What Is A Café Racer Motorcycle?

cafe-racer-2The Café Racer is a lightweight motorcycle that is designed for optimal speed and handling. They are designed for riding over short distances. What makes the Café Racer stand out from other types of bikes is the elongated fuel tank, low racing handlebars, and seat cowling. In some cases, these bikes are designed in a way that the rider’s knees are wrapped around the fuel tank.


Apart from its low-power engine and lightweight design, it also boasts unique ergonomic features. Some of them are as follows:

Narrow Handlebars.

Two separate bars that link directly to the forks are better known as Clip-ons. Another variety is the ace bar, which is a one-piece bar located on the normal mounting position. This helps the rider combat wind resistance and get better control by tucking in. It is a complete shift from a normal bike’s broad handles, which makes Café Racer different.


jap-speedway-racingThe engine is designed for winding roads while handling speed. The engine is combined with a lightweight frame so it will not have to work hard to power the bike. This helps a great deal in getting the best performance from the low-powered engine. You can try different engine-frame combinations to find which works best for you and delivers the level of performance you expect.

You might see many images of Café Racer online but when it comes to buying one, you will most likely have limited options. It can be a tad difficult to find your desired configuration. If you are not getting what you want, you can have a Café Racer customized to suit your needs. Of course, this might mean you have to spend more money on the bike than if you buy it as it is.


The term Café Racer originated during the 60s among British motorcyclists, especially among racers. They used to speed from one terminal to the next at over 100 miles per hour. They were the British version of a Bobber motorcycle which gave birth in the United States in the 1940’s.

In 1973, an American writer defined the term Café Racer when writing for Popular Mechanics as a derogatory comment which inferred a guy with a speedy bike parked it next to a cafe. In 2014, Ben Stewart further elaborated on the origins of the term by saying “the look was made popular by European kids stripping down their displacement bikes to speed through one café to another.”

Initially, British Café Racers; BSA, Norton, and Triumph dominated the arena but during the mid 70s, Japanese manufacturers began to infiltrate. The design evolved during that time. The 60s unpainted Café Racer with aluminum fuel tanks was replaced by square-shaped, narrow fiberglass tanks. Other manufacturers started producing Café Racer bikes when sales of the bike increased.

During the 80s, Kawasaki became quite popular in the cafe racer arena. They made an impact with their two-stroke and four-stroke bikes. The most interesting part of the 80s was that some Japanese motorcycle manufacturers tried to mimic the look of old 60s British models but the experiment did not work out as planned.

The trend of modifying traditional bikes into Café Racers emerged during the 70s and picked up steam during the 80s and 90s. Many European manufacturers, such as BMW, Bultaco, Banelli, and Derbi, started producing Café Racer versions of their traditional motorbikes, which led to the popularity and increase in demand for the bike.

Cultural Influence.

motorcycle-race-turningThe culture of the time also played an important role in making Café Racer popular. Rock ‘n’ roll fans embraced the new type of motorbike to travel between transport cafés on fast bikes. They used the Café Racer and took to the newly-constructed motorways in and around British cities and towns.

Many of the Café Racers are rock music fans. As the new style elements are added to modern Café Racers, evolution begins. According to Google Trend statistics in 2010, the searches done with the search term “Café Racer” have increased three times more.

Bikes Converted To a Café Racer.

Some of the most popular motorcycles that are converted to Café Racers are:

  • Honda CB400
  • Triumph Thruxton
  • Kawasaki 250 Ninja
  • Suzuki SV650
  • Yamaha FZ6
  • Kawasaki Z1
  • Suzuki Katana
  • Kawasaki Versys
  • Suzuki S40
  • Nortons
  • BSA’s
  • Triumphs
  • and more.

Reason Behind the Conversion.

bsa-goldstar-racingEarly models from Honda, such as the Honda CB350 and the Honda CB6650, were the most popular choice for converting to Café Racer. The reason is they are easy to find and easy to modify.

What’s more, these bikes are excellent when it comes to handling. Triumph Thruxton is one of the most popular Café Racers for a reason. It is an all-round performer. Thanks to its aggressive ergonomic design and affordable price tag, it is a great choice for beginners.

For riders looking to convert bikes to Café Racers on a tight budget, the Suzuki SV650, Suzuki S40 and Kawasaki Z1 you are great options. All these bikes are ideal choices for beginners because they are affordable and easy to find. If you are looking for a Café Racer for racing purposes, then you should look for manufacturers such as BMW, Derbi, and Kawasaki.

If you are looking for a multipurpose bike, the Yamaha FZ6 will appeal to you. It is great bike for racing and commuting. It features an upright seating position and the under-seat exhaust made it a hit with Café Racer fans around the world. Suzuki Katana went through many design changes but the final design became quite popular.

cb350 cafe racerThe most important reason behind conversion of traditional bikes into Café Racers is the boost in speed, performance, and handling.

Furthermore, a Café Racer looks more stylish and helps you in making a style statement as compared to the traditional bikes. This is the reason enthusiasts put in a lot of time, money, and effort in converting traditional bikes into Café Racers because they understand the value of these bikes.

Even today, after 50 years, the trend of Café Racers is still going strong although it has been somewhat distorted by a wide variety of bikes available in different shapes and sizes. Café Racer fans still think that it is worth the time, effort, and money to transform a traditional motor bike into a Café Racer. They have the opinion that an ergonomic design and better handling with a lightweight frame and speed cannot be matched by any other traditional bike.

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