaha XJR 1300 Racer has long since lost touch and, secondly, gives time to complete the picture of the BMW R nineT.

Because many roadsters can offer the brisk Eckenwetz that – let’s call it – Schorsch Meier feeling. The black aluminum tank with its brushed flanks and the hump (395 euros surcharge) are essentially responsible for the classic appearance. The BMW R nineT draws the rest of its fascination from the details. From the brushed intake snorkel and Akrapovic double silencer, which is subject to a surcharge, to the sheet metal nameplate riveted to the steering head, a stylistic harmony extends over the entire motorcycle. No element seems overloaded, every part has a function. A design that does not tie in with specific historical models and can therefore afford the eye-catching, massive up-side-down fork, the central spring strut or the powerful, radially hinged double disc brake without appearing in a style-breaking way. The proud tariff of over 15,000 euros, too.

Honda CB 1100 EX is based on the legendary CB 750 Four

Meanwhile, the rest of the group has also arrived. We roll gently down into the valley, turn onto the expressway towards Trento. “You meet the nicest people on a Honda.” The popular advertising slogan of the world’s largest motorcycle manufacturer from the 1960s does not want to get out of the author’s head. Indeed, you feel relaxed and lively on the Honda CB 1100 EX. Exceptionally high handlebars, comfortable suspension, whispering four-cylinder. What a difference to the BMW R nineT. In contrast to that, the Honda is based on a specific model: the legendary CB 750 Four, released in 1969. 

The look of the oldest Japanese series four-cylinder bike is sure to hit the Honda CB 1100 EX, especially in the EX version launched last year (11,990 euros). Since then, spoked wheels instead of cast wheels have been rotating in proper style between the stanchions of the delicate telescopic fork and the swing arm and a second silencer ensures optical symmetry – like the four-in-four system of the CB 750 back then. If you are interested: a sixth gear translated as overdrive reduces the number of revolutions on the track, a tank capacity that has been increased by almost two liters to 17.5 liters guarantees a greater range. What we care less here.

CB 1100 EX weighs 262 kilograms

Shortly after the last houses in Trento, we turn sharply left towards Monte Bondone. The dense traffic in the provincial capital suddenly subsided. The bustling Sergio knows every meter on Trentino’s local mountain as well. After all, it was he who awakened the legendary hill climb in 2000 from an 18-year slumber. The fun on the bends begins long before the starting point in Candriai. Wooded and mostly with good pavement, the road winds upwards and already offers the emotional climax in the first third shortly before Sardagna. The ribbon of asphalt loops around a plateau in an almost circular manner. Fortunately, the soft springs of the stereo struts of the Honda CB 1100 EX are already fully preloaded. It doesn’t do any harm to comfort, but the footpegs, which come down early in the standard setting, paddle across the asphalt a few degrees later. The Honda screws itself nimbly upwards on its narrow 18-inch tires, throwing itself amazingly easily from one lean angle to the next. Nobody would have guessed that at 262 kilograms it is an impressive 80 pounds heavier than the BMW R nineT.

Maybe also because the Honda CB 1100 EX with its thin, chrome-plated handlebars, the stylish instruments and the pure white tank exudes a special grace. Even the engine block, which is broad in the crankshaft area and based on the water-cooled CB 1300 Big Bike, seems to pull in under the cylinder bank reinforced with fine cooling fins. The fact that its engine speed potential of 8000 rpm in fourth gear (engine speed limit 6700 rpm), fifth (maximum 5800 rpm) and sixth (maximum 5200 rpm) is unnecessarily cut off, at least here on the narrow streets of Trentino a role . In any case, given the mood of the Honda driver. At the destination of Sergio’s mountain sprint at the time, in Vaneze, he will not waste a thought on personal bests, but instead turn around at the top of the pass and once again relax and enjoy the impressions of the 19 overwhelming kilometers on the descent . You were right then. You meet the nicest people on a Honda.

Classic bikes don’t need the charm of the last groove

We leave this imposing ascent behind us and are initially bored on the autostrada heading south. It is a good 80 kilometers to Caprino Veronese. The route over Monte Baldo would certainly be more entertaining, but the busy Sergio is pushing. Dolce far niente, sweet idleness – for Sergio just a legend from days gone by.

Like the former hill climb from Caprino Veronese to Spiazzi. The daring horsepower knights thundered up there over a distance of 9.5 kilometers. “Average 160 km / h, much too fast”, dismisses Alberto Gambini. The 75-year-old, who lives opposite the former finish line at the entrance to the town, was involved in the races as a track marshal. 2011 for the last time. After the fatal accident of a car racing driver, the event was no longer allowed. 

