Like your favorite pair of summer sunglasses, it is often more about the look than the practicality of their use. To those that have been riding a spoke wheel warrior, gripping with their knees in its often aggressively indented fuel tank. Forced to awkward steering via a set of low-slung handlebars, and proudly-parading the machines stripped-down design. The Café Racer has lived most of its time in the history books as a machine known more for the way it looks on the street, than how it may actually perform on an open track. As with The Beatles and mop top hair cuts, this style of bike would be adopted into America from the fashionable Brits.
In the early half of the 20th century the average blue-collard British worker was able to afford no more than a motorcycle as his form of combustion-powered transportation. Finally, once the wars settled and the economy began to bloom, bikes became more of their own culture. The population could slowly afford to put their families inside of an automobile opposed to the back of a bike. Then, within this motorcycle culture began to grow a number of sub-cultures and so cultivated the Café Racers. It was said that a number of riders adopted this style of bike as it could quickly speed them from café to café around London and area. A fast, simple bike, with a distinctive need for speed rapidly became the bike of choice. Looking cool was always equally as important to where you were seen spending your time, this look became key to who you were and what you were all about. Some of the more notable to be seen places in the city were in Watford at the Busy Bee café and close to eighty-years on, the still very prominent Ace café. The spot where famed Steph Jeavons recently returned from her round the world motorcycle adventure on a 250cc Honda. Here regular Joes would speed off from café to café to the delight of challengers and onlookers, merely for the pride of the ride and bragging rights amongst your peers. The bikes were never likely to reach the open track and neither were the riders, and so they were dubbed “Café racers”.
Café riders are easy to spot, they want to be seen, well the urban yuppie types do anyways. Likely wearing brown Oxford boots with soft-white scuff-free soles. Blue jeans rolled up to give a better look of a boot that will never see a day doing maintenance in a greasy shop. White t-shirt covered modestly by a made to look worn leather jacket, and a bobble-head looking helmet that has the appearance of a 1950’s scuba diver. The posers are easy to spot, they just bought all the right gear, looking just like the ad suggested they should look. Seriously, check out this link and tell me how many chumps you’ve seen that look like this dude. These guys have less style than an IKEA couch, and are just as happy to sell up and move on when the look goes out and electric bikes become the new image. Off the bike you might also spot them looking like clean cut lumberjacks with shiny waxed beards.
Thank god there are a few leather-skinned authentic ones still trapped in a modern day time capsule. These dudes are more likely to think GQ is a motor oil grade than a fashion mag. You’ll spot them in a clean cut crowd any day. Sale rack LEE jeans perma-rolled from years of not giving a damn, chain-oil stained leather boots, air-force jacket from when they were actually in the force . As for that bobble-head ¾ helmet, it likely came with the bike from when their Grandpa used to race dirt-track with it. This guy is probably sputtering out blue-smoke from his 56’ BSA Gold Star, unlike the other who is probably just sputtering. You can’t buy cool, you just own it.
Modern vs Retro Rides
There are a number of ultra-swagger rides you can get your leg over if you are looking to get into the market. The decision is likely evenly split between your personality and your budget. As for myself, my personality is split and my budget can balloon into whatever I can talk myself into if the object of desire is shiny enough. It can also be whittled down into what most spend on a second-hand scooter if I think it’ll go from A to B and that’s all I’m looking for. Today will explore the options based around eye-candy good looks, bad-ass engine output, and cool back story.
2016+, Triumph Thruxton R; With optional sleek matte finish wrapped around a 90 degree V-twin 1197cc engine punching out 75.0 lb-ft. torque @ 3730rpm. The pre-60’s look is well contrasted by adjustable rear twin Öhlins shocks, and some red stitching on the seat, it has the allure of both past and present. Off the showroom floor you’re looking at around $14,000.
