What IS a Cafe Racer?

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What IS a Cafe Racer?

Post  Beachcomber on Wed 1 Jun - 15:41

Here we go, just what IS a Cafe Racer? [ probably been discussed before - if so accept my apologies ]. Wink

Here's my take on the subject. My credentials............... I was a Cafe Racer / Coffee Bar Cowboy / Ton Up kid back in the day as I started riding legally in 1960. Cool I built literally hundreds of "specials" which later became known as Cafe Racers, so I have a pretty defined idea of what a Cafe Racer WAS - but I'm equally open minded to what a Cafe Racer has become and all it's evolutions over the decades.

so -
1. Original 1960's Cafe Racer - factory modified bike modified privately in the style of a circuit racing bike - these would be Manx Norton, AJS 7R, Matchless G50, Gold Star, etc. ALL out of reach financially of your average motorcycle enthusiast.
Essentially these would have Clip-Ons, rear set rests, a large alloy / GRP tank and a SINGLE race style seat and a reverse cone megga exhaust or a Goldie silencer. Most would have lights [ but not all ] and alloy rims on the wire spoked wheels would be the [ expensive ] icing on the cake.
Bikes would mostly be British, with some small Italian stuff and the odd BMW Airhead.

Sidecar outfits also came in for the same treatment and were very popular in the mid 60's - as by fitting a chair got you 50% discount on your insurance!
Engine tuning was largely a home grown affair - or at least you "knew a mate who could".

The 60's spawned a rash of Hybrids - the most popular being Tritons and Tribsas - although Tricatis, Trifields and others were popular. It was an era of cheap gas, and no speed limits on the open roads. My personal favourites were Tribsas - although I built / owned just about every possible combination. Manx / Goldie was another nice bike I owned.

2. The '70's saw the first of the Japanese bikes to get the Cafe Racer treatment, but most were similar to the 60's bikes but with the addition of lifesaving disc brakes [ front at least ] The late 60's and early 70's also saw the dawn of the specialist suppliers - like Dresda, Unity and others. Bikes could then be put together much more simply by mail ordering your parts, rather than make them yourself. The beginning of the "let's all be different together" mail order Cafe Racer.

3. The '80's saw the emergence of the newer Japanese Factory Race replicas, and bikes suddenly sported twin disc front and maybe disc rear as well as almost universally - alloy cast wheels. Brit Bikes were getting very thin on the ground AND expensive, so older Cafe Racers turned to the Italian bikes and BMW Airheads - where the touring versions could be bought cheaply AND offered a bit of "class" against the Japanese Imports.

4. The 90's and up - yes, here we have the modern Cafe Racer - The Race Replica. Styling was "Endurance Racer".

5. The new wave Cafe Racers - or Specials - whatever it takes [ imagination ] usually with excellent engineering and fabrication which just wasn't available to the masses in the 60's.

So here we are all together on this site, but creating vastly differing "Cafe Racers" - and some are an amalgam [ sometimes NOT very harmonious ] of eras and styles.
Point in case - the cover Bonnie on the last years' Cafe Racer Magazine - there's so much wrong with the mixed styles, it's difficult to know where to start - so I won't.

Personally I don't care what pigeon hole you want to put a bike into - as far as I'm concerned once someone puts their stamp on a machine - admire or loathe it for what it is, not the effort to create it.

To me a Cafe Racer will always fall under the heading of #1 - oh yes, I WILL accept a disc front brake...............................
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Re: What IS a Cafe Racer?

Post  Toecutter on Wed 1 Jun - 18:21

Oi m8te, nice to make a good topic, it has been rumbled before, but, here's my opinion.

A caferacer isnt just a word , its an understanding, a meaning , a different kind of bike from the '60 til '70 maybe early 80's!


Many sportsbikes are cut up and mocked up to be a cafe , nah nah , wrong, Carbs, Drums/discs in the 70's , cables , etc...!! its a Must !

Caferacer has to be put in the world dictionary ...as a piece of its own.

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Re: What IS a Cafe Racer?

Post  Beachcomber on Thu 2 Jun - 12:11

Toecutter,

that's why I posted this.............the term "Cafe Racer" was born in an era and specific to that era - IMO. "Specials" seems to fit the bill for later creations.

I think it's all about the mental image you get when someone says the word.......

A bit like "Mod", or "Rocker", or "Ballet Dancer"...you know what I mean. Wink
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Re: What IS a Cafe Racer?

Post  ton-upkid on Thu 2 Jun - 23:47

Great to read this... Sure is nice that someone tells how things really was on those great cafe racer days. And You're really the one to tell... as being there!

Cheers!

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Re: What IS a Cafe Racer?

Post  Beachcomber on Fri 3 Jun - 11:40

OK Ton-upkid thanks for the kind words,

yes I was there in the day and loved every minute of it. Laughing There were a lot of myths that became folklore - and which were total B******s !!!!!
Like "record racing" [ Actually "Juke box racing" ] - only happened in the newspapers - or for the newspapers.

Now then I suspect that many of you trawl the same sites I do - I'm STILL learning !!

I'm a regular over on DTT where I have a sticky thread called "Beachcomber's Tales from the Day" - little stories [ all true ] from the period about some of the tales that befell me.

Actually no foul I guess, as the link to this site came from the DTT site !!

Not sure about the protocol, but I could post up a taster here if anyone's interested? Cool - someone let me know. Question

What I found over on the DTT site was that my tales sparked off other BOF's like me to tell thir tales - stuff you couldn't get to read in any book, but the real nitty gritty.
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Re: What IS a Cafe Racer?

