As unfortunate as the film Tron: Legacy may have been for fans of the original Tron, it got one thing right: café racers were the future. The film celebrates its 10th anniversary very soon, and it’s time we gave it another chance.
Look: The move is fine. Just fine. It was less interested in delivering a compelling narrative than it was in showing off Disney’s VFX prowess, but the director and actors did well with what the writers gave them. The music is so good, better than it has any right to be. And the motorcycles are radical, man.
Of course the light-cycles are great but the Flynns also pilot two incredible Ducatis, a 1978 900 SS, and a 2006 Sport 1000 Biposto. The Ducati logo is basically a character in the movie, not that I’m complaining. BMW Motorrad makes a cameo, too, with a 2006 R 1200 appearing early on, ridden by the police officer who chases Sam Flynn in the memorable opening. All these years later, I’m still unsure exactly how Sam kills his headlight in this scene:
But the film most notably predicted the direction motorcycling would take — or retake — for the better part of the following decade. In the years following the film’s release, café racers would become a mainstream idea of what a motorcycle looked like, and many of the major manufacturers would go on to release their own modern versions.
Royal Enfield released the Continental GT in 2015. This is the latest iteration, the GT 650:
BMW Released the R nine T Racer in 2016:
Honda introduced its Neo-Sports Café in 2017:
Husqvarna took the Vitpilen from a much-anticipated concept through to production, and much like the Honda above, it blurs the line between a UJM and café racer. But look at that headlight! It looks like a Tron light disc:
Triumph still sells this modern nod to café racers, the Thruxton:
Of all the motorcycles that producers could have picked to represent motorcycling in the film, they chose café racers. They could have gone with an American cruiser, or a Japanese sports bike or a German off-roader. Instead, they went with the British café racer — yes, Ducati is Italian but café racers came to prominence on British roads.
The aesthetics of café racers may have been partly responsible for the bikes being in the movie. They have profiles that are simultaneously classic and futuristic. Just look at this 1979 Ducati Mike Hailwood Replica:
But the riding position may have played a role, too. Café racers are not the most comfortable motorcycles, with their rear-set foot pegs and low clip-on handlebars. They trade rider comfort for aerodynamics and handling, much like the light-cycles on the grid. Sport bikes have a similar riding position, but may have been the wrong look for the movie. They don’t much look like a light-cycle, with their angular approach and slicing profiles.
While café racers may not cut through the air as well a modern sport bike, they seemed to cut the right lines for the film designers and producers. We could trace a line from the two Ducs in the film to the light cycles, and it would track.
It’s a shame that Ducati discontinued the Sport 1000 — curiously enough, doing so prior to Tron: Legacy’s release, even as the movie showed it off. Ducati went on to ride another classic bike comeback with the Scrambler, so it made out fine.
The café racers we saw in the decade after the film’s release are some of the best bikes that have come out in a while, and motorcycling is all the richer for them. They certainly do not owe their existence to Disney, but Tron: Legacy was prescient about the motorcycles that would soon light up the roads and our daydreams.