Café Racers have been the ‘new big thing’ in the motorbiking fraternity for the best part of a decade now and it’s a scene that continues to grow; it’s reckoned that since 2010 the amount of Google searches made for ‘Café Racer’ has increased by 300%. It’s outgrown the so-called Hipsters and entered the mainstream to such an extent that you can now buy shonky crate-fresh Chinese facsimiles straight off of eBay for a couple of grand.
To be fair, some eBay specials like the 125cc SkyTeam Ace might look the part, but, to me, they sort-of miss the point. You see, the original café racer motorbikes were the cherished steeds of grubby leather clad yoofs in a post-war Britain where money was tight and cars were expensive. Inspired by 50s and 60s race bikes the Rockers cracked open the toolboxes to take the best bits from various Triumph, BSA, Norton and Velocette to hand-build hybrid superbikes; fettled, streamlined and lightened to within an inch of their lives, they were designed to crack that magic 100mph milestone and join the revered ‘ton up club’. It was a ‘built, not bought’ philosophy from Blighty’s engineering Golden Age – plus a bit of war-time ‘make do and mend’ – that bore the café racer.
But as a spotty ’80s yoof my Mum flatly refused to let me have a motorbike; a sad and rather un-rock n’ roll thing to admit. But there is an interesting four-wheeled alternative.
If we apply what we see as the basic rules for a true café racer – lean, clean, tuned-up British classics – and apply that to old sports cars, then we then have a particular genre of motor that we’ve coined the Café Roadster. And while that pared down, racecar-inspired vibe isn’t at all new – we’ve had Cal look Beetles, Outlaw Porsches and pseudo street racers for decades – there hasn’t really been a coherent home-grown equivalent. However, it was a brilliant thread on the RetroRides forum that raised the question of café racers and the definitive ‘British’ look which inspired us to celebrate a small sub-group of modified classics soft tops; think budget Magnus Walker with Harris tweed, tartan tea flask and cricket on the radio … a Suburban Outlaw if you will.
Photo credits Seth, Christopher Michel, Thomas Bursy, Travis Isaacs, Anton Imm and Bryan Jones via Flickr creative commons. MGA Café Racer pics and video from ClassicDriver.com and Cool & Vintage.