Cafe Racer: The usual suspects?

From Doc's Chops: Classic Cafe Racer?....

From Doc’s Chops: Classic Cafe Racer?….

There has been a fair amount of debate about what constitutes a “Cafe Racer.”  From their humble beginnings in the cafe parking lots of London, to the highly tuned, impeccable versions pumped out by Deus Ex Machina, these bikes have rapidly become the most popular ‘new trend’ in customization…

Cafe Racer: Look Ma, we made it to Motor Trend…

How do we know they are this popular?  Well, for one, Motor Trend has recently shot a video about the scene, complete with some of the heavy hitters working within the genre today.  As a matter of fact, I don’t think I have ever seen any of the Deus folks on camera before, so this was interesting, since they seem to have become the standard-bearers of the current crop of builders.  The video is done under Motor Trend’s “The Down Shift” series, and includes some great interviews.  The focus revolves around the Venice Vintage Motorcycle Club, which includes some incredible looking builds.

Enjoy the video!

16 Replies to “Cafe Racer: The usual suspects?”

  1. I hate to do this to you Scott…but…..

    – There isn’t really a debate. What there is is a well known and recognized defintion and culture that is being cherry picked for its good parts by people (read hipsters) who think a motorcycle is just a trendy counterculture fashion accessory who then double back and say “its history” after they have corrupted it. They did this with bobber and chopper cultures in the past and it didn’t really work out well for either of those genres of motorcycling.

    – Deus people have been on camera a lot. They don’t really have a US presence so you usually have to be watching something made in Australia, Bali, or England to see them. Given the nature of the internet that isn’t hard.

    – This video is just terrible. Brotastic fist bump while riding (at 0:42) nothwithstanding, this is a lot of “how can we sell you a lifestyle” crap and not really an exploration of anything that most motorcyclists would consider “real”. In accurate history, use of trendy buzz words, group riding shots of better than average looking people wearing next to no riding gear. This isn’t the performance motorcycle world I recognize, this is a bunch of posturing to look cool. If I see one more shot of those crappy coker repop firestone tires….bleah….

    – about the only thing I can say is the camera work and editing is pretty good. The video is actually better with the sound off and skipping past the talking (air)heads. I can see how if I was 20 years old and didn’t know anything about motorcycling how this could get me really really excited to be part of the hobby, but I think in the end this just sends the wrong message, that message being if your bike looks like this, and your jacket looks like that, and your helmet is metalflake and not actually a piece of safety equipment then you can be part of a scene that doesn’t really exist, never really existed, but you can pretend it exists by wearing the right t-shirt at bike shows.

    1. I have to agree with Kerry. I also think that Scott would be in agreement also. This new found “cafe racer” scene is just to sell individuals on a lifestyle and not a real life true motorbike experience. It is popular because it is selling a certain kind of person a lot of romantic dreams. It is cool to make your bike reflect your personality but, as we all know, most people we meet don’t have one. You rarely see someone put time and hard earned money into making there bike faster, more reliable and a better handling motorbike. You see people put money into a look they found online. Riding a bike with all the bling and a shiny helmet and $60 clubmans and $50 hand grips doesn’t give you a true experience.
      It’s hard to look at bikes on the web anymore as they all start looking the same. Same body work, same poor performing tires, same bad suspension parts etc. Also rarely do I hear of these popular custom bike shops talk about engine upgrades that were performed. All this new found interest in vintage bikes is great in a lot of ways but as the past has shown us it is also what will kill it.
      With the love of vintage bikes and bikes in general Matt and myself decided we would open Venturi Moto and be a bike shop. I have been a mechanics for 14 years and we love motorbikes and hate working for other people no decision to make there, right? Then comes the new vintage bike scene and all of a sudden everyone coming into your shop thinks you are a “cafe racer” shop. What the fuck does that mean?! They bring in this old bike that they just bought, have never ridden before and all they can talk about is can you put this tank on and put on a cafe seat and clubmans and blah blah blah. But oh, yeah the bike doesn’t run and it’s been sitting for 10 years. So reality sets in and all of a sudden it’s not so cool anymore.
      Instant gratification society is what we live in. What we see is what we “think we want”. The media is so fucking great at selling shit today that most people have no clue what they want unless it’s posted all over the fucking place.
      Now to bring myself down a bit because i am getting old and grumpy. I think that there will be some people that get into motorbikes because it is flashed all over and find their own way and really get into it and enjoy it the way it was meant to be enjoyed and if the motorbike community gets a few young people to keep old bikes on the road then I guess it did good. I have personally seen this happen at the shop. The young person comes in with all these dreams but is able to push through to reality and realize that what he or she really wants is a good running bike and the knowledge that all the other stuff can come afterwards. Owning a bike is not an easy thing to do. There are many ups and downs and new things to learn always. The good people will stay for the long haul and the trendy people will fade away just like all the fancy custom bike shops. Riding a motorbike is a great way to live your life and I plan on having a lot more fun for a long time. I like to look at really nice bikes just like the next guy but I prefer a dirty well tuned one that I can push really hard into the turns.-Keith

