The Cult of the Café Racer



Ok, I know. A true café racer shouldn’t have anything as pretentious as a French accent anywhere near it. And alright, I know as well that at least the engine on a true ‘Caff’ racer should have been milled in the greasy environs of the West Midlands. But there was something about this image of a German man on his caffed up Honda CB500, liberated from a US-based enthusiasts’ site , that summed up what my idea of a customised street racer out of the classic mould should be.

The whole idea of a café racer, of course, comes from the fifties, when greasers lathered up into a frenzy by Gene Vincent records from a transport cafe’s jukebox, would race from roundabout to roundabout for kicks. The obvious need to stay clear of alcoholic beverages meaning that a nice cuppa char served in your average transport cafe by the side of a British A-road was much more conducive as a meeting point than a local hostelry.

The classic café racer was a bike that had been modded for quickness surf-footedness – fifties and sixties examples aped the homologated road racers of the time. Long, flat stripped or chrome fuel tanks and small, one man seat right at the back of the frame were the most visible leitmotifs, along with dropped, ‘clip-on’ handlebars. The definitive machine in the early years was a hybridised beauty that was the progeny of a Norton frame and Triumph engined machine called “The Triton” (Triumph and Norton, geddit?).

The café racer cult has since the days when they were simply stripped-down mods, become a scene in itself, and acolytes of the scene fetishise all that is utilitarian – even though it is often filtered through the lens of youth cult and the fashion business. Whatever the roots and the rhymes and the reasons, there’s something about the classic set up that brings us out in the need for English iron and unadulterated grease.

Stay tuned for a fleshed out feature on our favourite sort of motorbike.