We are only interested in the last six kilometers of the route anyway. The cracked asphalt typical of Italy swings up the comparatively gentle hill in wide arcs. We hold back despite the double guard rails. Classic bikes don’t need the charm of the last groove to convey their spirit. Because after the sporty BMW R nineT and the lively Honda CB 1100, the Triumph Thruxton opens another chapter in the emotional world. 

Triumph Thruxton skilfully conceals their 231 kilograms

With a waist as narrow as that of the prima ballerina at La Scala in Milan, the Triumph thruxton welcomes its driver. It is hard to believe that the dainty figure has the lowest capacity propellant of this quartet, but with a combustion chamber volume of 865 cm³, it is still a stately dimensioned two-cylinder. Neither sound nor manners indicate hardware from the island. There is a subtle puddle from the exhaust, the parallel twin purrs up the speed ladder like an electric motor. British quirk? Nothing. Why also. The Thruxton is – don’t tell anyone – made in Thailand despite the Union Jack proudly emblazoned on the side cover. Swam over it. First of all, despite the deep and narrow tubular handlebar, it not only sits unexpectedly upright and comfortably on the Café Racer, the moped-like handling also turns on. 

As if by herself, the English woman falls into the corners on her narrow 130 tire, skilfully concealing her 231 kilograms. Except when braking. In order to activate the single disc at the front, you need a courageous grip. And a well-dosed one. Because ABS did not exist in the past – and it still does not exist in the Triumph Thruxton today. She is consistent, the 9,840 euro British girl. Also optically. Whether the engine housing in the pre-unit look, the polished cooling rib flanks, the ignition lock attached to the side of the headlight, the chrome-plated silencers, the hump over the pillion seat, even the carburetor-look injection – with all these details, and of course Brooklands Green, Thruxton creates a direct link to traditional British motorcycle construction. Sergio is pushing again. It is 90 kilometers to Brescia.

Racing fever on the Yamaha XJR 1300 Racer?

We don’t need to look for the way to the Colle della Maddalena. It is enough to follow the hordes of flashily dressed cyclists. The ten-kilometer route climbs out of the urban area. The start in the city alone gave this Cronoscalata, the Italian name for the hill climb, enormous popularity. Meanwhile, Stefan has pushed himself forward on the Yamaha. Racing fever on the Yamaha XJR 1300 Racer? Might be. The Yamaha designers have transformed the XJR into a café racer with a lamp mask, seat cover, short front fender – all made of carbon -, side number plates made of aluminum and handlebar stubs mounted under the fork bridge. XJR fans recognize the borrowings from the Project X presented in 2013 by the refiner Deus Ex Machina. Instead of the 9,000 euro kit from the Australians, the Racer has a 1200 euro surcharge on the 10,295 euro basic version. And which model is the racer based on? First of all to yourself. The big bike has been rolling off the assembly line without interruption since 1995 and has long been considered a classic, cult and trendy bike. 

Now the Yamaha XJR 1300 Racer Stefan stretches over the tank. What a difference to the comfortable ergonomics of the standard XJR. Even compared to the slightly crouched posture on the Triumph Thruxton, the Racer bends the pilot forward significantly less favorably. There may even be a little racing feeling behind the spherical lamp mask on the intermediate straights, but the inactive seating position paralyzes the driver in every bend. After all, there are 13 that, as neatly numbered on the Alpine passes, lead to the 874 meter high Monte Maddalena. And in everyone, Stefan longs for the conventional tubular handlebar of the standard XJR. Because despite the nine kilograms that the Racer has slimmed down compared to last year’s basic model (five of which are due to the tank that has been reduced from 21 to 14.5 liters), the current café runabout feels sedate. It’s actually a shame, because the XJR hasn’t lost any of its qualities in the racer trim either.

The brake system of the XJR 1300 can be finely dosed

The Öhlins shock absorbers, which can be adjusted in compression and rebound, sniff the now and then rather ailing passages acceptably. The air-cooled four-cylinder, the largest in displacement, casually pushes out of the lower rev range. And the braking system can be carefully controlled. It remains a matter of taste whether such a retro racer should roll on cast wheels or rather on spoked wheels. It is astonishing that the Yamaha XJR 1300 Racer is also closed to ABS. This and a successful anniversary paint job would have looked better on the honorable XJR for its 20th cradle celebration than a revolutionary outfit.

After all, the impressive view of Brescia from the high-altitude restaurant “Le Cavrelle” makes Stefan gracious again. The prospect of the next ascent ten kilometers northeast of Brescia as well. But the rather flat driveway from Nave to Colle Sant’Eusebio (last hill climb in 1969) is more convincing on its continuation towards Lake Idro. We sway from curve to curve on our way north, not missing a single button games and overloaded displays. Somehow that day seems to have changed us. Was it the routes, the famous climbs to Vetriolo or to Monte Bondone? Also, first and foremost, it must have been the BMW R nineT, Honda CB 1100 EX, Triumph Thruxton and Yamaha XJR 1300 Racer.