      1. My favorite is when they ask for “cafe bars” or a “cafe seat”. Tears me right up with laughter. There is no such thing as a “cafe” motorcycle part, or scene, or what have you.

        now if I can just get on my old man soap box for a second here…….
        I think the media and videos like this are squarely the problem. Back in my day the only outlet for seeing any of this stuff were the bike magazines and the bike shops. Both of those “outlets” were usually guarded by seasoned “professionals” who for better or worse sorted the wheat from the chaff, and when they HAD to show you chaff they told you why it wasn’t wheat. Now anybody with a camera and a blog and a faint idea of what they think looks cool can churn out web content and find other like minded people with no experence, no understanding of what makes a motorcycle great, and a similar taste based on looks alone.

        I am all for people being agressive self starters in this regard but this weird thing has happened now – somehow these people who know very little don’t think they need to take criticisim or learn anything. Granted the internet is like one giant hate tank sometimes but those who create content now think they only have to listen to positive comments and any criticisim is just being a hater. Constructive criticisim is why schools give out letter grades, it is how a person learns and grows. People think this great internet content is learning but without someone saying “hey, you are kinda doing it wrong” you never get the full experence. I love to tell new riders all the time that they missed out on the best part of the old way of getting into motorcycling, the mentoring.

        I don’t know why there is this insistence lately that motorcycling is a social activity. All this “scene” stuff seems to promote brotherhood and bunch of guys having a good time, etc….But really motorcycling is just about the most selfish and solitary activity you can do. I mean even if you are two up you can’t really have a conversation. All this social stuff, that happens without the bike. And there is no written rule that you have to like everyone who rides a motorcycle, there are some real assholes that have discovered the joy of two wheels as well as real nice guys – not everyone is your brother just becuase they like what you like. I like diet pepsi, does that mean I have to now feel a sense of belonging and kinship with every diet pepsi drinker?

        End old man rant.

        1. I just realized – the above was not directed at Scott and his blog which is one of the few I read. It was more a vocalizing my disappointment at the video posted and it’s creators, and more importantly Motor Trend who has foolshly lent it some credibility.

          1. I think what is going on at Motopreserve is far from anything these videos show or try to lure people in to believing that this is what riding a motorbike is about. The people at Motopreserve love motorbikes and have found their own definition of that in my opinion. This is why I enjoy there company!

          2. Thanks for the kind words Keith. Believe me, I can relate to the “too old to be cool” sentiment, but I also recognize that there is a certain feeling that accompanies getting on a sweet bike. For me, the sweetness is enhanced when it’s an older bike, and yet again when it is a bike that I have had a hand in improving its performance. Rregardless of what we may be “going for” in life, we inherit a certain amount of “cool” just by hopping on the damn thing. Bikes are cool. There are so many other great reasons that we ride: exhilaration from speed, overcoming fears, the never-ending challenge to become a better rider, etc. These are all great reasons to ride. But at the end of the day, like it or not, riding a bike is just plain cool. It feels, smells, and looks cool (although I have seen riders who challenge this assumption 🙂 For those of us getting too old to purposely achieve cool, it’s welcomed byproduct of the experience.

