The "Clock Tower" in Exeter, the "Unicorn" in Leeds, "Café Continental" Manchester Road in Oldham, "Café Rising Sun", "Squires" at Sherburn-in-Elmet West Yorkshire and "Jack Hills" on the A5 Watling Street Towcester.
The term "Café Racer" was originally coined as an insult towards riders who were seen as playing at being road racers but merely parked outside cafés.
The café racer is a motorcycle that has been modified for speed and handling rather than comfort. The bodywork and control layout of a café racer typically mimicked the style of a contemporary Grand Prix road racer featuring an elongated fuel tank, often with dents to allow the rider's knees to grip the tank, low slung racing handlebars, and a single, rearward mounted, humped seat.
One signature trait was low, narrow handlebars that allowed the rider to "tuck in" to reduce wind resistance and offered better control when in that posture. These referred to as "clip-ons" (two-piece bars that bolt directly to each fork tube), or "Clubmans" or "Ace bars" (one piece bars that attach to the stock mounting location but drop down and forward).
The ergonomics resulting from low bars and the rearward seat often required "rearsets", or rear-set footrests and foot controls, again typical of racing motorcycles of the era. Distinctive half or full race-style fairings were sometimes mounted to the forks or frame.
The bikes had a raw, utilitarian and stripped-down appearance with any part not required to drive the engine or make it stop stripped out while the engines were tuned for maximum speed.
These motorcycles were lean, light and handled road surfaces well. The most defining machine of the heyday of the type was "The Triton", which had a homemade Norton Featherbed frame and Triumph Bonneville engine. It used the most common and fastest racing engine combined with the best handling frame of its day, the Featherbed frame by Norton Motorcycles. Other frames such as racing frames by Rickman or Seeley were also adopted for road use.
Those with less money could opt for a "Tribsa" - the Triumph engine in a BSA frame. Other combinations such as the "Norvin" (a Vincent V-Twin engine in a Featherbed frame) and racing frames by Rickman or Seeley were also adopted for road use.
The café racer has something in common with the chopper or bobber scene in the USA where riders rejected the large transportation-oriented motorcycles of the time. Both took factory produced motorcycles, removed parts deemed unnecessary and made them loud by removing muffler baffles for freer exhaust flow and perhaps to draw a little attention to themselves as well. Both looked to make the standard factory motorcycles faster and lighter, although the difference between the nature of the US and European motorcycles and road systems led to somewhat different results. While the Americans favored a long and low cruiser style of motorcycle for straight line comfort, the Europeans preferred a higher, more nimble and better handling motorcycle suited to the more twisting roads of their nations.
Café racer styling evolved throughout the time of their popularity. By the mid-1970s, Japanese bikes had overtaken British bikes in the marketplace, and the look of real Grand Prix racing bikes had changed.
The hand-made, frequently unpainted aluminum racing petrol tanks of the 1960s had evolved into square, narrow, fiberglass tanks. Increasingly, three-cylinder Suzuki’s, Kawasaki’s and four-cylinder Hondas and were the basis for café racer conversions.
By the late 70’s, a number of manufacturers had taken notice of the café racer boom and were producing factory café racers, most notably the Harley-Davidson XLCR.
In the mid-1970s, riders continued to modify standard production motorcycles into so-called "café racers" by simply equipping them with clubman bars and a small fairing around the headlight.
Eventually the café racer style became just a styling exercise that served no functional purpose and simply made the bike less comfortable to ride; so the trend quickly waned in popularity. Soon afterward, most new sport bikes began featuring integral bodywork from the factory, negating the need or ability to retrofit an aftermarket café fairing.
The café racer restorer is doing his bit for the green culture of today by recycling and reusing, removing the rust created by years of neglect and creating a thing of beauty. The parts providing comfort but slowing the whole thing down are removed, and the core of the motorcycle, its frame, engine, suspension and wheels are laid bare.
These core pieces are the focus, and they are meticulously prepared and sculpted, until the bike is as new as when it was first built in the factory. The rewards of that restorer’s work pay off on an open road and open throttle once again, like it did when it was first created "Born to ride again".
And it’s here, on the road, it looks come alive. Rebellion and independence the open road, wind in your hair (that’s if you still have some!) flies in your teeth, reclaiming the freedom that should have never been taken. "Youth is wasted on the Young".
It’s living on the edge of social norm because that’s where the most truths are revealed. It’s the personification of James Dean and Marlon Brando, Steve McQueen with fire under their skin and contempt for the establishment that would have them conform and forget how to live.
"A café racer was a bike you could use to go to work on all week and win a race on the weekend."
Rockers were a young and rebellious Rock and Roll counterculture who wanted a fast,
personalised and distinctive bike to travel between transport cafés along the newly built arterial motorways in and around British towns and cities. The goal of many was to be able to reach 100 miles per hour called simply " The Ton " - along such a route where the rider would leave from a café, race to a predetermined point and back to the café before a single song c ould play on the jukebox, called record-racing.
They are remembered as being especially fond of Rockabilly music and their image is now embedded in today's rockabilly culture.
The term café racer is still used to describe motorcycles of a certain style and some motorcyclists still use this term in self-description. The sub-culture continues to evolve with modern café racers taking style elements of the American Greaser, the British Rocker and modern motorcycle rider to create a style all their own. Although slow to catch on, the trend has grown in North America
Classic café racer style has made a comeback recently, thanks largely to the increased interest in vintage motorcycles in general. The baby boomers were responsible for a surge in motorcycle sales in the late 1960s and 1970s, and many of this generation now find themselves with the time and discretionary income to recreate the bikes they had—or wished to have—in their younger years.
A new generation of motorcycle designers and builders are using the style as a fresh alternative to the custom chopper scene. Furthermore, in many parts of the United States, there are large numbers of stock 1970s and 1980s era Japanese motorcycles available for relatively small amounts of money.
A true café racer was an everyday motorcycle that was modified from its original form in order to achieve performance and style familiar to race bikes. While this style was once all the rage, it began to decline as competent street legal sport bikes began to emerge.
It has come full circle, however, as the building of café racers themselves is at an all time high, to the extent that several well-known motorcycle manufacturers are busy launching their own café racer models. Whether riders restore an old basket case or buy a brand new bike with the similar style as the bikes of old, there is an undeniable revivalist movement at hand.
There is a strong appeal to younger and less wealthy motorcyclists to build a café racer from one of these bikes and end up with a stylish personalised motorcycle at a fraction of the cost of a newer bike.