Cafe Racer Modifications Guidance

These days when we talk about Cafe Racers by definition a lot has changed. Back in post WW2  England Cafe Racers were built because of a lack of production motorcycles that had the performance the riders wanted. The Rockers or Ton Up boys went to great lengths to defy the manufacturers by building their own “sports bikes”. A high powered (and more reliable) Triumph engine was transplanted in to a legendary Norton featherbed frame and the Triton was born. The Norvin and Tribsa were similar creations that produced the handling to give riders the edge in street racing and the power to break the mighty Ton (100 Mph).

Cafe Racer Motorcycles

But the motorcycle manufacturers caught on to the trend and motorcycles began to evolve. Improved all round performance meant that such drastic measures were no longer needed to build a better bike. Today there are a plethora of motorcycles that out power and out perform the classics (sad but true) and building a Cafe Racer is no longer just about the search for better performance, it is an expression of style…but in the most practical sense. Does this mean these modern interpretations are a diluted version of the original Cafe Racers? Well I’d say no. The Rockers were all about style and they were posing on their machines in just the same way the Mods were on their scooters, their motorcycles were practical works of art. This is perhaps the key to building a Cafe Racer. It’s an expression of power and style. There’s no excess, everything you will see is essential and most importantly it all looks great.

So if you want to build a Cafe Racer where do you start? What motorcycles make good Cafe Racers? What parts do you need and what difference will they make? How can you build a Cafe Racer on a budget and who can you ask for advice?

By far the most important and difficult choice you will have to make before building a Cafe Racer is the selection of a donor bike. Back in the fifties Cafe Racers were a kind of Frankenstein creation, taking 2 bikes to make one, pairing the most powerful engine with the best performing frame and suspension set up. But these days motorcycles have benefited from decades of racing development and technological advancements which means such transplants aren’t necessary (but not out of the question). Building a Cafe Racer from a modern bike is more about cutting back on unnecessary clutter, dropping weight, improving handling and unlocking potential horsepower…and of course some classic styling cues.

So where do you start? Well there are 3 main factors that need to be considered, each person will have different responses and it’s these responses that should guide you on your purchase. Knowledgetimeand budget, these 3 factors will not only affect your initial decision but will also dictate how your Cafe Racer will turn out in the long run. You may have the time and the money but without the knowledge your project could end up as an “uncompleted” Cafe Racer auction on eBay. Switch any of those three key words around in that last sentence and the result could end up the same. So do your research, make an educated choice and avoid this somewhat depressing scenario.

Some of you however may already own the motorcycle you plan to customise and if that is the case you’re committing yourself to dealing with what ever limitations that motorcycle may have (if any). At the end of the day though the decision is yours to make and should be driven by passion more than anything else. If you own a motorcycle that you love chances are when you start transforming it your only going to allow yourself to make it better.

cafe racer modified by vardenchi
Thunderstrike :Cafe Racer by Vardenchi, Mumbai, India

If you’re staring with a modern retro (Triumph Bonneville, Ducati Sport Classics, etc) chances are the manufacturer already produces all the bolt on bits you need to “transform” your bike in to a bolt on Cafe Racer. While this is an easy option this isn’t what this post is about. If you’re ready to stip down an engine, cut a frame, upgrade parts and generally transform a motorcycle here’s my top picks.

The classics: Triumph, Moto Guzzi, Ducati, BMW, BSA, Vincent. All these great names in motorcycling history have classic models that would suit your dream Cafe Racer build…trouble is though they aren’t cheap and neither are the parts needed to complete them.

If money isn’t an issue start searching. Aside from the price however old bikes are just that, old bikes. Old technology may mean the machines are easier to work on but it also means they require more regular maintenance (don’t get me wrong I love them all and have unmeasurable respect for them, this is in most cases a reality of owning these motorcycles) which is not what everyone wants from their daily ride.

So for the experienced motorcycle mechanic, skilled home bike builder or for those willing to take up the challenge these motorcycles are an exceptional base for a Cafe Racer build. However for those of us who don’t fit in to these categories there are other options that will still give you just as much satisfaction to own and ride.

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Cafe Racer by Rajputana Custom Motorcyles
Chingari : Cafe Racer by RCM, Jaipur, Delhi, India

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