I love Cafe Racers. I have written about this before and talked about them on our Podcast. My good friend Erik is way into them (check out his blog at caferacers.wordpress.com). Almost any bike can be turned into a Cafe Racer. But…what is a Cafe Racer? I’m glad you asked.
A Cafe Racer is more than just a modified motorcycle, it’s also a type of motorcycle rider. The roots of a Cafe Racer go back to a British counterculture of the 1960’s. Did you ever see the movie Quadraphenia? The Mods and The Rockers. The Mods on their scooters…highly modified and stylized and The Rockers on their motorbikes…highly modified and sylized.Your basic culture clash of the 60’s. Both groups arrive at Brighton Beach, England for holiday. A brawl ensues …arrests are made, bikes and scooters destroyed. But wait, these guys were basically doing the same thing to two wheels, just a bit differently. The Mods were into modern music and style… picture The Beatles; The Rockers into classic 50’s American Rockabilly and leather jackets…picture Fonzie on the TV show Happy Days.
The origin of the Cafe Racer culture is really interesting. Post World War Two, soldiers coming home with some cash in their pockets and buying motorcycles. In Britain it started as a contest between riders sitting in a cafe drinking coffee, bragging about how fast they are…the race was on. But, this race was a bit different, it was not two riders on the road racing each other, that’s too easy.. This race was one rider racing against… the song on juke box in the cafe??! You pop your nickel into the juke box, pick a song, run out the door start your bike and ride to a designated turnaround point and back to the cafe before the song ended. Crazy indeed. Back at that time most songs were only about 2 to 2 1/2 minutes long and the roundtrip was somewhere around 3 miles. Do the math. You had to be riding really fast, usually over 100mph to make it back in time. That my friend is where the phrase ‘doing the ton’ came from. The ‘Ton’ was 100mph. Enough of Cafe Racer culture education, I want to build one.
So, how do I make a Cafe Racer? The basics are strip it of everything that is unnecessary. The lighter the better. Here in the USA that is how ‘Choppers’ got started, on The Continent (Europe) it was the Cafe Racer. I need to add here that there is ONE, count ’em, ONE American Cafe Racer and it is the only Harley Davidson I would love to own…the 1978 Harley XLCR.
I’ll start with this little old Honda SL350..why the SL?? Well, first off…it’s because I have one that runs great and no one wants to buy (it’s been on e-bay and Craigs list for a while) and because it has a double down tube frame instead of a flimsy single tube chassis, a steeper steering angle for quicker steering and it’s kick start only..very vintage and the cool factor is higher.
Drop in a CB front end so I can easily stick a better 18″ front wheel and tyre combo. Fork mods are easier on the CB as well. From there it’s simple stuff like brake shoe upgrades, better shocks, a set of clubman handlebars and a cool paint job.
My friend Erik is also going to build one out of the spare parts that I have. We’re going to make a contest out of this…looking at what he has to start with…and what his vision is…his will be cooler for sure. But I’ll be riding mine a lot sooner. Good luck Erik.