The renowned Café Racer motorcycle remains popular today. In fact, it’s made a huge come back in the past years particularly within the “hipster” style riders. This has always been a type of motorbike, as well as a type of motorcyclist both having their roots in the 1960’s British counter-culture. The Café Racer motorcycle became the must-have motorbike among groups such as the Rockers, or the “Ton Up” Club.
A café racer is a lightweight, lightly powered motorcycle optimized for speed and handling and not comfort – and for quick rides over short distances. With bodywork and control layout recalling early 1960’s Grand Prix road racing motorcycles, Café Racers are noted for their visual minimalism, featuring low-mounted handlebars, prominent seat cowling and elongated fuel tank – and often knee-grips indented in the fuel tank.
Café Racer is Lightweight, Light Powered Optimized for Speed Rather Than Comfort
Basically it’s a motorcycle that’s been modified for speed and good handling and not for comfort. It’s usually got low handle bars (such as one-sided clip-ons mounted directly onto the front forks for control and aerodynamics) just one single racing seat, a large racing gas tank, half or full race fairings, swept-back exhaust pipes, and rear set foot pegs giving better clearance during high-speed cornering. The most significant machine of the rocker glory days was the Triton, a custom motorcycle made of a Norton Feather-bed frame (developed by Norton Motorcycle Company in 1949 to improve performance of their racing motorcycles around the twisting and demanding Isle of Man TT) and a Triumph Bonneville engine.
It used the most common fastest racing engine in combination with the best handling frame of its day and became the stencil for a new generation of fast road riders in the 1970’s.
Machines like the Moto Guzzi Le Mans Mk I, Ducati 900SS and the MV Agusta 750S all jumped on the Café Racer bandwagon too capturing its spirit. Then the slick, super fast, Japanese sport bikes of the 80’s came along, and set up to condemn the Café Racer to the history books. It never really happened, and today a resurgence of aficionados has brought the Café Racer back into popularly.
For the Ace Cafe in London however The This Breed Never Left The Scene
Today’s term Café Racer not only describes these unique machines but a style of motorcycle rider, a type having a preference for Vintage British, Italian or Japanese motorbikes from the 1950’s to late 1970’s. These riders, formerly called “coffee bar cowboys” in the day, don’t entirely resemble the Rockers of earlier decades. They dress today in a more modern and comfortable style; with only a hint of likeness to the rocker style. Levi’s jeans, generic or if you’re lucky a vintage find motorcycle jacket; combining style elements from that of the American greaser, British rocker and modern motorcycle rider.
Along with the Café Racer motorcycle came the Ace Café. Originally an old transport café in Stonebridge, London, England which opened in 1938. It was rebuilt in 1949 after being destroyed in a World War II air raid. Because the cafe was open 24 hours a day, it started to attract motorcyclists and events in the post-war setting made “The Ace” a success. Countless young people started to meet up at the Ace Cafe with their motorcycles and listen to rock’ n’ roll. It became popular with Rockers, a subculture that started in UK’s 1960’s among motorcycle riding youths. Young motorcyclists had not been grouped together before the Rockers came about.
The Ace Café today is refurbished; motorcyclists from all over the world go to “The Ace” to see the legend, share stories, fix bikes and mingle.
Want to know more? We recommend you check out the new book Café Racer Phenomenon by Alistair Walker.
*Additional Photos by special permission of ACE CAFE LONDON ARCHIVES.