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Readers Respond to “Cafe Racers”

We had quite a response to our request that our readers weigh in on the increasing popularity of “cafe racers”. Here they are in their unedited form.

  • Café racers rock! A buddy a me hobby with these things all the time. My current project is a CB550 and his is a GT750. I am sure we each have under $1000 into the bikes total and they will turn more heads than any new ride out there. My last project was a xs650 turned old school bobber, love the bike hate putting gas in it. Always turns into a 20 minute affair, after 3 or 4 locals want to discuss their youthful transgressions on some old bike they owned in the 50’s or 60’s. On the other hand it does make me feel good that we can recreate memories.

    I have lots of bikes but the ones that are old and cost next to nothing put the biggest smiles on my face!  Jeff

  • Great to see the renewed interest in cafe bikes. I started by putting drag bars on my Kawasaki Avenger when I was in high school. Currently, in addition to my Ducati 1098 TriColor, I have this Honda; a ’67 Superhawk frame with a CB350F engine. Ed
  • Two years ago, my wife and I walked across England. Our trek began in
    Arnside, on the Irish Sea. The sister of the owner of the Ace Cafe runs
    a fish and chips place in Arnside. Good stuff.  Bob

  • Hey guys, did you see the documentary that is about to debut about the Slimey Crud Run? It’s called American Cafe . . .
    http://2soc.net/americancafe/
    Saw an early copy of it and it was pretty cool. I have done quite a few SCRs so obviously I’m biased :D Might want to check it out.  John

  • What would you say is the difference in a Cafe Racer and a streetfighter? Maybe not much more than the era of the bike. Otherwise aren’t they very much the same.? A bike stripped to it’s performance elements in the 60′s was a Cafe Racer. A sportbike, without plastic and some simple lights is a Streetfighter. But the bike itself, aren’t they the same idea built with the same riding style in mind?  Alex
  • Been around motorcycles for a long time and remember the “cafe racers” I seems today the “naked” bikes have filled that area. Aero bodywork heavily modified of severly cut back to limit visual crash damage. Most these modern bikes will get “over the ton” in second or third gear.  Billy

  • The cafe racer thing has been underground for years. Now that the latest chopper craze seems to have run it’s course, it is time for the next big thing. Cafe racer is now the newest cool. Shame really, as I enjoyed it more when it was a cult thing, not mainstream.

    Low bars, Ace Cafe decals, and checkerboard tape don’t make a cafe racer.

    But I do appreciate a well executed cafe racer. It takes a lot of effort to build a bike that looks good and performs well. Not all succeed.

    BTW, I have attached a picture of my “cafe racer” a reproduction of a BSA Lightning Clubman…fun bike….Rich

  • I have long loved the look of the Cafe Racer. I built my own version from a Honda 350 in the early 80′s (because that was ride at that time. Combining the look of a serious road racer with streetability represents an ideal for me.
    As you have picked up on, the Triton may be the best looking of all. The Honda pictured looks like a Bol d’Or Endurance racer from the 80′s. My current ride is a Hinckley Triumph Bonneville. Love it!  Cortes

