We all know what a café racer is, right? And if we don’t, here is an authoritative definition:
“A cafe racer is a style of custom motorcycle that first appeared in the UK during the 1950s and 1960s. They were the motorcycles ridden by members of the Rocker or Ton-Up Boy subculture. Cafe racers were created out of a desire to look good and go fast. During the sixties, groups of cafe racers would commonly be found gathering at transport cafes along arterial motorways. These cafes became the hub for socializing with other enthusiasts and the place to arrange illegal street races.
“Originally cafe racers were based primarily on British motorcycle marques. They were lean, stripped-back bikes built to go fast. Owners would remove any unnecessary components, fit parts designed for the race track and even swap engines and frames in the hunt for more power and improved performance.”
Okay, it doesn’t get much more authoritative than that. The problem for me is that a type of motorcycle that was originally an expression of an intensely personal approach, has been turned into a combination of a work of art, an interpretation of style and an expression of craft. It makes for bikes that are created for others’ eyes, not for the use of the owner and builder in a specific environment.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
After all, many objects that began life as utilitarian answers to some need have turned into precisely the same kinds of thing. Look at Alessi kitchenware, especially Luigi Colani’s utterly impractical orange juicer. I have one of his Warsteiner beer glasses, which truly is a work of art. I don’t drink beer out of it.
So, if café racers are built to win competitions in spare white halls for their appearance rather than to roar down empty factory back roads in English industrial estates, then that’s fine. Not convinced? Consider another branch of art, painting. It began on cave walls as a way of ensuring a successful hunt and is now made of canvas hung on walls to ensure appreciation of the business success of the owner. Just as café racers began as practical machines, they are now objects of admiration.
Yes, I know that a lot of them can be and are ridden. A lot of paintings are used to hide safes or air conditioning controls, too. Don’t distract me.
What I am leading up to is that it is perhaps time for a new iteration of the personally designed motorcycle. We have had choppers and bobbers and the rest, sure. But I think there is room for another type of custom bike. Not a café racer, but perhaps a tearoom racer. Or, with another nod to the English origin of its predecessors and my donor bike, a High Street Racer. In England, a town’s High Street is what Americans would call its Main Street.
Meet my submission, a Triumph High Street Twin. As it stands it is still a plain Street Twin, but my plans for it are already far advanced. Why and how will the bike evolve?
You are no doubt familiar with the all-too frequent threnody about the way the motorcycling community is ageing. No longer do we spend our Saturday afternoons racing from the Ace Café to the nearest roundabout while the latest Eddie Cochran disc spins on the jukebox turntable. Instead we are on the way to the 7-11 to pick up a tube of Polident, or off to the liquor shop for another Mild Turkey. Sorry, Wild. Wild Turkey. We don’t primarily need power, responsiveness and speed, we’re looking for comfort, reliability and some carrying capacity. That, then, is what will set the Tearoom or High Street Racer apart from the standard donor bike.
But just as we are not entirely Over It, our bikes should not be, either. And so none of the customising of the typical High Street Racer will reduce power, braking or handling. Keep in mind here that unlike the original café racer donor bikes, today’s motorcycles have comparatively outstanding brakes, exceptional handling and more than enough power to get you into trouble with John Law. These do not need much work, if any. If we are going to have fun on the bikes as well as using them for practical runs to the farmers’ market, then these things must not be diminished. After all, our machines are still “Racers”.
Perhaps not much needs to be done to my High Street Twin, then? You might like to give me some ideas.
(Photos Who Knows)