You might be looking at the phrase “café racer motorcycle” and wondering “what does a café have to do with a motorcycle?” The short answer is that a café racer motorcycle is a motorcycle that has been modified for speed and handling so it can be good in a race. They are very lightweight and have lightweight engines to go along with them so they can maneuver well.
These motorcycles became popular in the 1960’s, mainly in Europe, where they were used to ride or race between one café and another-and by café I don’t mean a coffee house. The term was used as an insult back at that time to refer to someone who was not a real man because he wasn’t a real racer. Because many people could not afford a “real” motorcycle at the time, they started modifying the café racers. At first the changes were just aesthetic, but as more and more people became interested in this hobby, the need for more parts to discern them from the traditional motorcycle arose.
The changes made to these early motorcycles are much of what we associate a motorcycle with today. The traditional look that we have become accustomed to is actually based on the modifications made to make motorcycles look more like racing machines. Hump seats and fiberglass tanks, along with smaller handlebars to give them a streamlined fast look are among the changes that became popular among riders. Because of all of the changes made to these motorcycles to make them more aerodynamic and maneuverable, it’s important to mention that they were not very comfortable to ride. This is perhaps another reason why they were called café racers, as they were mostly seen just parked outside of cafés rather than actually racing.
Today café racers are a little different. The meaning has definitely changed. It is no longer a derogatory term associated with someone who is not as much of a man as the next motorcycle rider. The bikes have changed too. Rather than being about going fast and focusing on racing, the café racer today is mostly about the look and style of the bike. It also has the features of today’s technology of course, with all the horsepower and racing power that it can handle while still looking like the traditional café racer. They are still relatively uncomfortable to ride, and they are most commonly used for short distances. You wouldn’t see a motorcycle gang riding around their turf on café racers.
Café racers today would be a good bike to make quick trips to places, or like the name still suggests, race between to places. They are a stripped down version of a Harley type bike and the low handlebars along with the raised seat make them highly discomforting for anything longer than a quick race. They are meant to be ridden with your body as close to the bike as possible so you can go as fast as possible in a short spurt.
The café racer has evolved somewhat since it’s appearance in the 1960s, but it is mainly still just a bike that is for show and not a good motorcycle for someone looking to ride the majority of the time. It is still an uncomfortable stripped down bike that would be nice for someone who was looking more for a hobby. At least today the café racer isn’t an insult any more, but more of a status symbol.