  • Loved your daily on cafe racers. We think cafe racers are a cool, retro ride nowadays. It just so happens we have a custom 1990 Honda GB500, fitted out with an overbore (102.5, 13 to 1 compression) XR600 head, R90S fairing, and lots of other little goodies…pic attached. It draws heads everytime we take it out!  Doug
  • This motorcycle, the cafe racer powered by a CB750 engine, is stunningly handsome! Every curve and line on it exudes grace and taste, and the paint scheme, which ices the cake, is the perfect icing for this particular cake. The fuel tank has a clean overall shape and the top surface is mostly flat but then slopes steeply at the back. The pronounced dip in the seat is a prominent element of the bike’s overall shape, and this is accentuated perfectly by the white stripe which is in the shape of a big vee. The point of the vee is located on the small covers. The person who had the “eye” to visualize this effect was an artistic genius as far as I am concerned. The concave dip in the lower edge of the seat cowling is soooo much better looking than if it had simply been a straight edge. The main cowling is lovely, the main side cowlings are lovely, the separation of the side cowlings from the tank is lovely and as it should be. Even the simple, dual round headlights are lovely. The matte black pipes are lovely! What better way to make pipes attractive while avoid making them ostentatious, than painting them matte black?! If the person who owns this lovely bike wants to hold on to it, they had better not let Jay Leno see it!  Tom
  • I love the Cafe Racer look! Just wish I had the mechanical skills to marry parts from several different bikes into one. :(  Robert
  • I’d love to see this kind of retro take root again and flourish. Reminded me of back when where my brother kitted his Honda CB500 Four with fiberglass tank and seat cowl, added rearsets, Tomeselli clip-ons and added a Kerker 4 into 1 exhaust. Looked very cool, sounded very cool made you felt cool riding it. The Brits still love building these. Anything to distract us from cruisers!  Rick
  • I’ve long been a connoisseur of Café Racers, having owned a Dunstall equipped Trident and a converted KZ750 Twin. So, I’m more than happy for the recent renaissance of the Ton-Up style and am chomping at the bit to get back involved.

    One trip though the Internet will reveal a growing aftermarket that will allow the conversion of almost any bike to café racer style. I’m also glad to see that manufacturers like Triumph, Ducati and Moto Guzzi have built machines that reflect this look.

    After going through the whole chopper thing, to see newer, younger riders embrace simple, clean bikes that they have created themselves, without spending ridiculous amounts of money, makes me hopeful for the future of our sport.  Pete

  • Well here goes a perspective from North of the boarder , Grande Prairie Alberta actually . I have been an active motorcyclist for more than 30 years now and work at the dealer ship lever for 15 of those years and I now find myself back to the beginning . I have had bike as big as 1500 cc and horsepower up to around 140hp . Now I am going back to the beginning , back to the bikes that made me excited “cafe bikes ” so far I have restored a 1973 Yamaha tx650a with clubman bars and nice paint with a good seat . As well a 1982 Honda MB5 maybe not what you expect when i say “cafe bike ” but it was pretty cool for a small bike. My present project is a 1977 Honda CB400F Super Sport , All of these bike have and will make me happy They also remind me as to why I got into motorcycles , They created a thrill and pushed you to go faster , There were consequences if you made a mistake . Now a 16 year old can go out and purchase a 600 cc super bike that at 100 mph plus feels like you can do no wrong . Could this be the reason that many super bikes and there riders never see there next birthday? Bring back the bikes ” cafe bikes” that created a thrill made you push your self and machine made you a little uncomfortable when you pushed past the limit of the bike and made the owner a better rider , inspired mechanic and all round better motorcyclist. Attached is one picture of My 1973 tx650a and 1982 Honda MB5 and a show last year.  Kent
  • The café racer is the purest embodiment of street motorcycling; sparse and light, with every engine and chassis component honed for speed. Bare knuckled and snarling, they are but one gene apart from the GP racer and an entire DNA distant from an American chopper.  Gary
  • I love both the bikes pictured and would take either in a heartbeat.

    Because of my size (6-3 240 lbs) I’d prefer a Cafe Racer in a “proper” UK chassis with a motor from Suzuki’s first foray in to 4-strokes, being the supremely smooth and wonderful GS750 DOHC air-cooled, 2-valve. I’ve put many miles on this motor; it’s hard to beat.

    Second choice might be overkill. I’ve never owned a big-bore old-school Kawi, so something built around the ’81-’84 KZ1000J (or employing its motor) would also be a stellar ride.

    My best guess, though, is that the GS750 motor would be much smoother and more enjoyable overall for that reason. I had several late 70s GS1000 and always enjoyed switching rides with my friend on a 1977 GS750. The glossies of the day didn’t focus on it, but the 750 had a more fun flickability compared to the 1000 even though the 1000 was only marginally heavier.

