What is a Cafe Racer?

Cafe Racer is one of the most used terms in the world of custom motorcycles, but for a neophyte, it may be a bit confusing. In this article we will clarify the origin of these words and what are the main characteristics of this custom motorcycle style.

Where does the term Cafe Racer come from?

We have to go back to the 50s in the United Kingdom, specifically in its capital London. At that time an urban tribe known as the Rockers was born. They were young rebel lovers of Rock & Roll music and motorcycles.

Old picture of Rockers with their cafe racers

His style is well known and was based on fashion prevailing in great actors of the time such as Marlon Brando or James Dean. Leather jackets usually full of studs and badges, jeans and boots.

These young people frequented cafes to listen to their music and chat about the races on the Isle of Man. Some of those cafes are still active today as the famous Ace Cafe.

The London Ace Cafe
Ace Cafe (London)

Keep in mind that in those years Rock & Roll was not yet broadcast on radio stations and there were no concert halls for that music like today. So these young people depended on the Jukebox machines of certain coffees to be able to enjoy Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley or Buddy Holly.

Another important aspect of the Rocker culture was mobility. To move from Cafe to Cafe, they needed a fast and light means of transport. World War II was over a few years ago and some of these young people could afford to buy some new or used motorcycles. They modified these bikes to make them faster.

And from this point begins the legend of the term Cafe Racer. On the one hand it is logical to think that it arose naturally through these races between Cafe and Cafe. In fact, it is said that they did speed competitions to get from one cafe to another in the time that a song lasted on the Jukebox.

Rockers group photo with their cafe racers

Another legend says that it was the truck drivers who stopped in those cafes (many of them on the road) who baptized those kids who challenged each other with the races. They used Cafe Racers disparagingly to refer to them. But little by little the Rockers adopted it for themselves.

At that time, a similar movement emerged in the United States that was based on modifying motorcycles used in war such as Harley-Davidson or Indian. From these customizations emerged the Bobber and Chopper styles.

Let’s see now how the transformations were to turn a motorcycle into Cafe Racer style.

Features of Cafe Racer motorcycles

As we have said before, the Rockers used motorcycles of the time that they modified to make them faster and lighter.

They were usually English motorcycles like Royal Enfield or Norton. These bikes were not designed to acquire high speeds, so they customized them to achieve precisely the opposite and be able to win in their races.

These were the changes they used to make to those bikes to gain more speed:

  • Get a classic motorcycle racing look, although they were designed for short distances.
  • Remove any unnecessary items, sacrificing comfort.
  • Modify the chassis to make the bike less heavy.
  • Change the engine for a more powerful one.
  • The tank used to change it for an elongated one (typical of the motorbikes of that time). They also used to adapt it in its shape to facilitate the comfort of the legs.
  • Trumpet style exhaust pipes.
  • The seats were single-seater, located in the tail and aligned with the tank.
  • The handlebars or semi-handlebars were short and low.
  • And the footrests were as far back as possible to get the pilot to have a position as aerodynamic as possible.

The evolution of Cafe Racer motorcycles

There was a time when this lifestyle and motorcycle fell into oblivion. This was mainly due to the lower prices of vehicles and the emergence of Japanese motorcycles, much more affordable.

However, a few years ago today, an interest in this culture and this style of motorcycle has been reborn again. That is why Cafe Racer is once again on everyone’s lips and has crossed borders all over the world.

But some things have changed compared to the originals. Any base is currently used to create Cafe Racer motorcycles. In addition, because today it is easier to get pieces, the styles are much more varied and mixed together.

The big brands have not wanted to be left behind and have also adapted to this style in some models. Both American and European or Asian brands have released models based on the Cafe Racer style. Or at least they have adopted elements of it.

The Cafe Racer motorcycles by Lord Drake Kustoms

Lord Drake Kustoms is a Cafe Racer style motorcycle specialist. Throughout these years he has created and modified many of them from brands such as Harley-Davidson, BMW, Triumph, Ducati or Yamaha.

We cannot put them all here, but you can see them in the following link: LDK Cafe Racer style bikes

Here are some examples of these beautiful machines.

BMW K100 Racer

BMW K100 Racer

Ducati 999 “Neoracer”

Ducati 999 "Neoracer" de Lord Drake Kustoms - Foto de Álvaro Manén

Speedster

Speedster por Lord Drake Kustoms

Dyna “Red Baron”

Red Baron

Scarface

Cafe Racer: an object of desire.

Finally, we could say that the Cafe Racer style has become a culture that unifies man and machine. A love for speed and Rock and Roll. For a more aggressive and far from established life. But above all, for an unconditional desire for a unique motorcycle.

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