How to build a cafe racer step by step A to Z
Thanks to technological innovation and a renewed emphasis on bad-ass aesthetics, this is a golden age for motorcycles. Any motorbikes enthusiast has, at one point, probably developed a taste for Café racers. These stripped-down two-wheeled machines have changed the way we interact with motorcycles. Café racers tend to boldly emphasize on the philosophical statement:
Four wheels move the body while two wheels move the soul
It is now easier to build a café racer today than it was in the 60s. The question isn’t whether it is the right time to build your bike or not. The question is what does it take to build a café racer?
In this article, we discuss how to build a cafe racer step by step.
move the cursor to see the transformation
If you fail to plan you plan to fail
There are a dozen of specialist suppliers for almost every part for almost every bike. This has made building a café racer more of a hobby than a serious undertaking (for majority of motorbike fanatics). They overlook the basics and the result is a café racer without performance enhancement. This can be compared to just any other tractor with a body kit. As a matter of fact, building a highly stylized bike needs planning and a clearly defined course of action.
As the famous saying goes, if you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.
Planning demands that you know the amount of money and resources you have to carry out your café racer project. Just like in a game of chess, the pieces you possess determine how easily you can capture your opponent’s queen.
Before you begin your project, take a detailed inventory of everything you need to complete your project vis-à-vis what you have at hand. Assess your commitment to the project and plan your expenditure.
Remember you will be spending an important amount of money to reshape your bike and that is why you need a budget.
You also need to put off unnecessary activities and instead focus your time and energy to the project.
Using our Game of chess analogy, sometimes you have to sacrifice the knight in order to capture the queen. These basic steps are compulsory considerations not unless you want to be one of those kids in a 1.6L Honda Civic with glowing lights under the body panels racing his gutless wonder from stoplight to stoplight. If this is the case for you, perhaps you should probably stop reading now.
Bike selection: The ultimate bike!
After you have planned the entire course of action, it is time to acquire the perfect bike for your project. If you are an amateur, you probably have researched much on how to build a cafe racer. That’s not enough. You need expert advice and help in identifying the bike that best fits your project. You need to get a bike which when you look at it, you can see it as a café.
there is a cafe racer in any bike...you just have to find it
Your café racer project will be all about
- cutting back on unnecessary clutter,
- improving handling,
- cutting weight
as well as
- unblocking potential horse power.
Of course, you will need to add some classic styling to your bike. It, therefore, goes without saying that the perfect bike for your project will be one that will be economical to work on as well as to purchase. By far, most café racer builders believe that the most important and difficult choice you will have to make before you embark on building your café racer is selecting the ultimate bike
a bit of rust it is fine...but maybe this is too much
To the man who only has a hammer, everything he encounters begins to look like a nail.
Make sure the bike you select is not just any other hammer out there. Bearing this in mind, the question that arises is where do you start?
Knowledge, Time and Budget: The determining factors in a cafe racer project
Well at this point you need to consider three factors to guide you in acquiring your bike. These factors include Knowledge, Time, and budget.
Your initial decisions as well as how your café racer will turn out to be in the long run will largely depend on these three factors.
You may have the money and the time but without the knowledge, your project would end up being incomplete.
Now switch any of those three factors around in the last sentence and the result would end up being the same.
There are many places to acquire the perfect bike for your project.
In most cases, your friends will always seem to know where to get a bike at the cheapest price. You can delve into the internet where you will find and seal amazing deals. Newspapers also are vital for your café racer project as cheap bikes are listed there.
How would you like your bike?
This project will be all about giving out what you cannot keep getting what you cannot lose. It will be a several-day affair and there is a need to plan. There is nothing as easy as a planned venture.
Planning your café racer project will not only save you time but also money and vital resources.
You need to identify the project steps that can be combined and those that need to be completed independently.
Planning will help you identify where resources can be shared and when they are needed. This will prevent a scenario when a certain part is needed and it is not available.
One more thing, you should cultivate a positive attitude towards the project as early as in this stage. Remain focused on what you want and avoid any distractions. As the saying goes: “You will catch more flies with honey than vinegar”
Set up the Workshop! Is it equipped?
