If you’ve been paying attention to changes in the motorcycle world, you’ve certainly noticed the resurgence of the cafe racer. Cafe Racer: The Motorcycle by Mike Seate takes a look at the whole concept of cafe racers, the social scene where they originated, how they developed, many of the notable people involved and, most likely of greater interest to many readers of The Kneeslider, he has a large number of photos of cafe racers old and new, where you can find some pretty interesting ideas for your own ride if the thought of building one has ever crossed your mind.
Seate examines at length the origins of cafe racers, something not many riders are really familiar with, even though they might know a cafe racer well enough when they see one. Everything is covered from the motorcycles chosen by those early riders, the things they did and the reasons for doing them that contributed to the look of their bikes and their choice of clothing plus the many period influences that helped shape the movement. Evolving at much the same time as the early chopper movement here in the states, cafe racers were uniquely British in style though both the freedom motorcycles offered and the social aspects of cafe racer gatherings was, and still is, a universal pursuit.
My favorite parts of the book were the later chapters where he covers the production bikes most often given the cafe treatment, the mongrel mashups like the Tritons, Norvins and Tribsas, and lastly, the newer bikes appearing now from various builders that owe much to the cafe racer heritage.
Many of the names and bikes that appear in the book will be familiar to The Kneeslider’s readers, Steve “Carpy” Carpenter and his CB750 cafe racers, Kenny Dreer and his Nortons, the many Rickman variants and a lot more.
The book notes two contributing causes of the cafe racer renaissance. One is the extreme performance of today’s replica racers. Building your own bike used to mean looking for more performance and creating something unique. Today’s thinly disguised racers with performance few can master and certainly cannot be approached on public roads leave little room for anything extra. Can you make your bike quicker? How would you ever know? Taking an older Honda 750 and getting the most from it while giving your bike that special look is a more achievable and quite possibly more challenging and fun pursuit than putting a turbo and nitrous on your 180hp GSXR. The other contributing factor is the demise of the chopper fad where super expensive, poor handling show bikes sit in garages, seldom ridden and are easily outperformed by bikes costing tens of thousands of dollars less. Maybe it’s time to get back to less expensive bikes that are fun to ride, fun to work on and offer you a real opportunity for a little extra performance and self expression.
If cafe racers get you thinking again about the fun side of motorcycling, this book is a good place to reintroduce yourself to these cool looking bikes.