          3. I think I am just getting to old to try and be cool. I just want to drink coffee, smoke cigarettes, ride my bikes and hang out with good people. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

          4. I appreciate that Kerry, and I knew that you were not purposely aiming your frustration at me personally. But I recognize that when I post up stories like the one here, I too am lending it credibility. While I do not have an issue with the increasing popularity of a given genre of bike, I do recognize that those who have been privy to the seeds of what made them special, then see that slipping away by the commercialization of it, could be a frustrated.

            I have never considered myself to be part of any one “scene,” in any aspect of my life – but especially with motorcycles. I am too all over the place to settle on a single desire. I want to try every damn bike there is, and then choose for myself what fits me. This experience has recently led me to own very different types of bikes (Husky, Versys, CB550, FZR600, etc). They all held excitement for me, and I expect there will be many more in line before (if ever) I settle on the one and only “right” one for me.

            I had my humble beginnings in the motorcycle “scene” at the ripe old age of 12, learning to wrench on a Honda Z50. I suppose my friends and I (3 of us owned it together, the only way we could afford the thing!) were ‘Cafe Racers’ of a sort, since we tried effortlessly to wrestle more speed and power from the little thing. But instead of trying to beat someone to the next cafe or exit, we were looking for these performance gains to better pull ourselves behind the bike on a skateboard, using a water skiing rope tow… Wow, we did some stupid shit.

        2. somehow these people who know very little don’t think they need to take criticisim or learn anything. Granted the internet is like one giant hate tank sometimes but those who create content now think they only have to listen to positive comments and any criticisim is just being a hater. Constructive criticisim is why schools give out letter grades, it is how a person learns and grows. People think this great internet content is learning but without someone saying “hey, you are kinda doing it wrong” you never get the full experence. I love to tell new riders all the time that they missed out on the best part of the old way of getting into motorcycling, the mentoring.

          To me, this is the most important part of this dialog. While I would argue that the way in which we offer up “constructive criticism” can often close the door on the learning. Long ago you warned me off on going onto that one website to post questions (cafeRacer.net???). You explained that the folks on there, despite being incredibly knowledgeable, would often tear apart a newbie. Fair enough, it takes a thick skin sometimes. But my question would be, why? Maybe it’s due to the frustration they felt created by over-saturation on the internet? I know I feel that way about music sometimes, and the abundance of what I would consider “bad” music. But at the end of the day (or web surfing session) I just don’t let it get to me.

          The lack of mentors for these types of skills is indeed the saddest part of all this. But I have been fortunate to find people like yourself and Keith (and others), who despite what frustrations they may feel about the given state of affairs, still take the time to explain things to me (and probably anyone else who is willing to ask nicely). So maybe mentors are not lost after all, but just need to be coaxed out of their frustration-filled garages 🙂

          1. Scott,
            You are right. The shop is full of frustrations and it can be overwhelming at times. I have been around motorbikes since I can remember. My first memory of riding a bike was when my dad put me in between him and the fuel tank of his KZ900 and road me around the block. The feeling I got from that was so exciting and impressive that I have never forgotten it and it is most definitely why I am here today doing what I do. I guess my frustration come from people who see motorbikes like they see the next new iphone. Motorbikes have never been a popularity statement or the newest craze to me. Motorbikes have always just been what I felt my life was about. The thrills, the learning, the frustration, the heart stopping scares, feelings of accomplishment and the enjoyment of coming back alive after every ride, even though some of them ended in a near death experiences. Motorbikes are not something you just go out and buy. They should be apart of you and your experience and I think sometimes I get the feeling that this is being lost among a lot of new riders that I see. I must say though that many first time riders that have come into my shop or ones I have met at swap meets have impressed me because they have what I must of had when my dad first took me for a ride, you can see it in their eyes and hear it in their words when they talk about their bike, their very first bike.
            I think my biggest frustration is not from the new riders who see that first “cafe racer” or whatever, it is from the people who control what new riders see and it doesn’t seem that what they are selling to people is true. They are selling false ideas to younger riders. Motorbikes are about the experience not about the clothes or helmet or boots you buy to become apart of some ultra cool lifestyle.
            Maybe I need to take a step back and really remember my first ride and remember why I enjoy what I do and not worry about these things that don’t really matter at the end of the day. I don’t care what you ride or like as long as you truly enjoy the full experience of it. I don’t want the craftsman to die out in this life, it may be hard work but it is some of the most rewarding work out there.
            Scott, I believe you just re-taught me a lesson I learned a while ago, ” live your life doing what you enjoy and do your best at it always and if others come along and want to learn then teach whatever you know, learn from them also and never forget that one person never knows everything and if you stop learning then there is no reason to ever go on and sometimes a good person comes along and reminds you of something you already new but briefly forgot”.
            Maybe one day motorbikes will be a part of everyday life like they are in other countries, it’s just a part of life not a fake lifestyle.
            Scott, thank you for taking me to school today it was a lesson that needed re-learned. I needed to crawl out of my cave and remember what I do is fucking awesome and I enjoy it and I am good at it and I can be better and that is what matters not all the bullshit that someone will always slang to make a buck!
            -Keith