    Finally, I would just LOVE a 1980 Honda CBX in the very rare black. The 80 had improved swingarm bearings and possibly the steering head too. I’ll take the OEM “Sport Kit” (cast low bars, rearsets, cables/linkage), 6-1 header (after proper carb jetting, blipping the throttle at stop lights and the resulting lightning fast growl/rumble will make you want to have its baby…like a finely tuned a/c flat 6 Porsche but much better), cams from the ’79 (80 cams were detuned, maybe for emissions and OEM fear that it made too much power). Needed new shocks before it left the factory. Wish the frame could handle USD forks but highly doubtful. Color matched quarter fairing optional, maybe the classic bullet style of the day w/ tinted shield, maybe my classic unused Rifle Superbike fairing, maybe naked…”It’s all good”, as the saying goes. Shoot, I’d even take the red or silver CBX.   Jimbo

  • It is really ironic that you wrote about cafe’ racers today. I also have noticed over the past few years a growing underground movement for cafe’ racers, especially in Detroit, Chicago, Milwaukee and Indianapolis. Much to my surprise I saw your article today and just had to write in.

    I just finished up a year and 1/2 long project on my 2007 Triumph Thruxton 900. It has been a dream of mine to have a Thruxton that had incredible power, handling and vintage styling with modern technology. The best of what is old meets the best of what is new.

    Below is a list of what modifications I made to the bike. I have not yet had a chance to dyno my bike but we are hoping for at least 70 rear wheel horsepower. Stock is about 55 at the crank on a Thruxton.

    • 904 piston kit from TriumphperformanceUSA
    • Triumph Bonneville 790 cams
    • Triumph Arrow 2-2 system
    • Lightened flywheel from D&D Pensacola FL
    • Mikuni HSR 42mm flatslide carbs from Great Bay Triumph
    • Raised ECU from TriumphPerformance USA- now 9000 rpm redline
    • Airbox eliminator kit- NARC
    • Ported and polished cylinder head with oversize valves
    • Excel wide wheel kit
    • Continental Road Attacks with 110/18 front and 160/ 17 rear
    • Beringer 6 piston caliper and radial master cylinder
    • Ace drop bars- custom made and adjustable for sweep
    • Halcyon bar end mirrors (work great and made in the UK)
    • Kawasaki ZRX1200 shocks (longer, bolt right on and fully adjustable)
    • Honda CBR F3 front fork conversion (bolts right on, cartridge fork and adjustable)
    • Ignition relocation (now on the dash just below the speedo/ tach)
    • Upgraded headlight to new Bonneville style
    • MAS Engineering Polished Aluminum Flyscreen
    • British Customs Fork Brace
    • Painted front fender
    • LED tail light and LED turn signals relocated inside the subframe tubes
    • Triumph Thruxton gel seat
    • Triumph Thruxton black skid plate

    Cafe’ racers have always interested me. I am 36 and had my fair share of sportbikes from Yamaha FZR400 to R6 to R1, and Triumphs from Daytona 1200 to Daytona 675. However in the real world these bikes are an absolute blast to ride and in my opinion, they really capture the essence of motorcycling and why it means so much to me.

    I hope to see some more articles on these in the future on Motorcycledaily.com.  Erik

  • Café racers are beautiful ….clubmans. rearsets, bum stopper seats, bar end mirrors, long beautiful sometimes polished tanks. Unfortunately they don’t fit this 60 year old body anymore. If I were young and supple again, I’d much rather have a Café Racer than one of today’s repli-racers.  Mickey
  • Loved the pic of the CB750 café racer. The only thing you were missing is context.

    It’s not like today and taking your GSXR out to a stretch of 4 lane Interstate and winding it up to 100. Imagine doing 100 on narrow winding 2 lane British roads, where the shoulder of the road is a brick wall or hedgerow. Look at the picture of the Triton. Notice the bendy tubular steel frame, not big wide aluminum extrusions. Note the skinny little fork (with external springs!) and equally skinny and hard bias ply tires, then compare to the suspension, wheels and super sticky tires of today. Brakes are triple hydraulic discs with at least 4 pistons per side up front. Then? Drums with no power assist. On the Triton, conical drums with a single leading shoe. Best of all, note how reliable and oil tight your GSXR is. Have you ever seen a Triumph/Norton twin from those days that wasn’t drooling 70w oil everywhere?

