The history and culture of the Café Racers

Back in the 60s while in the United States more and more bickers adopted the Easy Riders approach of customizing their two wheeled machines, in Europe was blowing also a wind of change but with a slightly different appeal. By the late 60s, slowly the Café Racer started to emerge.


There are many stories about the origin of the Café Racer therm. Some state that in London people started to chop their bikes in order to make them lighter and faster in order to race each other from bar to bar on Saturday nights. Other rumors state that the Café Racer therm started by bickers who played around pretending to race on the Isle of Man. The Café Racer can be distinguished easily from the pack and it’s basically a naked race bike. Usually low mounted clip on handlebars and the solo seat back end make a distinctive trademark for the Café Racer. Many engines in the past were modified for optimal performance and often were complemented by loud custom exhaust pipes.


The bikes

Back in the 60s the most popular manufacturer that was preferred by bickers was without any doubt the Triumph. With the fine T150 Trident or with the legendary Bonneville, many Triumph motorcycles went thru cosmetic changes that often were performed by their owners. Having more curvy narrow country roads than long wide highways like in the US, many European bickers worked their magic to set the Racers as maneuverable and as light as possible. One of the best bikes that could be converted in the late 60’s in to a Café Racer was the Norton Commando, an 190kg, 58BHP parallel twin speed daemon. With a top speed of 190km/h in stock, the Commando was simply a hooligan machine. Other bikes were simply build by cannibalizing different motorcycles from different manufacturers in order to obtain the perfect combination.  Later on, also Japanese motorcycles were chosen to be transformed in to Café Racers with names like Honda CB750, Suzuki GS550 and Kawasaki Z1000. Although being more reliable and sometimes maneuverable than their British counterparts, they somehow lost their British accent.


The Culture

But the Café Racer culture doesn’t stop once the bikes were parked. There was also the bad boy attitude that was complementing the scene. In London, in particular, the Rockers were in the attention of the police and in the attention of people in general. With their black leather jackets and tight skinny jeans, these types of bickers were easy to spot in the crowd. One of the favorite meeting places for Rockers and bickers in general, was London’s Ace Café. From there regular Aces started to race each other. Another trick back then was to put a single track from Elvis or Eddie Cochran on the jukebox and then start racing around the block. If the song was finished by the time the riders got back, it was considered that they have lost the race. But despite their attitude, and although visited by law enforcements Rockers and regular Aces were more in to their motorcycles then violence.


Today the Café Racer is still a popular machine and despite not as fancy as the traditional American chopper, it still has thousands of fans around the world. In fact, today there is an entire range of modern classics available on the market from different manufacturers like the Triumph Thruxton, the Moto Guzzi V7 or the Yamaha XJR 1300. With these motorcycles but also with the spirit that was launched back in the golden age of riding, the Cult of the Café Racer will surely live on!


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