Your workshop will be your working environment for the next couple of months. More often than not, the success of any café racer project is largely influenced by your workshop set up. Going back to our “game of chess” analogy, your workshop is your chess board. All activities will take place here. It is therefore important to ensure that your workshop has all what is needed. A good read about the topic is “How to Set Up your Motorcycle Workshop” (link from Amazon).
Book “How to Set Up your Motorcycle Workshop” from Amazon
Tools and equipment should be carefully inspected and missing ones should be replaced. You need to know all the tools you will need to complete your project and purchase them way before you begin it. This is where you need to carry out the necessary research to identify what you need.
Make sure you have all that you will need in your project. For ease of accessibility, it is important to label the various tools and categorize them according to their purpose.
Wingman Workshop Trolley with tools from Amazon
The workshop should be spacious and fully equipped. You should consider having specific locations for welding area/equipment, painting area/equipment, accessories, and a room or bench/desk where you will be doing the drawing and calculation of various measurements.
Disassemble the bike – Remove, remove and…remove
Before getting into the actual disassembly activities, be sure to note the delicate parts of your bike and designate a special spot for them.
The delicate parts of the bike will include the radiator(if any), the plastic fairings (they are worth good money if you don’t intend to put them back), and the gauge cluster. The radiator in most bikes is either liquid cooled or air/oil-cooled.
Getting down to business-Separating the chaff from the wheat
Now that the preamble is over, let’s get down to business. The disassembly phase will require you to grab your camera and take tons of pictures before you begin unwinding those bolts.
A lot has been said on how to build a cafe racer but this section tends to be overlooked always.
Taking many pictures will help to document your build. You will also find it easy to reassemble the parts later on in your project.
You don’t want to lose vital parts of the bike. You, therefore, need to have a strategy on how you will secure the parts to remove from the bike.
You also don’t want a scenario where you replace the same part you removed from the same bike. This is where the order comes in. You will need a masking tape or equivalent to help you in labeling the parts. A zip box will also come in handy.
As pointed out earlier in this article, building a café racer is all about cutting back on unnecessary clutter, improving handling, cutting weight as well as unblocking potential horsepower. This phase, therefore, requires you to remove as much clutter as possible from your bike. Remove all unnecessary clutter that is easy. It will aid in cutting as much weight as possible.
7-Shelf 16-Bin Rack Storage System from Amazon
Remove every part that requires replacement. You will have to take lots of photographs before and after removing every part. Ensure you store the part you have removed securely in your zip bag (here assorted heavy duty storage bags with zip-lock from Amazon). If the part needs modification for reassembly, ensure that is clearly labeled to avoid confusion.
You may also opt to document every procedure, this will help to make your entire project clear and any hiccup can be traced. Consider having storage bins to store various parts. Your welding equipment should be on standby.
Frame cutting and welding, and lowering front forks
This stage requires that you think it through before cutting it back.
The rationale here is that building a café racer is an art much as it is a science and each bike is unique in its own way. Therefore, there are no standard parameters to use while cutting back the frame and these guidelines are just that — guidelines on how to build a cafe racer.
Frame cutting may sound to be a frightening title but it is one of the things you have to do to ensure that the end result is as solid and professional as possible.
It is important to take caution while cutting the frame. You don’t want to take too much off. Identify the easiest position to cut off the frame. This can be achieved by having a clear picture of how long you intend the seat and the cowl have to be. After cutting off the frame successfully, it is now time to weld a seat hoop.
We can now move to lower the front forks. This will accompany lowering the rear suspension as well. The desired effect here is to lower the center of gravity and center of mass as much as possible. How much can you lower the front forks? Well the limit to which you can lower the front forks of your café race is determined by the clearance not only with the ground but also between the front wheel travel and other bike parts
What to keep and what to ditch
This is the point where you will have to make genuine decisions on what to keep and what to ditch.
Anyone with proven skills on how to build a cafe racer will tell you that the ultimate appearance of your café racer will be determined by the modifications you will make at this step.
Adjustable Fork Tube Clip-On Handlebars from Amazon
To start with, depending on your taste and preference, you will need to change your handlebars. More often than not, the first part that you will need to trash is the stock handle bars. Some motorbike fanatics simply take their existing handle bars and turn them upside down. You have to consider whether you want to use clubman or the clip-ons. Despite being cheap, the clubman handle bars have a couple of disadvantages over the clip-ons. Ideally you want to your bike to have a low minimalist look of clip-ons. These will give a lower profile to the front of your bike and an aggressive look.