2014+,Royal Enfield Continental GT; “The oldest global motorcycle brand in continuous production”, has been fast tracking to get a foot print on American soil. With their recent opening of the flagship dealership in Milwaukie, Enfield is looking to have 100 stores in the US. If they keep coming out with well-crafted beauties like the Continental GT, business should keep on booming. The 2014-2016 models came with a single cylinder 535cc engine. However, if the ongoing history of Americans and engines continues to hold up, put a bigger engine in it and you’ll get more sales. Thus, the 2017+ models are stacked up with a twin-cylinder 650cc. The bike has a distinct Royal Enfield look alongside simple café style design. Their cheap, like so cheap you might want to get a couple. Drive it away for around $6000.
2016+ Norton Dominator; If you had to pick any bike that alchemized metal into marvel on the café line up. The Dominator is this pleasant surprise to the eyes. Its deceitfully stripped back looking to hold onto no more than the essentials. Yet, the leftovers seem to glean anything but stripped. Lending itself heavily to the British look, it does still come across more American confident than British dry. A sleek body that bends into the knee-dented fuel tank is just as “café” as the steering set up. Right off the steering head it sits at 24 degrees with nine inches of trail. Down into the engine, they built their own 961cc, 45 degree V-twin that will give you an output of 78hp @ 6500rpm. Not stellar in comparison however, it should keep you awake and alert on the road. Outside of your local coffee shop it’ll turn more heads than Penelope Cruz. With a price tag of just under $30,000 you’ll be about as likely to be seen riding her as you will the bike.
In the words of Cher, “If I could turn back time…”, well if I could turn back time I might buy up the aforementioned BSA Gold Star & leave a little note on in my riding gear telling my future self not to ever sell this well-machined piece of history. The BSA Gold Star was manufactured by the Birmingham Small Arms Company from 1938 – 1963, with the prime years resting through the 50’s. Born out of a addiction to adrenalin, each bike was hand built in 350cc & 500cc models. When you purchased a BSA it would include dynamometer test results so the buyer could see the actual horsepower it produced, incredible for the time.
The 56’ DBD34 Gold Star Daytona was the silver bullet of its class, both in looks and in speed. The fuel tank was chrome platted and shimmers like a Coors Light can. With sunken handle bars, racing pegs, room for one, and a top speed of 110mph. You’d still hold your own today as well as a few track records back in the day. It was the speed bike of the 50’s, taking home the prize in the Isle Of Mann Clubmans TT race of that year. Finding one of these rare gems in pristine condition with a factored in sixty years of inflation will run you up over $20,000. Something to keep in mind before taking it out on rainy days.
Leonardo da Vinci would be impressed with the sculpting and well presented details of a Vincent Black Shadow Motorcycle of the late 40’s and early 50’s. Like all great artists, Philip Vincent’s line of stylish bikes is made more desirable now that they are gone. With a short production run of just under thirty-years and the Black Shadow only enjoying manufacturing for eight of those years. To get your leg over one of these would be akin to time-travel. The Black Shadow is noticeably crafted with a enameled engine casings, bodywork and barrels. Eye-catching in any crowd and unlike a number of café style bikes, this one actually accommodates a passenger and even had the option to add a sidecar to either side of the bike.
The engine is a 50 degree mounted V-twin that could reach 125mph, without the passenger or sidecar that is. That engine was distinctively different in that Vincent insisted it be black. To achieve such a visual standard the engine needed to be first coated in an anti-corrosion primer, then a black colored enamel was applied, at which point the works was oven-baked at 200oF for two-hours. Whatever it takes to be an original I suppose. The price tag isn’t far off from the average da Vinci piece too, with most models going for around $150,000. That’s just average models though, as the top seller was auctioned off on April 28th 2014 for £1.4 million or about $1.8million dollars. At what point is it a bike or just a piece of art…
In many parts of the world owning a motorcycle is more about practicality and functionality than it is about personality. In the northern hemisphere we are more likely to be seen riding a motorcycle for a very short part of a very short season. Or if you live in the lovely south, you might get more two-wheeled than four-wheeled time. That being said “cool factor” is usually one of the most important parts of the buying decision whether people choose to admit it or not. If you’re looking for the ultimate in options when it comes to cool, the Café Racer is just such a bike. Whether you’re looking to tote around on a Triumph or be visually adorned on a Vincent, the legendary Café Racer is sure to own the show.