What is a cafe racer? With so many motorcycle styles on the market today, the “café racer” motorcycle has earned a well-defined spot in the Powersports industry. With its spartan appearance and aggressive styling, the café racer is one of the most distinctive and sought after styles in the motorcycle world.
A café racer started as a garage-customized motorcycle based on an existing model or one that has been specifically built from scratch to mirror the style and feel. They are known for being lightweight because they are stripped down to its bare essentials to provide better handling and a sportier vintage appearance.
Known more for its speed and handling rather than comfort, the café racer is meant for quick rides over short distances. Due to its visual minimalism, the café racer has become a popular bike for motorcyclists around the globe.
What is a Cafe Racer?
A cafe racer is a style of custom motorcycle that first appeared in the UK during the 1950s and 1960s. They were the motorcycles ridden by members of the Rocker or Ton-Up Boy subculture. Cafe racers were created out of a desire to look good and go fast.
During the sixties, groups of cafe racers would commonly be found gathering at transport cafes along arterial motorways. These cafes became the hub for socializing with other enthusiasts and the place to arrange illegal street races.
Cafe Racer History
The cafe racer was born in the 1950s when European motorcyclists began to modify their motorcycles to compete in races. The bikes were stripped of heavy components and had their engines tuned for maximum speed.
The words ‘café racer‘ come from the English counterculture of the 60s, particularly from cities like Walford and London. It describes a certain type of custom motorcycle but also a certain style and subculture.
The term “café racer” comes from British slang, meaning “coffee shop racer”. The bikes were originally created for use in the competitive racing circuit.
In ‘café racer‘ you find the word ‘race’. In the 60s, a café racer was a plain motorbike used to drive from one café to another along English roads. The goal of a café racer was to make the round trip between both cafés before the end of a song played on the juke box. The loser would offer the next round, of cafés of course.
To improve the performances of the bike, you had to strip it from all accessories. They would use a single seat and put a right handlebar directly on the fork to make it easier to handle and to limit the wind factor. Although not for performance reasons, the fuel tank on the bikes was often stripped of paint and left as plain aluminum, more due a shortage of resources than style.
All unnecessary weight, fairings, and accessories were removed and the motorbike was prepared to reach the optimal speed. In the 60s, the goal was to reach 100 mph.
Today, the term ‘café racer‘ has become popular and many manufacturers use it to describe a motorbike range. For this new generation of motorbikes, the goal is no longer to improve the performances, the handling ability or the speed but essentially to get this vintage design that you can then customize as you wish.
Cafe Racer Style
Café racers are quite light in weight and feature a minimalist appearance along with a highly tuned engine. All these motorbikes have been manufactured such that they are able to allow the rider to lean forward plus tucked in as close to the bike’s body as possible, thus making an aerodynamic as well as a maneuverable machine.
Most of the café riders take pride in producing the custom bikes since it helps to showcase their efficiency as well as ingenuity as expert mechanics. The majority of the riders begin by getting rid of the stock handlebars and swapping them using low-mounted clip-on ones.
Nevertheless, the person who is mechanically inclined will go much beyond the fundamental aspects and delve deep into the finer aspects.
The riders of the café racer bikes typically add custom suspension. The spring rates as well as dampening are exclusive to the bike as well as its rider. As a result, you ought to look into fresh shocks and a fork kit for optimum speed as well as performance; however, perform your own research and do not think twice while spending.
Adding lightness is a typical phrase which is used at present in the world of racing which implies the reduction of the weight of the whole bike. A bike which is lighter is going to feature faster pickup as well as speed. There are various means for doing this by swapping the tires, brakes, and rims.
It will be possible to improve your steering as well as leaning ability quickly by upgrading the tires of the bike. You can minimize the gyroscopic effect by going from a 19” wheel to an 18” wheel and this will provide you with a more agile motorbike which will be able to transition through leans and turns quickly and easily.
Furthermore, using aluminum rims instead of steel rims for those 18” wheels will aid in minimizing your bike’s weight significantly.