Post  Toecutter on Sun 5 Jun - 11:04

Beachcomber wrote:Toecutter,

that's why I posted this.............the term "Cafe Racer" was born in an era and specific to that era - IMO. "Specials" seems to fit the bill for later creations.

I think it's all about the mental image you get when someone says the word.......

A bit like "Mod", or "Rocker", or "Ballet Dancer"...you know what I mean. Wink

hehe very true good sir!

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Re: What IS a Cafe Racer?

Post  turbodog on Thu 16 Jun - 3:27

OK, I'll play.
The term Cafe Racer brings to my mind, of course, guys racing their modified bikes around the cafes and listening to early rock n' roll. But, even more it brings to my mind the process of swap meets, horse-trading for parts, tinkering in a greasy garage, fitting parts from different marques and models together in a way never in tended by their designers - to improve performance and create a completely personal expression of their individual motorcycling passion. But always, with performance the first priority. This is the part of the cafe racer culture I most embrace, so the bikes I am cobbling together follow this tradition, but not any specific styling or technical description that one would classify as 'cafe racer'.

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Re: What IS a Cafe Racer?

Post  Beachcomber on Sat 18 Jun - 12:12

Hey turbodog - nice to meet you over here !

I'm surprised [ ? ] that there hasn't been more response - maybe that's because this site is primarilly Euro based - although like ALL web forums - Worldwide in it's contact.

I was ineterested to hear what the mainland European take on the subject might be as I'm not familiar with the scene [ if there was one ] in Europe in the 60's

Over on the DTT site, my question elicited literally 100's of responses - and also very varied in their take on the definition.

As to your response - you have described the ethos of a Cafe Racer PERSONALITY to the tee and I agree 100% - It's the definition of actual machines I find more "elastic", especially in the USA.

Your description fits the need of folk over the years to march to their own drumbeat - after all Hot Rodders [ Customisers, Cafe Racers, whatever ] were around a LONG time before restorers !!! Think about it for a minute. Cool
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Re: What IS a Cafe Racer?

Post  turbodog on Sat 18 Jun - 15:38

Hah! you're right... I was describing the cafe racer PERSON/CULTURE - not the bike. I guess I was stuck on your initial comment "I was a cafe racer" even though you clearly went on to focus on the bike, rather than the person.

As for the bikes, back in the day, they worked with what was available at the time and place. Both bikes, parts, and the racing technology they emulated. We (OK, "I") do the same today, except there are a LOT more things available today. For example, back in the late 50's, early 60's, if a factory turbo bike existed, and began to show up in the breaker yards... how long do you think it would have taken for a used turbo to show up on a completely different model bike at the Ace Cafe? Not long, I bet. DIY EFI - more of a stretch, but those lads (no offense Wink ) got pretty inventive with carbs - if EFI could be had back then for, say, a week's pay.......

In summary, of course a 'classic' cafe racer bike will fit a certain mold. That style and technology is fixed in history, and there is nothing wrong with enthusiasts who want to stick with it. Folks have fun re-enacting old military eras and battles. One does not show up at a 1800's battle re-enactment with an M-16. On the other hand, the culture and people evolve, and a modern expression of the cafe racer culture may very well include a lot of technology that was not available back then. It's all good!

And, yes, the distinction between modding and restoring (or creating a historic replica) is key. I'm definitely in the former category.

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Re: What IS a Cafe Racer?

Post  Bud64 on Thu 23 May - 23:22

What does a Cafť Racer mean to me?
This I the fealings I have about this subject.


When Iím thinking of a Cafť Racer I picture a classic motorcycle, somewhere between 1960ís to 1980 air cooled and kick start.

Perhaps a bike that had been left for dead, a basket case or just an old dust collector, but it doesnít matter. Itís the bones of the classic and that simple, but basic design that calls to me. Itís not some high tech cookie cutter bike, which looks just like the next one parked beside it. No, itís a bike I built with sweat and blood in the back of my garage and Iíve called her every name in the book.

At the end when I take her out on the road Iíll forget all that pain and headaches. The bike and I will be at peace and the road will be ours.

So, it doesnít matter if the chrome and paint are perfect or if sheís a 250 or 750. The only thing that matters is your proud of her and you canít wait to open her up on the road.

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Re: What IS a Cafe Racer?

Post  BenG on Mon 2 Dec - 7:15


I don't think motorcycles have much to do with what a cafe racer is, to me it is a person who likes motorcycles and likes to ride them fast. They are not racing on a track but they might be racing themselves or some friends on public roads.

I have a number of period photos showing "rockers" of the late 50s and early 60s, and they are on mostly stock motorcycles with very few visible modifications. My father was a small-time Matchless dealer/racer in the 50s and early 60s, and he and his buddies were just happy to have a newer stock bike that ran to it's potential, a 500 or 650cc engine was what they coveted. If they had any money for modifications that was a rare bonus. My father had a plunger Goldstar he was fond of and his brother had a G12cs Matchless, they rode them on the road and raced them on the track, along with whatever else they could get their hands on.

Now days you see pretty much the same thing, kids riding fast on newer sport bikes of 600-1000cc, and most of them don't do too much to them mechanically, they might polish them up or paint them and that is it.

I am not a fan of the aesthetic/fashion movement that is neo-cafe.

My favorite motorcycles and era is the late 50s and early 60s that I grew up with. A nicely tuned but mostly original British single or twin, nothing from 1963 or later. Outside of that the only thing that catches my eye is if I see something that is actually representative of some historical era.

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