What makes a Café Racer?

Tarmac Japan

Tarmac Japan

Is this Yamaha MT-07 really a Café Racer?

That’s the big question…Before you make your own judgements, let’s look at what makes a genuine Café Racer?

First let’s look back into the history of Café Racers. Where did they come from, and why are they called that?

Post WW2 Britain was a bit of a bleak place. Unlike the USA where the average person had a pretty comfortable life, London and the other big cities directly affected by the war struggled and money was short. (My own Grandmother told me that food rationing was still in effect in Manchester until the early 1950s). In the 1950s cars were not easily afforded by the average young person, but bikes were. Bikes became seen as a cheap alternative to cars, and were (to some extent) looked on as a “poor man’s car”. By the 1960s, living conditions, the economy, and life, in general, had improved, and now the average man could indeed afford a car.

“The term Café Racer was developed among British motorcycle enthusiasts of the early 1960s from Watford and London”

By the early 1960s the Café Racer’s significance was that a bike had come to represent speed, status and rebellion, rather than mere inability to afford a car.

The term Café Racer was first coined by these Watford and London bikers , specifically the Rocker or “Ton-Up Boys” subculture, where the bikes were used for races between Cafés in Watford at the Busy Bee Café and the Ace Café on the South Circular. The Ton-Up name comes from the bikes ability to do 100mph. If your bike couldn’t do a ton…you sucked by 60s London standards.

“Rockers” outside the Busy Bee Café in Watford

These dudes back in 1960s England were tuning their bikes for speed rather than style. The epitome of cool for these Café Racers was the Triton. A Triumph engine swapped into a Norton frame (Triumph Norton). The idea being that you could take the best parts of both manufacturers, combine them, and make something better. The Triton’s were usually home brewed projects, but certain motorcycle dealers in London, namely Dresda Motors, actually built and sold them as complete bikes.

More fuel for the fire (Expecting flames in the comments section)

So, where was I? Oh yeah…We now know where the term came from, and what these chaps were upto in 1960s England. Now let’s skip forward to present day.
In the past few years there has been an insurgence of Old School Cool. The Ducati Scrambler and Yamaha XSR to name but a few of the marques using marketing jargon like “Neo-Retro”. Personally, I’m all for a bit of retro styling. As you can see from my bike, I ditched the factory headlight for a 7″ round headlight. If you ride a naked bike, I see no reason for anything other than a round headlight. It should be the law!
The retro comeback is all well and good, BUT, and here comes the big buts (I like big butts and I cannot lie)…

  • Café Racers should be built, not bought!
  • Buying a Café Racer doesn’t instantly make you the authority on motorcycles.
  • If you don’t actually ride fast, then it’s not really a racer is it? Maybe “Café Poser” would be a more accurate nomenclature. Double Cream Mocha Frappucino with Cinamon topping anyone?
  • Hipsters can fuck off. Just because!

So I’m opinionated…Apologies in advance. I respect everyone’s opinions and the right to do whatever they want. Dress however they want, grow any kind of beard they want, style their hair however they want, ride whatever bike they want. That’s freedom baby and I’m all for freedom. I just don’t like how some people think that they are better than another person because their bike is a “Real” Café Racer. Don’t get me wrong. I like all types of bikes. I’ve owned Sports bikes, Off-road bikes, Supermoto’s, Cruisers, and presently my Work-In-Progress Yamaha MT-07. If it has 2-wheels and an engine I generally speaking will like it.
Do I think my bike is a Café Racer? Yes I do.
The reason is simple; It’s modified (by me) to go faster, I drink a shit-ton of coffee (black), and I like to ride pretty hard on the streets. The only thing that differentiates me from the original London racers is time. In the 60s they worked with what they had available to them and I’m doing just that in 2019. The aim with my project bike isn’t to copy some guy with a super-hard-to-understand cockney accent from 60 years ago. My aim is to improve an already decent factory motorcycle both in performance and looks and to enjoy the fuck out of it.

Along the way I’d like to share my thoughts, photos and videos, so I hope you will enjoy the content that’s waiting inside my brain for you guys.

I realise that I’ve screwed up. I hardly ever go to Café s. When I ride my bike I tend to buy coffee from the vending machines found on every street corner in Japan. My bike isn’t a Café Racer after-all. God damn it! From now on my bike will be known as the “MT-07 Vending Machine Coffee Racer“.

Thanks for reading guys. Be sure to check out my YouTube channel and Instagram pictures.

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  1. I’ve studied the café bike thing myself and I’d say your take on it is pretty accurate and you paint a good picture. As for your MT07, it is what you want it to be, nothing more, nothing less. I had a FZ07 a few years back and they are difficult to modify due to the way they come from the factory (pretty swoopy to start with) and doing too much chopping would only take away from a really nice motorcycle and reduce it’s usefulness.

    1. Don, thanks for your comment. Yep, the lines on the MT07 are kind of a pain for changing the looks. Those big air ducts are kind of ugly. But for now I’m happy just getting it handling better. Next up is suspension setup (as much as can be done on the basic suspension) and muffler. Anyhow, I love the bike and find it perfect for my needs

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