Rider’s Library | Cafe Racers Speed, Style and Ton-up Culture

Rider's Library | Cafe Racers Speed, Style and Ton-up CultureRider’s Library Review

Reincarnation is real — at least for motorcycles that start out as conventional, factory-built models but then are reborn to an entirely new life as cafe racers.

Unlike choppers, bobbers and some other types of customs, cafe racers are modified not just to achieve a certain aesthetic; they are sculpted in a form-follows-function high performance motif.

Noted moto-journalist, Paul D’Orleans in collaboration with photographer Michael Lichter take what is perhaps the most in-depth and sumptuously illustrated look at this decades-old motorcycle genre in their book, Cafe Racers Speed, Style and Ton-up Culture.

If you read about motorcycles very often, you probably couldn’t help but read D’Orleans work as a commentator for Classic Bike Guide, feature contributor to Cycle World and Motor Cycle News magazines, and publisher of the website Vintagent.

D’Orleans does an amazing thing in Cafe Racers – he provides a history of motorcycling’s earliest days and how cafe racers evolved, became widely popular in the 1960s and beyond that is almost clinical in its completeness, yet he keeps it from being as dry as a helmet owner’s manual.

For example, in describing how two of the earliest motorcycle developers might have decided whose bike was best, he lays it out thus:

“Had Sylvester Roper and Henri-Guillaume Perreaux met with their respective steam-powered creations, you can be damn sure they would have raced! How do I know? Contemporary accounts of both men record their extensive testing of their surprisingly similar beasts on the dusty, horseshit roads of 1867, the year both men invented the motorcycle.”

Such pithy prose can’t help but keep you reading and grinning as you go.

Add to that 200 stunning, large format, full-color studio shots of some of the best examples of cafe racers you’ll ever see, 75 period and historic black and white images slathered all over 224 10” x 12.25” heavy stock pages and you have a book that is as much presentation quality art as it is a technical masterpiece.

Along the way, D’Orleans portrays what makes a bike a cafe racer. The clip-on handlebars, rear-set footpegs, bump seat, abbreviated or absent front fender, custom paint, all arranged in a way the puts the rider in an aggressive, chest on tank riding attitude are the generally recognized qualities, but at the end of the day, it is what the owner makes it. No two are exactly alike, as Lichter’s images demonstrate.

Divided into only three chapters, Cafe Racers covers the range from the racing bikes that started it all like the BSA Gold Star Clubman and Norton Manx to owner-conceived originals to factory-built limited editions like the Ducati 750 Super Sport, MV 750 Sport and custom bike-builder masterpieces like the Honda 450 Brass Café from Dime City Cycles, the over-the-top BSA-based Berzerker from Speed Shop Design, Kafe Storm from Brian Klock of Klock Werks and the hyper-glossy H-D XR1000-based NessCafe from Arlen Ness, and much, much more.

Even if you haven’t been particularly drawn to the cafe racer scene up to now, if you appreciate Spartan, essential motorcycles that are an art form unto themselves, you will find Cafe Racers Speed, Style and Ton-up Culture a fascinating read and a great addition to your library.

Book Data:

  • Title: Café Racers Speed, Style and Ton-up Culture
  • Author: Paul D’Orleans with photographer Michael Lichter
  • Published: 2014
  • Publisher: Motorbooks, an imprint of Quayside Publishing Group, 400 First Avenue North, Suite 400, Minneapolis, MN 55401 USA.
  • ISBN-13: 978-0760345825
  • MSRP: U.S. $50.00 U.K. £35.00 Canada: $55

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