What is a cafe racer?
A cafe racer is a minimalist retro styled motorbike often a result of a customisation from older factory models. A typical design will consist of dropped bars, straight pipes, and an elongated fuel tank with indents for knee placement. The cafe racer has increased in popularity in recent years due to its classic styling aligning with the changing culture we have in current society. So where does the name ‘cafe racer’ originate from? In the early 1960s in England, an affordable vehicle option was a motorbike. By stripping down the bike it became lighter and more agile, perfect for narrow British. As a result, these modified bikes were often used for quick rides between restaurants and cafes, and hence the name was created. Hence who doesn’t want to build to build a cafe racer now!
The first step to build a cafe racer
So what is the first step to build a cafe racer? Well, you need a bike. Since this is a post about projects, I assume you will not want just go to the store and purchase a 2018 model bike which resembles a cafe racer. Therefore, an older model motorcycle will need to be purchased. Many people have various opinions about which model of bike are the best for a cafe racer project. In my opinion, the BMW R-Series (1970s) or the Honda CB-Series (1970s-80s) are the perfect basis to use for your project. Although if you have the cash to splash, a 70s model Ducati is hard to pass up! With the bike now in your garage, we can proceed to the next step.
Now a fun part, that is if you like deconstructing things. The bike you have purchased will need to be stripped down. The reason for this? because almost everything except the frame and the engine will be either replaced or restored. When pulling apart the bike do it with caution, since any parts you remove and do not plan on re-using they can be sold. No one wants to buy any cracked bodywork or broken lights. Furthermore, by stripping the bike down to its frame, you can determine if there is any damage that would otherwise have gone unnoticed.
“No one wants to buy any cracked bodywork or broken lights”
Fixing the bike is the next step when you attempt to build a cafe racer. This can either be done yourself or by a paid motorbike mechanic. With the bike pulled apart, you can start to repair, clean and improve the components that you would like to keep. Simple tasks can include draining the fluid, replacing worn bolts and screws, lubrication of joints, and general cleaning. In comparison, more complex jobs which should be completed by a professional can be, an engine rebuild, frame cutting and welding, a gearbox change, or any electrical re-wiring. This step is important as if it is not done properly your bike will have never ending problems. A cafe racer can look good, but if it can’t run it’s useless.
This step is where your vision of what you want the cafe racer to look like will be achieved. With the mechanical components working, the bodywork and accessories can be applied. Most cafe racer parts can be purchased online from a number of sites. As mentioned, the general look of a cafe racer includes dropped bars, straight pipes, and an elongated fuel tank with indents for knee placement. There are hundreds of images online of beautiful bikes to draw inspiration from if you are unsure which design direction you want to take. For further assistance on cafe racer design, this great article by BIKEEXIF outlines the shapes and contours that a well-built bike should possess.
The penultimate step to this guide on how to build a cafe racer is to now paint your almost finished project. Once again, if you are an inexperienced painter, this task should be outsourced to a professional. Don’t take it as a hit to your pride, you’ll appreciate the paint job once the bike is complete. In regards to the paint job itself, I can’t provide much advice since it is down to personal taste. The only point I will add, is to use quality paint and coatings. The paint job is something you shouldn’t skimp on.
“If you are an inexperienced painter, this task should be outsourced to a professional”
Congratulations! You have learnt how to build a cafe racer. The last step is now to go out and explore on your completed project. Visit a local cafe or journey along country roads, making people turn their heads as you pass. A well-constructed cafe racer is a special bike and should be admired, so flaunt it! Don’t leave it to rot in your garage. Take it outside, turn the throttle and embrace what you have made.