          2. Well, this is the type of discourse that hopefully teaches us all a thing or two. That’s why I love when Kerry writes in, he’s always good for stirring the pot 🙂

            You are right on the money – once we cease trying to get better at something, that’s when we become stagnant. We should always try to be better the next time out, better than we thought we had achieved this time around. But I can understand the frustrations when someone like yourself or Kerry, with experiences that far exceed most of the newcomers out there, happen upon the overwhelming majority of people who are buying into the “culture.” No one appreciates a pre-fab, instant gratification, straight shot without blood sweat and tears route to anything. But my fear is that certain judgements may scare off the genuinely curious. The last thing I want to see is someone pass on the experience of owning a bike, because they were intimidated by the people who know more than they do.

            As an audio engineer, I often found myself getting impatient with the interns – kids who were working at the studio for FREE, in an attempt to learn the very things that I already knew. My impatience came from my ability to do the same things more efficiently, faster and correctly. But at a certain point, I realized I needed to step back, allow them to make their own mistakes, so that not only the album, but the KNOWLEDGE of how to best make that album, became second nature to them – as it had for me. This was part of the process for me – as it should be for them.

            With bikes, I rely on people like yourselves, who have a wealth of knowledge that exceeds my own, to help me develop my own skills and standards. That’s where the mentoring comes in. The ability to not feel dumb to ask a question, so that we might learn along the way. Not an easy way out, but a helpful hand to get us down the road. And in turn, I pass that same knowledge on to others. Already I have helped people get their bikes running better (or at all), by utilizing the things that I learn on my own, but most importantly from folks like you…

    2. Well Kerry, I hate to say this to YOU my friend, but when I posted this today – I had you squarely in my sights (who can help poking the bear?). When I mentioned a ‘debate,’ I was referencing your previous diatribes on the authenticity of the current cafe “scene.” I am not surprised by your comments today, though I honestly thought you might appreciate the one interview, where the older gentleman (Earl?) closely mirrored your opinions (from an older post here on this site), on the origins of the style/scene (customizing for performance – not a style). While I agree with just about everything you and Keith have stated here today (and in the past too), I also understand that nowadays, anything that has an ounce of “cool,” will most likely be co-opted by a larger subset of the culture, and eventually be twisted and manipulated into something that will displease the standard-bearers of said scene. Railing against that eventuality is wasted breath.

      Frankly, like you, I was more impressed with the cinematography and editing than anything else. But some of the bikes were nice to look at too.

      This happens time and again with music (the one thing I can speak with a smidgeon of authority on – so please forgive the analogy). While I agree that Led Zeppelin did not remain pitch-perfectly true to the origins of the Blues, none-the-less they did it with a style of their own that moved people, and quite frankly, fucking rocked. Did they get richer than Robert Johnson? Yep. Did they fly around in a shinier plane than Howlin’ Wolf? Absolutely. Play out of tune more than Leadbelly? Check. Had they bastardized the blues compared to its founding fathers? Indeed. Doesn’t matter, Zeppelin fucking rocked anyway. Period.