Finally, you need to do a final touch on this conversion by deciding the mirrors to use. In most cases, the stock mirrors will end up in the dumpster. You will have to find some clean rear-view mirrors for your bike. To keep the profile of the bike low, many café racers' builders opt for bar-end mirrors. You will also find a collection of the lower clip.
Cafe Racer Mirror from Amazon
Another part that you may need to replace is the gas tank. There are numerous designs and styles of tanks.
You need to decide whether you will keep your original tank or use the tanks with side indents. Regardless of the choice you make, ensure that you take into account cable routing when replacing the tank. It is advisable to conduct this at the same time as the handlebar replacement as the two have a considerable effect on the overall length of the cables.
Fitting a replacement tank will no doubt require extensive engineering knowledge and expertise and if you are not competent enough in this field, then it will be wise to purchase a thank that is specific to your make and model. To protect your fuel tank from vibration, use rubber mountings whenever possible.
When it comes to the seat of your cafe racer, comfort comes last. The choice of your seat will depend on whether you intend your bike to carry passengers (or luggage) or not. If you intend to carry passengers, consider fitting your café racer with the seat that has a hump behind the rider. This is where the passenger would seat.
Universal Cafe Racer Seats from Amazon
Moreover, this extra space found in this hump is used to relocate the electrical wiring and you can use it to secure the battery if your bike needs one. Other seats are generally flat.
Now it is time to change the front fenders. Basically, the front fenders for your café racer are usually shorter, lower profile counterpart, or in some project completely removed. They need to be kept as light as possible. There are two options to achieve this. You can either opt to replace the front fender with a chrome one and the second option is to cut the original one. Doing so will make it lightweight and will achieve similar results.
The wheels' appearance also needs to be changed. You will have to decide how the wheels of your café racer will look like. You can choose to go with a spoke wheel or alloy wheel. Either way, the ultimate appearance of your wheel will primarily depend on your taste and preference but should not be overlooked.
The stock headlights need to be replaced with classic ones. Your cafe racer should have lights that will keep the track clear all the way.
Dealing with the delicate parts
In the process of building your café racer, there are parts that will need extra caution. These are the delicate parts that can ruin your project when placed in the wrong hands. This part serves to explain how to deal with these delicate parts. Who wants to ruin a project at this stage anyway?
Starting with the carburetor, you don’t want to be the guy who your boys wait for hours as you struggle kicking your bike for the 57th time to start. Nobody wants to be that guy. Nobody. That’s why you need to be extremely cautious with the carburetor. You need to choose quality filters, jets, and needles that are going to be needed to rebuild your carburetor from the inside out
It is pretty much obvious that rejetting a carburetor can be a daunting affair. It can be a real pain especially if you don’t have the right size of jets. However, rejetting is not a very difficult procedure and it can really help in the performance of your bike. Whenever you have difficulties with this part, seek professional help whenever possible.
Rebuilding the engine?
Most literature on how to build a café racer tries to avoid this section like a plague. However, there are instances when you will have to be forced to bite the bullet with an engine rebuild. This may be so when you are dealing with and old bike. Most bikes from the 70s are either tired or pooped out. In fact most of them are trashed. If you will rebuild your bike, you need to take great care as tampering with key parts of the engine can render your project incomplete. Some engines will not need to be changed.
The exhaust pipe needs to be changed as well. Do you need to use the swept-back exhaust pipes? Are megaphones anything to consider? Well, it all depends on your taste and preferences.
Now that said, let’s focus on suspensions. You need to spend on suspensions if you really want your café racer project to be successful. On this note, it is extremely vital to ensure that the dampening and the spring rates are matched to your weight and the weight of the bike combined.
When you lighten the rear shocks (eye-to-eye) you will get more cornering clearance and better turn-in for corners. Lowering the back end of the bike on the other hand will not yield any improvement whatsoever.
Your ultimate bike will be cruising on two wheels. These wheels will determine the grip and stability on the road. They must therefore meet the standards of a café racer. The rims you decide to use must also be chosen carefully as mentioned earlier in this article. They will add up to the overall comfort of your bike.
The ignition system is yet another part that needs to be checked carefully.