Technical specifications



Power on the crankshaft. Measurements on the Dynojet roller test stand 250, corrected according to 95/1 / EG, maximum possible deviation ± 5%.

Rarely do the performance curves reflect the characters of the individual machines as well as they do with these retro bikes. The BMW R nineT gets off to the most impulsive. The unsteady torque curve of the boxer on the test bench cannot be felt in practice. The four-cylinder of the Yamaha XJR 1300 Racer follows the boxer on foot, but is a bit tougher in the lower rev range, but is more revving. The pious character of the Honda CB 1100 EX is clearly reflected in its unexcited torque curve. Just like the comparatively weak appearance of the Triumph Thruxton twin, who competes with a displacement handicap.

The mountains of Italy are calling


We rode these five slopes on retro bikes.

For many motorcycle enthusiasts of the sixties and seventies, the hill climbs made it easy for them to get into racing. The routes were mostly on the doorstep, even second-class material was enough for a good result – provided you had the right courage. Because there are no gravel beds and run-off zones on country roads. Falls often had fatal consequences. That is precisely why it has a very special charm to soak up the spirit of bygone racing times on these roads.

However: Without sporting ambitions, the focus shifts. Of the five pistes ridden on retro bikes, the climbs to Vetriolo Terme (1) and Monte Bondone (2) clearly offer the greatest potential for enjoyment. In addition, the surroundings of the two northernmost mountain race routes offer plenty of opportunities for further motorized climbing tours. A very hot tip: the Kaiserjägersteig starting at the Museo della Moto in Lochere (see below).

Retro bikes – numbers on trend

Modern technology in a classic outfit: the Ducati Scrambler uses the same recipe as BMW uses for the nineT – both with success.

Yamaha SR 400: Revival of the former SR 500 – sales disappointed

You have to be careful when proclaiming trends. Because: Only the BMW R nineT and the Ducati Scrambler give the classic segment the current momentum.

The stands of the accessory manufacturers and refiners at the motorcycle fairs are an informative showcase for the trends in the scene. After superbikes, as well as supermotos (1990s) and naked bikes (from the turn of the millennium), retro bikes have been attracting attention for some time. But it really does exist, the run on models with a classic look?

At least in the past few years, a look at the registration statistics is sobering. Apart from the classic cruisers, Triumph in particular covered the longing for old-school bikes. Best-selling model: the Triumph Bonneville. But even this classic has been bobbing between rank 58 and the current (as of June 2015) number 44 on the hit list in the last three years.

fact / Joachim Schahl

Kawasaki W 650: first classic attempt in 1999 – still current as the 800

The classic among the classics, the Kawasaki W 800, which has been available since 1999 (at that time with a displacement of 650 cc), is sold similarly. Currently, the vertical shaft twin is only 78th 400 last year. The 5,800 euro single sold in manageable numbers and is so far outside the top 150. The breakthrough of the retro wave – if you can speak of it – only came about very recently.

The BMW R nineT and the Ducati Scrambler literally stormed the charts this season. The Bavarian is currently in third place with 1,900 machines sold, the Italian in tenth place with a good 1000 units sold. The success of both manufacturers brought the same concept. Instead of copying previous models, current technology is packed into carefully selected, classic forms. By the way: the automobile manufacturers – BMW with the Mini, VW with the Beetle – have long since successfully demonstrated this recipe.


BMW R nineT, Honda CB 1100 EX, Triumph Thruxton and Yamaha XJR 1300 Racer all cut a fine figure.

BMW R nineT

BMW R nineT.

The air-cooled boxer in its final expansion stage: upside-down fork, monoshock, snappy brakes. And all of this stylishly packed in a classic case – that is exactly the BMW recipe for success. Even if the choice of words for a retro bike is too modern: the BMW R nineT rocks.

Honda CB 1100 EX

Honda CB 1100 EX.

The CB 1100 EX with the spoked wheels and the 4-in-2 system has succeeded in transferring its model, the CB 750 Four, into the modern era. And: With playful handling and the best of manners, the Honda CB 1100 EX is clearly the most stress-free retro bike to move.

Triumph thruxton

Triumph thruxton.

No one stays as close to the retro theme as the Thruxton. Almost every detail takes up the design language of the Roaring Sixties. The fact that it is ultimately much tamer on the road than its looks suggests actually fits that era – and therefore with the Triumph thruxton.

Yamaha XJR 1300 Racer

Yamaha XJR 1300 Racer.

The Yamaha XJR 1300 Racer does not need to be based on historical models. She is a myth herself. One for whom the conversion to a Café Racer has resulted in an uncomfortable seating position and poor handling. A good way to improve: just choose the basic version.

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