      While I am not implying that all current “cafe” builders are remaining true to the origins (or even the motivations) of Cafe’s originators, I am recognizing that some of them are building based on the “backbone” of a style, that has happened to have become popular. I have to recognize this evolution toward conformity MAY be for innocent reasons, that these builders are making a bike look like every other bike, simply because they like the look of those bikes. I am not even sure I validate the need to remain true to the origins – especially considering the seeds of the scene (and many motorcycle builders since people first attempted to create more juice where it didn’t exist from stock) were steeped in progress. It seems to me, the canvas is open to interpretation, as is anything creative, just like it was for those folks back in the late ’50’s. To me, discounting the new breed, out of hand, is a bit broad-stroked. I don’t see the logic in the argument that states; anything now appealing to hipsters is bogus. I am absolutely sure that there were some hipsters in the front row, digging the cucumber in Robert Plant’s trousers, but also soaking up Page’s authentically hot licks. My focus becomes; if a hipster buys a snazzy new “Cafe Racer” from Deus, hops on it and learns to LOVE riding, does it matter what bike he is on? Isn’t the point of the bike, you know, to have fun? And can we fault the dude for having more fun on a shiny bike than on a dirty one? Should we prefer the originators of the cafe scene had insisted on only riding bikes that were basically bicycles with a motor strapped to it, to stay true the origins of motorcycles themselves?

      I ride a bike that would be considered by many, to be amongst the ugliest in recent design (Kawasaki Versys). I chose it for what to me, were the perfect reasons. It’s reliable, it’s fun as hell, and it gets me long distances very comfortably. Style didn’t play into it. I couldn’t care less about other people’s opinions regarding the style of it. But that doesn’t mean I don’t love the way I feel when I get on my Honda CB550 (which is not looking stylish at the moment – but it WILL someday – I swear!). I can admit that I feel cool on it. And there is something to say for feeling cool. If motorcycles had the sex appeal of say, Lima beans, no matter how much horsepower they put out at the wheel, I promise you, we would all be looking for a different buzz. The “cool” factor is part and parcel with the choice of a bike. The fact that there are so many different styles proves that people have vastly different tastes. And whether you like what the style/scene has become, or the builders who claim to design within it, the fact of the matter is; it’s up to each individual to make that choice, no matter whether it’s choosing a bike that looks like all the others, or something truly unique.

      One thing is for sure, unique is damn hard to come by these days. Believe me, I understand your frustrations with what you see as the cookie-cutterization of the cafe style (if for a moment we can acquiesce to its existence). But for me, even more frustrating is to hear people confidently say that one creative brush stroke is “correct.” I’d rather see a thousand cookie-cutter cafe bikes, if through its overexposure, is produced the next Jimmy Page. So for me personally, I let the tits fist bump, and hope for the video or photo that inspires me.

      Most of the guys in this video, in my opinion, are barking up the wrong creative tree….for my tastes. But then again, no matter the terminology that they use, or anyone else may bestow upon it, I like the look of some of these bikes. But of course, that’s just my tastes. It’s inexplicable. Maybe it’s marketing, maybe it’s overexposure to these bikes. Either way, I like what I like, and I don’t ask myself much more than that…

      1. I have to take issue with your Led Zep analogy. Why? because Jimmy, Robert, and John did not travel the country in black suits, playing black gibson 335 guitars, living in poverty, and trying to be a howlin’ wolf / muddy waters / BB King / Roberty Johnston cover band. They also didn’t try to pretend they were black southerners. What they did is be touched and influenced by these great artists and use that muse to create something new and exciting and fun. It didn’t try to be “authentic”, and it rarely called back to the origins and inspiration for its credibility. it stood on its own as a thing, but if you knew the influences then it only enriched the experence. What the motor trend video is showing and what the scene is being sold as isn’t Led Zep, it is more like a thrid string shitty Bon Jovi cover band that works the crappy bars in seaside heights, NJ. Or as a more specific reference – it is that Long Island Doors cover band that has the fat shirtless Jim Morrison wannabe. Led Zep knew how to write new original songs and work and create something, they didn’t just bash the same chords out over and over again in a vain attempt to get beer and jersey bar skanks.

