Tuesday, January 31, 2012
#106 (February 2011)
I may have mentioned my affinity for the Café Racer in past issues. Indeed, it was the factory café styling of my big brother’s friend’s Royal Enfield 250 Continental that first drew me into the “spiritual” side of biking, where I realized there was more than just two wheels and an engine to some motorcycles. Something else was there that I couldn’t put my finger on, but the sound, the style moved me in a way I had previously never experienced. Until that point, I just thought they were another method of transportation, a way to get from A to B. I’m sure most of you have had similar epiphanies.
For those of you who didn’t grow up in England in the 60’s and 70’s, the term “Café Racer” was originally a derogatory term, meaning “wannabe racer,” only good for racing from one “Transport Café” to another. The fabled Transport Café was usually just a small travel trailer, literally on the side of the road in a “lay-by,” which is an area where the road is widened enough to allow for parking without blocking the roadway out in the countryside. Frequented by truck (lorry) drivers, basically the trailer was modified to have a counter in the front and you could stop and buy a cup of tea. Young “ton up” types would also pull into these while riding their Triumphs, BSAs and Nortons around the twisties that make up the English countryside. Soon, they began customizing their bikes, taking the best of two different bikes sometimes and blending them into one. The famous “Triton” was the Norton Featherbed frame with the more reliable (and less vibey) Triumph engine transplanted, and a whole host of variations sprang up, often mimicking the style of the Isle of Man TT racers, the large “Manx” aluminum tanks, rear seat “bum stop” cowling and clip-ons.
For a while, it seemed that they have merely evolved into the “streetfighter” style. People were hacking up Japanese multi-cylinder bikes and turning them into stylized street burners, but all along there were some keeping the faith!
Recently, there seems to have been a bit of a resurgence with this style of bike, of which I am in favor, as some of us never lost the love.
In fact, I am planning to build one next winter. I am going to have to start collecting parts now, figuring out how I want the final product to look and how to achieve it. Of course it will be all chronicled in The Horse. I’m trying to set up a cover photo shoot at the Ace Café in London and intend to try and find some more nice examples for featuring here at The Horse.
No, they’re not choppers, but we’ve always had page space here for bikes that are cool, vintage bikes included, and I encourage readers to send me pictures of their café projects.
I don’t know if the roadside cafés still exist in the UK. I didn’t see any on my last trip there, replaced instead by expensive “Happy Chef” services and such. If so, it’s a shame because that cup of tea, even though it was probably pretty awful by any objective taste test, sure seemed good to warm those chilly fingers after a good blast through the English country lanes.