Make it a point to switch out the brakes for allowing smaller and lighter hubs along with superior stopping ability. You might go for fresh pads and braided stainless brake lines or anything original to the bike, whichever gives better results for you.
Cafe Racer Performance
As for performance improvements, the most respected machines of the 50s merged powerful engines with the best performing frames. Norton’s featherbed frame became an icon of the cafe racer scene due to its revolutionary design. The featherbed offered hugely improved handling and it was possible to shoehorn many different engines into a featherbed frame.
Riders would also eke more power out of their engines by adding aftermarket exhaust systems and different carburetors. A cafe racer’s ultimate goal was to be to reach the revered 100 miles per hour or ‘the ton’.
Modern Cafe Racers
Today the term cafe racer is used pretty loosely and they are no longer limited to British made motorcycles. The abundance, availability, and price of alternatives has led to the style being applied to just about every make and model of motorcycle. This makes selecting a donor for a cafe racer project a personal choice rather than it being dictated by availability.
When the “new wave” custom scene exploded around 2009 some of the most common platforms for cafe racer builds were based on the Honda CB750, Yamaha SR400, Triumph Hinkley Bonnevilles and many of the BMW airheads from the 60s through to the 90s.
If you stick to these basic styling and performance modifications you can pretty much lay claim to owning a cafe racer. One important thing to remember though is that any cafe racer should outperform the stock version of itself. So If you’re customizing a Yamaha XS650, for instance, your XS650 cafe racer should have more power or at least handle better than it did in its stock form.
Most of the major motorcycle manufacturers now produce off-the-shelf cafe racers like the Triumph Thruxton R, Kawasaki Z900RS Cafe and BMW R Nine T Racer. These “modern classics” are usually based on existing models and tend to be styling exercises rather than offering any performance improvements.
Purists will tell you there’s no such thing as a factory-built cafe racer, but for unskilled enthusiasts who want a bike with cafe racer styling, they offer an easy alternative to building one themselves.
Cafe Racer Culture
Since the dawn of the cafe racer trend, a large cultural following has emerged, with vast numbers of social media groups, websites, shows, clubs and retro specific cafes appearing.
The Bike Shed is one of the most exclusive, based in London’s trendy Shoreditch, hewn from some old Railway arches. It offers visitors a high-end meeting point, with a restaurant, barbers, tattoo parlour and accessory shop. I particularly love the way you enter from the main road, having to ride through the diner’s tables to get to the secure car park.
Other places dotted around the country include Idle Torque, Koti Autotalli and Caffeine and Machine. All offer a place to meet, eat and purchase popular clothing brands such as Deus ex Machina, Fuel, Gold Top and Kytone.
What makes it a cafe racer?
Cafe racers (sometimes referred to as cafe motos) are characterized by their minimalistic stripped down design, which includes a small engine and frame, low seat height, and long, low-slung clip-on handlebars, and foot pegs pushed back to lower the riding profile.
This makes for a riding position made for speed and handling. They are largely custom bikes individualized to suit the style of the rider.
What is the purpose of a cafe racer?
The original purpose of cafe racers was for racing, and defined a persons style and self-expressions. Most cafe racers start out as a stock bike like a Triumph Thruxton but have aftermarket modifications to suit the need and style of the biker. Their purpose is to go fast and be nimble in the turns.
Are cafe racers comfortable?
With their low-slung handlebars and pushed back foot pegs, they are designed for speed and agility, not comfort. They are a great style for short quick rides or an afternoon on the back winding country roads, but not long trips or adventuring.
What is the difference between a scrambler and a cafe racer?
Cafe racers are characterized by their minimalistic stripped down design, which includes a small engine and frame, low seat height, and long, low-slung clip-on handlebars, and foot pegs pushed back to lower the riding profile. This makes for a riding profile made for speed and handling.
A scrambler has an off-road look and is designed to be able to tackle dirt roads with ease. As long as they are not too extreme. They can also be used on paved roads without a problem. Some legends say they were designed to navigate the dirt back roads that interlinked roads and highways
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