There are many types of motorcycles out there. Sports, dual-purpose, cruisers, customs, you name it. One style of motorcycle that became very popular in the 60’s, originally in London, UK is the cafe racer.
The cafe racer is in essence a motorcycle stripped down from cowlings and other items that make it heavy, and used to race between cafe and cafe on London. And with cafe we really mean bar.
One cafe that became very famous the world over because of the cafe racer culture is the London Ace Cafe. The Ace Cafe is an institution for bikers who visit London.
But there’s also another definition of cafe racer, that of the derogatory term thrown at motorcyclists who gather around these cafes and sit on their bike for the whole day, showing off, pretending to be hard-core bikers.
But whatever the origin of the term, the cafe racer motorcycle is unique and has a very special style. Cafe racers are identifiable, and since they are so special, you will often see them in movies.
The cafe racer style quickly spread from the United Kingdom to France, Germany, Italy and other European countries. A whole subculture came into existence because of the cafe racer; the Rockers (balanced by the Mods, a group of scooterist). Rockers were riding cafe racers, dressed in leather jackets, greased hair, and traveling from cafe to cafe usually making as much noise as they could. You can still see many movies about the two rivaling groups, the Mods & Rockers.
As far as style goes, the cafe racer is a motorcycle made for speed, not for comfort. You will not be riding long distances on a cafe racer. Fuel tanks were dented, allowing the knees of the rider to hold on tight, and the handlebars were usually very low, enabling the rider to sit in a very low and crouched position.
Often bikes from different manufacturers were combined, making funny sounding names like Triton (Triumph and Norton) or Norfield (Norton and Royal Enfield).
The first cafe racers, English tradition obliging, were British; Triumph, BSA and Norton were the order of the day, but quickly the other European manufacturers and the upcoming Japanese started producing cafe racer-like bikes. But cafe racers were “custom”, so even if it looked like one in the showroom, it could only be a cafe racer if you modified it yourself.
In today’s retro-world, where style from the old days is in again, cafe racers have made a comeback. It has much to do with bikers who raced cafe racers in the 60’s and 70’s, stopped riding to raise a family, and are now BAMBIs (Born Again MotorBIker).
Today, a cafe racer doesn’t need to be made in the 60’s. You can make your own cafe racer using whatever motorcycle you want. And many do.