Who and What is a Cafe Racer?

Built for the Speed. Who and What is a Cafe Racer?

In times though not long ago in Europe, lived a group of bikers who desired nothing but menacingly cool bikes, customized and optimized to maximize the speed of the bike and traveled from one transport café to another enjoying the wind in their face and road before them. Such is the legacy of Cafe Racer.

So exactly what and who is a Cafe Racer?

A lot of people may be unfamiliar with this slang word and may have the wrong impression as to what it sounds like. As this group existed back in the 1960s and has only returned to the scene last years, many may still be unaware of its existence but may already be considered cafe racers.

You may also like: A look into Cafe Racer History

What is a cafe racer? In the US a similar group of enthusiasts existed which formed gangs each with their own bad boy looks and big bikes. Cafe Racers refer to two things. The person and the bike. But of course, both could also mean one and the same thing. When used to identify a person, the café race is someone who is a motorcyclist enthusiast. He either collects, customizes, or owns motorcycles as a hobby.

Back in the 1960s these enthusiasts would gather and travel in the arterial motorways around the British towns. They were the “cool” guys of their days. Similar to today’s street racing enthusiast who likes to tune up their vehicles to maximize speed these guys also owned “monstercycles” which was built for maximum torque. You could liken these people in the same way how street racers are as made popular by the hit movie series Fast and the Furious.

Then what is a cafe racer if it’s referring to a bike? Cafe Racer motorcycles are usually customized motorcycles. They may not necessarily be made of a world-renowned brand and may not necessarily be very expensive types of motorcycles.

They are customized bikes that are stripped off of anything unnecessary

The main goal in this dismantling of parts is to ensure that the bike achieves its fastest potential. Due to that, these customized bikes have appeared to be a hybrid of two different brands fused together to achieve speed. Anything that can make these bikes faster was considered an option for a cafe racer. Their goal was to make their bike capable of reaching at least 100 miles per hour.

What’s a cafe racer doing in a café? Cafe racers became a slang back in the ’60s and identified this subculture since most motorcycle enthusiasts would hang out in transport cafes. As the arterial motorways are the most appealing racing location for these bikers as it provides a sense of ownership to the road, the cafe racers would spend a lot of times in these transport cafes as this was the meeting point of their racing escapades. But initially, this term did specifically refer to these groups of people.

What was the cafe racer originally referring to? The name “cafe racer” originally was a derogatory remark for people who owned bikes and did frequent transport cafes but were not into racing. These were the people pretending to be a part of this subculture. Eventually, however, the term started to refer to the real bike racers who wanted to race around from transport café to a certain point on the highway and back again.

Nowadays, the famous spots where cafe racers meet is London’s Ace Café. This subculture has recently started to once again boom since most of the original cafe racers are returning to the scene. What ended the clique before is that they had to start families of their own and give up their riding hobbies. Now they have the time and resources to build or rebuild their dream bikes and take the rides that they miss so much. This also attracted new younger generations to join and take part in this clique.

You may also like: A look into Cafe Racer History

What about Cafe Racer’s Bike customization?

You may already be a cafe racer. If you have a bike that is custom-designed to have speed and is interested in motorcycles, and if you like racing, then technically you already are a café racer. But if you want to build your own cafe racer bike then here are a few tips in designing a bike that can be clearly classified as a cafe racer bike:

  • Dented and elongated fuel tanks for the bike so that the biker’s knees can easily cling or hold on to it
  • Low handlebars allowed the bikers to precisely control the bike even at maximum speed. Handlebars would follow either a clubman’s design where the handlebars are positioned to slant downwards or the basic clip-on which most motorcycles have. (You may also like: Selecting a cafe racer handlebar)
  • Low rear seat. Since the handlebars are low, the seat should also be at the rear. The low altitude of the bike's handle and seat allows precise control for the racers.

The customized bikes may also be a hybrid combination of two or more different brands as it takes the best parts of each brand to maximize speed.

There are many possible customizations for the bikes but in order to make the perfect bike, you have to understand the essence of cafe racers.

What is Café Racer all about?

This group of individuals are bike enthusiasts and likes having the most amazing sets of bikes. By amazing, it’s not having an expensive set. It’s not about having the coolest looks, design, and colors. In fact, it’s almost the opposite. The cafe racers of today care for the same thing as what they did back half a century ago. If speed is the goal, these bikes were often lean, featuring an almost minimalistic and utilitarian design.

By that, I mean that anything that may cause the speed of the bike to be compromised is removed. Everything in its design is geared towards speed. The reason for the low handlebars and rear seats is in fact for the rider to be able to crouch down during the ride and provide lesser wind resistance.

If one was to summarize what a cafe racer is in just one word, then that word would have to be SPEED

What makes a true cafe racer is not the bike, but the desire to feel the wind rush through their bodies as they cling on to their bikes. You may already have the foundations of what a cafe racer is. All that’s left to do is to get on that bike and ride.

images by Benjamin Galli and Armando G Alonso