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Ton Up: A Century of Café Racer Speed and Style by Paul D’Orleans (Review)

There is no shortage of books on motorcycle history, nor on the special breed of motorcycles that have come to be known as café racers.

What there hasn’t been created is a book that elegantly covers both in such a way that the historical underpinnings of café racer style and culture are explained in the larger context of motorcycle history.

That is, until now.

Ton Up: A Century of Café Racer Speed and Style by Paul D'Orelans (Review)Ton Up: A Century of Café Racer Speed and Style, by motorcycle historian, journalist, collector and expert Paul D’Orleans, is a spectacular answer to that need.

D’Orleans tackles the topic in a way that matches the breadth and diversity of motorcycles in their evolution in general and then drills down on how the café racer style evolved, as well.

In the book’s preface, D’Orleans explains his personal journey to café racer passion and explains the long timeline of his experience with iconic motorcycle brands that helped define café racer style—Norton, Ducati and Velocette. It also serves notice that D’Orleans knows whereof he speaks by virtue of a lot of time in the saddle.

The book’s ten chapters take the story decade by decade from about 1900 all the way to the 21st Century. Illustrated with 175 images, many of which are rare early black & whites from around the turn of the last century, the story of how the endless quest for speed drove constant product improvement by manufacturers and owner/customizer/racers, as well.

The personalities and entities that helped define motorcycle history and were intertwined with the café racer are covered with interesting detail. To name a few:

  • Glenn Curtiss, whose motorcycle speed record of 136.6 MPH set in 1907 stood for 24 years T. E. Lawrence, the British Army officer who was immortalized as Lawrence of Arabia and the most famous Brough Superior rider in history
  • Al Crocker whose innovative rider-specified motorcycles were the first true factory customs
  • Phil Irving, designer of the Vincent V-twin
  • Lewis Leathers, which helped shape biker style from the 1920s on with the Bronx jacket

D’Orleans chronicles the movement from the advent of owner-created “bobbers” to factory-built customs, to sportbikes, all the way to the superbikes. His narrative isn’t just limited to the streets of London and the Ace Café, where so much of the early excitement was generated. His reach spans the Continental scene, North America and Asia.

Many of the images he offers are of bikes, people and places that all are part of the café racer scene you may have heard of but never seen. Ton Up: A Century of Café Racer Speed and Style is a visual feast as well as a fount of in-depth information about the café racer movement and more; it is about the progression of motorcycles, motorcycling and the social backdrop where it all happened.

Book Data:

  • Title: Ton Up a Century of Café Racer Speed and Style
  • Author: Paul D’Orleans
  • Published: 2020 hardcover, 208 pages, 150 color and 25 black & white images, page size 8.5” x 10.0.”
  • Publisher: Motorbooks, an imprint of the Quarto Publishing Group, 100 Cummings Center, Suite 265-D, Beverly, MA 01915 USA. For more information: Call: 1-978-282-9590. See:
  • ISBN: 978-0-7603-6045-3
  • MSRP: U.S. $40.00 U.K. £24.99 $51.99 CAN

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