The term “cafe racer” refers to a lightly-powered light weight motorcycle that is not built for comfort, rather for speed and handling. It is meant for short distance, quick rides. Cafe racers usually feature lengthened fuel tanks, stand-out seat cowling, and low-mounted handlebars. They also usually feature knee grips that are indented into the fuel tank. Their design is derived from that of Grand Prix racing bikes of the 1960s, and typically combine both aesthetic simplicity and light weight.
The term “cafe racer” evolved in the 1960s with Britain’s motorcycle enthusiasts. It was mainly used among the subculture we know as the “rockers”. In this subculture, commonly also referred to as the “Ton Up Boys”, the motorcycles were mainly used to travel speedily from one cafe to the next—these were often short rides. Cafes, in this instance, refer to places in which the riders could drink.
A common analogy is that the cafe racer was initially a rider from some European country (usually the British Isles) who stripped his motorcycle down to the bare minimum so as to create the perfect lightweight and fast bike, which he used to dash from one cafe to the next. Check out cafe racer for sale page for some different bike builders.
A traditional cafe racer (the motorcycle) consisted of two different bars that were directly connected to each fork tube (these narrow handlebars were known as clip ons). They also had single piece bars that were connected to the mounting location, though these bars dropped downwards and forwards (known as ace or clubman bars). They let the rider tuck in and hence reduce his resistance with the wind, therefore improving his control of the bike. The traditional cafe racer also featured a seat located rearward so that the rider’s posture necessitated rear-set foot controls and foot rests.
Over time, obviously, the style of cafe racers evolved. The popularity of such bikes increased over the years so that in the 1970s, Japanese motorcycles had surpassed the British motorcycles in the cafe racer market. The design of Grand Prix racing motorcycles, naturally, has changed since that time.
The handmade aluminium racing fuel tanks, often left without paint, of the 1960s evolved into more square and narrow fibreglass fuel tanks. In the late 1970s, several motorcycle manufacturers had realized the explosion of the now very popular cafe racer and opted to manufacture their very own café racers. These included bikes such as the Moto Guzzi Le Mans. Others, like the Harley Davidson XLCR, were somewhat out of favour among fans of the cafe racer.