Back in 2020, BikeBrewers were invited to join the first edition of the Café Racer Fest in Kyustendil, Bulgaria. Unfortunately COVID had paralyzed the world and travel restrictions caused us to miss out on that event.
We followed the happening on social media while the enthusiasm of participants, visitors and bike builders vibrated through our screens. We knew we missed out on something special! We made a promise there and then, that we would do everything to make it to the 2021 edition. As we are always true to our word, there was no reason not to make the trip this time.
To team members Ron and Adnane it felt nearly as good as going on a road trip even though two flights, three cars but no bikes were involved in getting from Amsterdam to Kyustendil.
Arriving close to midnight, the organizer of the Café Racer Fest and spiritual father of the event, Ivan Mushev of Bull Moto Custom, had kindly arranged transportation from Sofia airport to the ski resort up in the mountains about half an hour up from town up a dark and twisty country road with al sort of wildlife crossing our headlights.
In order to make the most of the day breakfast was served early and we took off to the centre of town. The empty square would soon be the stage of an extraordinary event, attracting an sizable crowd of both participants and spectators. On the plaza of this nearly 40.000 inhabitant’s rich city, volunteers were busy setting the stage for things to come.
The Café Racer Fest harbours not only custom bikes but also offers a stage for vintage motorcycles and cars from all makes and years. There was quite a collection of incredibly beautiful Pre-Perestroika MZ’s, Jawa’s and Ural sidecars. Truly as if time stood still.
Talking about time, it is funny what the years do with your sense of beauty. Bikes that were considered hideous in the 60’s and 70’s Western Europeans are now considered attractive by the same crowd. Thanks to younger demographics, discovering the fun in riding, Eastern Bloc classic icons such as the 60’s MZ have now grown from being more hideous than the word itself to ultra-cool! We bet there will be quite some young urban riders who would not mind to be spotted on one of those former ‘monstrosities’, were it not that in most large European cities, those two-strokes will never be seen spewing their distinguishable blue exhaust plumes again.
Prior to the start of the event, a number of bikers and bike builders met at the local gas station for a ride out to the venue. Little over 150 bikers, nearly of which were modified in one way or another, joined in this brotherly gathering. The atmosphere was incredible; there is something quite special about seeing cafe racers being used for they were built.
There were three contemporary categories; Modern Classics, Scrambler & Brat, and Café Racers. BikeBrewers were given the task of selecting the Top 3 in the “Café Racer” category. We were given about twenty projects to choose from and had about an hour to finalize our task.
As we always do when judging bikes, we put together a matrix awarding points on a scale of 1-10 for elements such as the ‘Wow!’ factor, originality, quality of work & amp; paint, and craftsmanship and set out separately to do our first independent judging.
You’d expect this to be easy and give clear comparable results. No such thing! We had quite a hefty discussion and with the clock ticking away it required a final walk around to re-evaluate our choices. At the ‘strike of twelve’ we managed to come up with a Top 3 we could both fully subscribe to.
And the winner is…
A 1994 Yamaha XV1100 had scored high points on both our lists and was chosen ‘Best of show’ in this year’s Café Racer category. Its owner, Borislav Alexsov, has put quite a lot of hours in building this machine and is rightfully proud of the result. 2nd place went to Vencislav Angelov with his stunning 1984 Honda CBX 750, and 3rd place went to Kaloian Ivanchev Chekelev with his very cool BMW R75 which saw daylight in 1982.
All top 3 finalists were showered with gifts from local sponsors. To top it off BikeBrewers’ came bearing gifts from our partners Felix Auto Moto and SA1NT! adding a helmet and a sought after twill trucker cap to the basket of each of the category winners!
Come rain come shine
Bulgarians have been spoiled with loads of sunshine over the past couple of months. Unfortunately, rain was predicted during the hours of the event. The start of the award ceremony for the café racer category was launched with a clap of thunder followed by a slight drizzle. That made us feel like home instantly.
Luckily the audience was not scared away that easily, and there was quite a cheer from the several hundred people on the square. According to the organizers, the total attendance during this year’s edition the audience grew with 20% to around 2.500 visitors who meandered amongst all the beauty displayed on the town square this morning.
The next edition
Writing this post just before the party organized by the Cafe Racer Club Bulgaria, we are already spoiled by the kindness of the Bulgarians we met on the way, especially by the members of the café racer community.
As much as we love attending established events in Western European countries, we are always on the lookout for new, exciting and more grass roots experiences. This scene is way bigger and vibrant than you would ever dare to imagine. Everyone we met was proud of the results of their labour and insights are shared freely among this close-knit society.
We will be back for sure and hope the organizers can look forward to an even bigger crowd in 2022. Being the only international visitors this year, we share our experience with the knowledge that this is likely to be the last time we enjoyed this exclusivity.
Given the fact that there is a very lively local scene and magnificent twisty country roads and awesome virgin off road tracks to be travelled freely, it is likely many adventurous bikers from the West will be heading East next year.