Is it just me or are we in the middle of a renaissance for Cafe Racers?
Let me be clear up front I am a huge fan of these stripped back, racers for the road machines which found prominence in the 50’s and 60’s. My interest in them most likely arose from discussions with my dad about the way he used to amend his father’s BSA Gold Flash for tearing about on at the weekend.
Nowadays the BSA Gold Flash in standard form would most likely be considered cool by most fans of motorbikes. Back then without clip ons and with it’s stock mudguards it was considered a little how might I say ‘fusty’, something which my grandfather would use day to day to make his way to work on. Steady and reliable transport for the working man.
So on a Friday night dad would jazz it up a little ready for the weekend.
From what I have read and heard the principle aim of the movement was to take a bike which was ok if a little ordinary and turn it into something which looked and was faster. Perhaps due to their relative ubiquity at the time Norton, Triumph, Vincent and BSA are all well represented in the group of bikes given the full Cafe treatment.
Norton in particular has a very good showing. Presumably as a result of the immense success they had achieved at the Manx TT with the featherbed frame. As well as standard Manx Norton Cafe Racers the well regarded platform also spawned a broad range of derivatives which are highly sought after today including Norvins, NorBsas and Tritons.
I digress. Cafe Racers or bikes with a similar look and feel at least as those original machines have become so incredibly popular now that they dominate the social media feeds of the current generation of motorcycling fan. In an age in which MotoGp and Superbikes remain as popular as ever I guess it is natural to want to emulate this.
Many of these bikes are actually being built by mainstream manufacturers such as Triumph or even BMW with their popular R nine T model. As commercial businesses they will be on the front foot when it comes to spotting a resurgent trend. They also have many advantages in that they can build and promote these machines at real scale to customers.
I like the R nine T variants, the Triumph Thruxton is an undoubtedly good bike, Ducati is perhaps cashing in somewhat shamefacedly with it’s Scrambler Cafe Racer Edition however who can blame them although I would argue it has lost the core ethic which made this motorcycling genre so popular to begin with. And what of Norton’s Dominator?
Norton more than most can legitimately lay claim to this space given it’s heritage. Albeit they are a very different company now than they were in the 50’s and 60’s. Stuart Garner their owner and CEO has made leaning on the history of the company a core strength of the recent relaunch of the famous Norton brand. Their Dominator exemplifies this.
It is a truly beautiful machine which clearly borrows much from Cafe Racers of yesteryear. Price tag to one side, this is the mainstream manufacturers bike that I would choose.
Mainstream manufacturers clearly have an advantage in this resurgent category. They will make many of these bikes so they can achieve efficiency and reliability for customers. However it is arguably the smaller, niche bike builders today who might best be able to make what is a credible claim to be the holders of the torch in this particular category.
Bike builders such as Pepo Rosell in Madrid with his standout creations based on often quite mundane or dull looking donor bikes. This is what he calls extreming a bike although when it is considered it has much in common with the ethic and general aims of the early pioneers who developed the UK Cafe Racer movement.
There are of course many others around the world doing similar things. Imagining and then building some simply beautiful and very desirable machines. Whether each of these is trying to be or should be considered Cafe Racers is somewhat academic. Motorcycling enthusiasts from many years back would surely agree the spirit of their machines survives.