        people read my tirades sometimes and take it as “the old way did it like this and if you aren’t doing it that way then you are just in authentic and not doing it right”. Really nothing could be further from the truth, I love to see new stuff and creativity when executed properly. There are some basic tennants to this specific genre of motorcycling and if you ignore them you wont have a good product no matter how many clubman bars you have or how much checkerboard is on your helmet. you can’t apply the principles of choppers, or adventure bikes, or long distance touring to a high performance street bike and expect a good result – the end use is all different. We aren’t talking creative artistic license here, we are talking they defy basic principles of science in order to see if they can cheat into the end result – where the end result doesn’t acutally matter as long as other perceve you as having the right end result. Make sense? I would like to see more guys looking at racebikes from the 1960-90s and applying the good stuff to their street bikes rather than seeing some trashy copy of a bad copy, of a fictional, nostalgicly warped, history that never was.

        Is there something fun about a cover band? absolutley. Is there something culturally lasting or significant? or even making good art? no.

        regarding caferacer.net – they are “mean” but I use that term loosly. What they really are is looking for people with a certain attitude and their initation was their way of finding people with the right mix. Even if you are that person now, you may not have been at the time. In the real world if a person comes to you for advice the dynamic is different and you can size that person up and see how their attitude is and whether you are wasting your time or not. On the web, you don’t get that so the next best thing is pop the illusions right off the bat and see how the person responds. If they get huffy, or pissy about a dose of reality they aren’t worth it. If they ask questions, or joke back, or do anything other than act offended – well then they get it. Think of it more as an easy to figure out inside joke that once you get opens the club door. I don’t think they were going out of their way to be dicks and insulting, they just popped that “do the ton” / Rocker / 59 club mentality at the door. Honestly, I have been a motorcyclist now for over half my life, most of that spent making old cheap wrecks go fast. The rockers, the 59 club has no more meaning to me than boyd coddington did when I used to play with cars.

        you know the first step to being cool is to stop trying to be cool…..just saying.

        1. I hate to break it to you Kerry, but Led Zeppelin were absolutely trying to be those men from the past, in every way they knew how. Fortunately for us, it didn’t happen (being extremely white Brits, and the state of skin grafting back then), and we got something unique out of the experiment. The majority of their repertoire was straight-up standards (read covers), with their own interpretation sprinkled on top (some might read failure execute more closely). No question they were scholars of the trade, and they embraced the new-found freedom of not adhering to the standards too tightly. I also strongly believe that without the knowledge of those past tunes, they would never have excelled at creating a sound we now unmistakably recognize as being all their own.

          So back to the motorbikes… All points taken about the basic tenants of bikes. My point was meant to be more focused on the idea that our displeasure (and at times dismissive attitudes), if based solely on the fact that someone built a bike with checkerboards and clubmans, may prevent us from ever finding the innovative engine that lies beneath the rubbish. The fact that a particular builder may develop a bike in a cosmetic style that has been co-opted and commercialized, may just simply be that builders preference. He (or she) may be innocently attracted to the look of something that you and I recognize as being a ‘copy of a copy.’

          Having been around enough creativity by now, both culturally lasting and significant, as well as plenty that was NOT (my personal call), I can say that for me there have been some surprises that came out of left field, if based on the my initial impressions. I try to keep the door open to the possibilities, and recognize the pieces that I like, if the whole doesn’t satisfy.

          As for the folks over at CafeRacer.net, they have every right to run the site they wish, and be “mean.” It’s what the internet is for (pretty sure Al Gore confirmed that). It’s just not appealing to me. While I may know more now than I did when you first mentioned the forum, I am not a different person. My personality is just not attracted to the hazing ritual, or the energy it takes to break through it. Not being huffy or pissy, just chose less confrontational venues for support.

          And lastly, I can’t comment on the “cool” factor, it’s been so long ago, I can’t even recall that first step. Just sayin’ 🙂

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