Café Racers are an affordable and rather easy way to build a custom motorcycle with more charm than most other bikes
The world of motorcycles has seen the explosion of different styles. But since the 1950s and '60s, “ton-up” guys who loved rock and roll and leather jackets developed a worldwide style of their own that has dominated the realm of two wheels. They wanted to buy the fastest bikes, ones that resemble the machines ridden by British racing heroes, but with not much in their pockets they could only afford regular, street motorcycles. So, these young guns took matters into their own hands to have a ‘ton of fun.’ They used to race from café to café, stripping down their motorbikes to shed unnecessary weight, dropping down their handle-bars, and installing high rear-set footpegs too. It was all part of the café racer character. And even today, the legacy continues. Not everyone has the budget to buy a crotch-rocket, but when your wallet is not in sync with your dreams, hard work will be your friend.
In the modern day and age, commuter motorcycles are churned out of the production line thick and fast. They serve the purpose, are amazingly convenient, and are economical to run — for which they should be applauded. But unless you’re spending generously, they don't have the exclusivity, the uniqueness that some desire. Sure there are many ‘special editions’ going around, but in the larger scheme of things, how special are they really? Your motorcycle is an extension of your personality and every person is different, so why ride the same motorcycles as others? This is where a custom motorcycle comes in, and it doesn’t have to be tough to build.
Okay, it’s not that simple actually. You have to get down on your knees and get your hands dirty. But you will love the process. The most simple custom layout is of a café racer. Drop the handlebar, raise the suspension and drain the weight by chopping off anything but the essentials. Give it some cooler looks while you’re at it too. Remember, less is more. For the project, we suggest getting an older motorcycle, which is gone but not forgotten, like the Yamaha RX, Bajaj Pulsar 150 UG1 or Hero Honda CBZ because their construction is simple and there aren’t kilometres of wires to mess around with. Of course, the best place to find one of these is on the second-hand market or to hunt around in a barn or a shed. Don’t fret if it is not in running condition. The goal is to take it with its problems and get it running, by yourself preferably. You can get it done by paying money to a mechanic, but doing it yourself makes you feel more connected to the bike and at the end, it also, more rewarding.
The whole theme of café racers is to keep the build cheap and easy. Start by inspecting the project thoroughly and addressing the issues from earlier. Then, list the parts you want to upgrade, stuff like the brakes, suspension and perhaps even the rims. And then the most important part is to reduce weight. And if you are committed to the project, chop that rear subframe off. If you get stuck at any stage of the build, you can also take help from online forums and social media. Find out what you need, forums will help you choose the right part without the hassle of hunting dealers. People are more than happy to help anyone who shares their interest.
You can also ask for help from local mechanics. They’ve been working on bikes longer than you have and chances are that you’ll learn a lot from them. Some of their methods might even help you save a few bucks. Also, you will eventually need help from them. For example, for the lacing of a wired spoke wheel or if your bike needs a complete engine overhaul. Another trick would be to try and retrofit parts from other motorcycles. The best bit is that you can source most of these common parts in scrap yards for very cheap.
Okay. So you have done the hard work and kept your patience through these weeks, months, or even years. But now what you have is an exclusive bike, a one-off motorcycle made for you and by you! If everything went to plan, your riding position should now form a perfect triangle within three contact points i.e. the handle, seat and footpegs and this achieves suitable weight distribution. And if you’ve paid attention to getting the looks right, you can be assured that you will turn more than a few heads on your rides. You’ll meet new people, people who will get inspired by you and start their own build. Although we must warn you that once the bug of customising a motorcycle has bit you, it is hard to stop your garage flooding with more of them.