    Today, any piece of meat and go 100mph so long as they pay the ticket. Then, it was a mark of either madness or manhood … not sure which.  Craig

  • I highly recommend you check out Pipeburn.com – tons of café racers & street trackers. I spent hours drooling over the bikes on that site.  Dion
  • The CB750 Jap custom you showed is very much in the French Endurance Racer style, reminiscent of the Godier/Genoud Kawasaki’s of the early 70’s. REAL cafe racers were fairingless. Very nice though – I wouldn’t mind a tricked up CB750 myself.  Larry

  • The Cafe Racer thing is alive and well. Here is a pic of my recently completed 1982 CB750F conversion. Love your webpage.  Larry
  • Sorry guys – But after having restored many older bikes from the 60’s and 70’s I have come to realize that it is all still just old technology and is hard to trust. Don’t get me wrong these things are cool to look at but I would rather be riding something new.
    Just my thoughts…  Andrew

  • Motorcycles with full fairings, rear-set pegs, clip-ons, and ultra-
    high performance, that look like racing motorcycles, are big sellers
    these days. It’s important to remember that in the ’60′s, there were
    no replica racers being sold by any of the major manufacturers. They
    weren’t being offered by many small manufacturers either. If you
    wanted a true sport-bike back then, you had to build your own.

    In fact, most of the high performance motorcycles of the late ’60′s
    and early ’70′s, were in some ways disappointments in their overall
    sporting performance, even by the standards of the time. Few
    motorcycles from the ’60′s handled well, and suspension components
    were almost uniformly crude. Kawasaki Mach III’s had flexi frames
    and the bikes’ wheels, as delivered, weren’t even aligned in the same
    plane. Honda CB750′s were heavy, handled sluggishly, and had
    swingarms mounted in plastic bushings that would quickly deform.
    Norton Commandos handled well (for the time)…until their rubber
    mountings sacked out. Triumphs handled well (for the time), but were
    under-powered for their displacement and price.

    Cafe Racers were cool because they realized and showcased the
    ultimate sporting potential of street-legal motorcycles of the time.
    Every component could be individually chosen for maximum performance,
    or components could be upgraded, especially the motorcycle’s engine.
    Since cafe racers were homemade they were very individualized and
    just about every one was unique. They were a combination of
    motorcycle and art. Most cafe racers of the ’60′s are incredibly
    beautiful, even by today’s standards.

    Probably the ultimate cafe racer from the ’60′s is the Norvin. A
    Norton Featherbed frame with a Vincent engine shoehorned into it.
    The best handling frame design of the early ’60′s combined with the
    most powerful motorcycle engine of the time. Norvin’s presaged
    modern Ducati’s, KTM’s, and Moto Morini’s. There are some nice
    pictures of Norvins here:
    http://www.thevincent.com/NorvinTechSection.html.  Randy

  • This is my cafe racer that I ride regulary..and it will do a ton :)  Patrick
  • Boy that brings me back !

    In 1975 I bought a Kawasaki S3 400 2-stroke and cafe’d it. I couldn’t afford the clip-ons, so I just bolted the bars on upside down. The reach was half way down the height of the gas tank ! No wonder I had back surgery 10 years later….

    Custom Japanese lettering made up the look, with Bassani expansion chambers and K&N race filters.

    That little critter was a screamer……I’ll look for some pictures and send them to you.  Charles

  • Where you been Derick? These bikes have been gaining momentum for a decade now. There’s been grumblings that they are even becoming the “new” cruiser/lifestyle bike.

