A Cafe Racer motorcycle is a customized motorcycle based on an existing model or one that has been specifically built from scratch to mirror the style and feel. The goal is to make the bike more lightweight, stripping the bike down to its bare essentials, to give it better handling and a sportier appearance. Mods usually take the form of a café racer seat, commonly referred to as a “bum stopper”. And this, like the racing seat it takes its style cue from, prevents the rider slipping backwards during hard acceleration.
Shorter and lower handlebars are generally either clip-ons, attached to the fork legs, or ace bars which although mirror the riding position and attach to conventional handlebar clamps, give the rider a less extreme crouch.
Emission laws and decibel levels were still an unthinkable nightmare back in the day, and even though factory fitted silencers like the BSA ‘Goldie’ and the Norton ‘Peashooter’ were pretty loud, every café racer rider worth his salt would add either a long or short reverse cone mega. Alternatively, if he really disliked his neighbors, the insanely loud but seriously sexy ‘Tulip’.
As the vast majority of café racer bikes from the 50’s and 60’s were twin cylinder models, aftermarket exhaust systems were unheard off. Some bright, far thinking individuals however, borrowed the 2-1 downpipes from sidecar outfits or high level twin pipes from off road machines, to make their ride look extra cool.
As for how the actual style and shape of the café racer emerged, first we must look at the motorcycle models of the time and the one event that gave café racers their main inspiration, the Isle of Man TT. Fifty-plus years ago, bikes were either on or off-road models and the bikes that thundered around the most grueling and dangerous race course in the world, were merely street bikes with bum stopper seats and loud exhausts.
Bikes like the legendary 140mph Manx Norton, BSA Goldstar (70mph in first gear) Velocette Venom and Triumph Bonneville, were all available on the showroom floor. Regularly seen at famous meeting venues around London like the Ace Café and Busy Bee, racing from café to café gave the bikes their name. Reaching the magic 100mph added to their mystique still further and the infamous Ton-up Club was born.
Nowadays, the subculture continues to grow rapidly; more and more people want a personal, one of a kind, distinctive bike. Motorcycle brands like Triumph, Moto Guzzi and BMW also bring back the old days in their designs, delivering stock café racer style machines.