Owning a Café Racer these days is something you can be proud of. After all, Café Racers as we know them today are thought of in high regard. They are the legendary bikes that created a revolution in the motorcycle scene of the 1960’s… but their legendary status was not always so certain.
The term “Café Racer” was originally a derogatory reference to describe riders who cared more about style than they did about substance. These riders would buy these motorcycles only because they looked good parked in front of a Café. They would take a seat at a table outdoors drink their and admire the scenery. Once they had sufficiently make their presence known, they would hop on their bikes and “race” to the next café. They were not riders obsessed with power and cornering… they were dedicated to style and a way of life. When their detractors started calling them “Café Racers” they embraced the title because they couldn’t deny its accurate description.
The bikes they rode were lightweight, ergonomic and had minimal bodywork. Part of their signature style was the low clip-on handlebars, which allowed riders to “tuck in” to the bike and minimize wind resistance. Despite the fact that the Café Racers were not breaking any land speed records and did not want to, they had a look and feel that embodied forward motion.
The Café Racers movement eventually took to buying stock motorcycles and stripping them down to fit their minimalist style and adding the handlebars they wanted. European manufactures were quick to take notice and started making “Café” versions of their standard production bikes. By the mid 70’s Moto Guzzi, Honda and even Harley Davidson began manufacturing and marketing factory built Café Racers to satisfy the growing trend. Eventually the term “Café Racer” lost its derogatory connotation and became a descriptor for a certain style of motorcycle.
When the 80’s rolled around a new style took hold of the motorcycle community. The Kawasaki GPZ900R also known as the Ninja 900 became the king of its time. The Ninja series ushered in the era of the sport bike. These bikes were built for speed and their riders were not much for coffee. By the time Tom Cruise appeared in Top Gun riding a Ninja, no one was thinking about Café Racers anymore. The focus turned to quickness and riders had to be decked out in leather and giant helmets to protect themselves from the pavement if anything went wrong. The Café Racer style motorcycles lost the appeal they once had and simply became old bikes.
It wasn’t until 2006 that Ducati decided to take their 1973 750 Sport and use it as inspiration to build a modern day Café Racer. The Ducati Sport Classic had the look and feel of a classic lightweight single-seat Café Racer but with the reliability of a modern bike. In 2006 Ducati was known for its high performance bikes and there wasn’t much demand for a throwback Café Racer. Due to poor sales Ducati had to discontinue the Sport Classic in 2009… but then something unexpected happened.
In 2010 Disney released a sequel to their 1982 sci-fi epic Tron. In Tron Legacy (2010) the opening scenes features the film’s leading character riding the discontinued Ducati Sport Classic while evading a police motorcycle. The pure style of the throwback Ducati on the big screen sparked a sudden demand for a Café Racer resurgence.
Ever since the Café Racer resurgence has taken hold, Café inspired bikes with modern technology keep rolling off the factory production lines. Instagram even has its own Café Racer hero… The Suited Racer (@thesuitedracer) whose identity is unknown but rumor has it he lives here in Miami.
“The Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride” is an annual worldwide event for dapper Café Racers riding Café Racers (and classic bikes) to raise money for Men’s Health. To date it has raised millions and isn’t slowing down.
As a potential investment Café Racers are still full of upside. Unlike their four-wheel vintage counterparts, Café Racers from the 1960’s and 70’s in restoration-ready condition do not command astronomically high prices. It you have the mechanically wherewithal and the time you can get into a vintage Café Racer relatively cheap and come out ahead.