    I run http://motorcyclepictureoftheday.blogspot.com/ and by far the Café bikes get the most attention. If you want to see some fantastic bikes there is a thread over on ADV rider that is loaded with great pictures (link: http://www.advrider.com/forums/showthread.php?t=252051) . There’s no shortage of smaller specialty blogs too. See my “blogs I follow” section. It’s a seriously revived genre.  Steve

  • Cafe racers are the Harley of the next generation. I’m 40 and when I dream of a bike to kick around the street on, it’ll be a Ducati Monster based Cafe Racer, a Triumph Thruxton, etc. The thought of a heavy, slow, ill handling cruiser appeals to me not at all. (That assumes none of the big 4 will build me a 500cc 50 hp 350lb Supermoto for the street without racebike-like service intervals – my first choice).  Brian
  • I’ve lusted after a cafe racer since childhood. I’ve just never found the time to build one. A gift of a Honda twin a few years back lit the fires and started a parts collection. The Omars website makes the lust worse. A subscription to Cafe Racer with Mike Seate is a worthwhile investment. I’ve really got a hankerin’ for a Jap 2 stroke triple or twin. Obviously just a dirty thought at the moment.

    The Triumph Thruxton or Ducati retro would calm the lust without the time investment.
    I’m so glad you recognized the vintage movement. Roadracing World just did a piece on a trackday with the Ducati GT. It took the author of the piece a while to realize you have to remember what you have hold of and ride it accordingly, but once the adjustment is made, what a ball! Thanks for the spot to vent.  Randy

  • Please, yes on cafe racers. Best thing since streetfighters. Great site. I read it daily. Thanks, Steve
  • For me, Café racers are a lot like Naked Bikes and Old School Bobbers. Simple and to the point. At 63 years of age I feel like everything I’ve liked about motorcycling over the years has come full circle and that’s a good thing.  TJ
  • The cafe racer craze is similar to the chopper craze of a few years ago. Riders want to express their individuality by customizing their machines, while at the same time displaying a nostalgic link to the past. However, choppers were less rideable than in their stock forms, and the modifications tended to be expensive and irreversible. A cafe racer conversion by contrast is usually a better ride than the stock bike (at least over short distances!), and the cosmetic modifications are cheap and easily done by anyone with a wrench set.

    A cafe racer bike is defined by its riding position. Almost any unfaired standard bike from the 60′s, 70′s, or early 80′s, can be made into a cafe racer by dropping the handlebars and adjusting the seating position to match. Other simple cosmetic modifications can include a bump stop seat, rearsets, bar end mirrors, a classic racing fairing, etc. Many riders also upgrade the performance of their machine to match its sporty appearance. Loud pipes are usually a must have, but smart owners will also upgrade the suspension.

    My current ride is a 1981 BMW R100. I put on some low handlebars, bar end mirrors and a bump stop seat. I also uprgaded the suspension and added some vintage racing pipes. I am currently trying to fit a set of rearsets. This will probably end up being the only modification that will require some custom fabrication. All of the modifications except for the suspension and pipes can be removed in twenty minutes and the bike can be returned to stock form easily.  Ryan

  • I read Dirck J. Edge’s piece on cafe racers and was prompted to write. This new trend towards cafe racer-inspired bikes amuses me to no end. I’m a lifelong fan of cafe racer-inspired bikes. My first customized bike was a 1971 Norton Commando I rode while still in highschool in the suburbs of Detroit. While most of my friends with bikes rode small displacement Japanese bikes, an older brother of a classmate rode a Harley Sportster. An impromptu street race around the school property, resulting from a heated debate on who’s bike is faster (and cooler), had me beating the Harley by a huge margin and establishing my “cool factor” for the rest of my highschool days.

    That passion for fast handling motorcycles stayed with me for some 40 years, although a 10+ year career in the former CART IndyCar series sidelined me from owning a bike throughout the 90′s because of a hectic travel schedule during the Summer months. Not wanting to travel post 9/11/01, I retired from racing and bought a 2001 Triumph Bonneville. Within weeks, I was well on my way to starting a business selling parts & accessories for the modern Bonneville while at the same time, building my dream cafe racer. This I’ll add, at arguably the zenith of the fat-tire/long front-end chopper craze.

    Eight years on now, my company is well established in the modern Bonneville community and I have build-up several customs based on the modern Bonneville. I also bought a Ducati GT1000 in 2007 and added the Sport Classic range to my product select. Cafe racer parts continue to be some of my most popular items.

    Attached are a few photos for project bikes I’ve built in recent years. I hope find them of interest. Please let me know if I can help you with more information.  Michael