This is the system that ignites the gas-air mixture as it enters the engine from the carburetor. This makes the engine run.
You must take extra care when building your café racer, to have an accurate set up that time the exact times when the charging of electrical ignition coils to fire a spark plug at the top of the engine cylinder near the valves.
As opposed to the old setups, technology has come with better options and changed styles on how to build a cafe racer.
Brakes are an integral part of any locomotive. Café racers included. Your bike should have brakes that will make bike handling and steering easy for you.
Ask yourself whether you need braided stainless brake lines and new pads. If so, you need to acquire them.
When it comes to discs, you can swap out for larger discs from another bike. You can also opt to swap the front hub for something that came with two discs. At this stage, you need to ensure that you pick up a brake master cylinder that is able to push enough fluid for two calipers. Take note of the steering head angle and triple clamp offset which feed to the “trail” part. We shall discuss this in detail at a later day.
Preparation, rust off, and cleaning: Pimp your ride!
Because you will be dealing with an old bike, odds are that it will be dirty. The older the dirtier. You will therefore need to wash it. In most cases, the bike will need to be repainted but not always. The fact that the bike is dirty does not necessarily mean that the paint is obsolete. At times, all you need is a light retouch and sanding to furnish your bike’s appearance.
Look at the frames. Does the color appeal to you? Look at the fuel tank. Are you happy with its color? If you are not happy with the current color condition of the bike, then you need to do a complete color transformation to suit your preferences.
Sometimes the parts you replaced might have rust. No one wants to ride a café racer stained with rust all over. If you find that the parts have rust, clean them.
You can sand where the paint is until it is gone completely. When the rust is gone and you are left with bare metal, clean the area off with a solvent and dry it completely. Then get the paint of your choice and pimp your ride. Remember to use a clear coat to seal the deal.
You should take caution when cleaning the parts as it can turn out to be a messy affair if done wrongly. Whenever a large percentage of the part is covered with rust, you will have to clean it completely and have it repainted. Remember you don’t want to repaint your bike only for it to look like a 60 years old bike only fit for trash after a few months. Never leave problem areas that are not actually problems yet only to have them become major problems.
An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure
The most important part to clean is the tank. Using the primer to remove the rust is more preferable to using the normal spray. Since the tank is already off, you will have to paint it in one way or another. You may either want to do it yourself or seek professional help.
Nonetheless, your tank should be stainless after the final coat. Why do you need to clean these parts in the first place? Well, rust is a chronic disease that has great potential to kill any metallic object it infects with no apologies. Just like other chronic diseases wear out your body, rust eats the stability of the metal slowly by slowly rendering it useless after some time.
The old saying comes true that an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.
By cleaning the parts, you will be removing the rust that might have infected the metallic parts and by painting, you will be preventing the rust from re-infecting the parts.
Isn’t prevention better than cure? We shall discuss more on the cleaning of these parts later.
Everything is set. You have all the parts customized to your taste and preferences. It is time to reassemble the parts. This is where the café racer will take its shape.
At this point, you will need to use each and every picture you captured during the disassembly phase. The images will assist you to fix every part to where it belongs.
It is advisable to fix everything first before the seat. You don’t want to fix everything only to realize you missed an important component. You also don’t want to fix the seat only to find there’s something in the way later.
Always test if the parts fit before fixing them. It is not wise to fix something and take it off later because it didn’t fit well. As a matter of fact, doing so will easily scrape off the paint. The reassembly phase can be tempting at times. Don’t be lured into the test ride your bike as yet.
You might have probably missed vital components in the reassembly phase. Talk of the brakes for example. Such a mess can cost you your life. You don’t want that to happen. You, therefore, need to check every part carefully before taking your bike for a test ride.
When you get to a point when you are assured that everything is in order, have one more check and boldly take the bike to the road. You now know how to build a cafe racer.
It is time to enjoy!
You have spent your precious time researching how to build a cafe racer. You have spent hours building your own creation. You have sacrificed time, and money to have your café race customized to your taste.
Now, this is the time to enjoy what you have been longing for. You are riding a unique bike. Nobody has it as you have it. It is strictly meant to make you happy and this is why you have to enjoy it to the maximum.
Now is the time to enjoy the build as you prepare to enjoy the ride!