Cafe Racing

It’s almost impossible to even consider a discussion of cafe racers without a history lesson.

Words by: DUNCAN QUINN

Today it seems everyone and his brother wants to own a one-off special. And if they can’t build it themselves they look to other people to do it for them. The chaps at Deus Ex Machina, our friend Jason Michaels at Dime City Cycles, or one of the other specialist artisans in the army of bike builders and customizers that has grown up in the last few years.

Its been quite some time since this was last the case. And we’d like to think it all started in England sometime after WWII. Every young turk around was restless to be able to get from A to B and to do it as fast as possible. It was, and still is, an incontrovertible fact that the least expensive way to get from A to B fast is to get a motorcycle. Which is exactly what happened. In the absence of specialist shops to soup-up stock models young Rockers simply rolled up their sleeves and started modifying their BSAs, Triumphs, Nortons and Vincents themselves.

And it was all Rockers. Mods rode scooters after all. Inspired by Marlon Brando in, “The Wild One”, and wearing their Lewis Leathers adorned with patches of affiliation, they found a spiritual home on the newly built North Circular Road looping around London. Cheap financing, new roads, and finally The Ace Cafe created the perfect incubator for legendary stories and iconic imagery that has stood the test of time.

The infamous “Ton-Up Club” was there. And becoming a member was easy. You simply had to get from The Ace Cafe to the Hanger Lane roundabout and back in the time it took for a record to play on the jukebox. Which meant you had to have a bike that could easily do 100mph, the “ton”. It may not sound like much now, and I’ve ridden machines that would almost get there in first gear, but at the time that took Glengary Glenross sized brass balls. No radial tires. No disc brakes. No problem.

Which, of course, is subconsciously why everyone today wants to rebel against the system and tear it up on a custom built cafe racer. Even if its a Ducati that was built from scratch by an incredibly skilled technician and ridden by a corporate attorney on the weekend. They’re still a part of the Rocker DNA which just can’t be escaped as you swing your leg over her and take her out for a good thrashing to within an inch of your life.

Words by DUNCAN QUINN