21st Century Cafe Racer


Like many people, I live in a modern world and do a modern job. I work in a world of empowerment through technology where I am able to speak to anyone, anywhere at any time. As much as I sometimes wish I lived in a world full of welding sparks and grease I can safely say that I do not.

The advent of such modern and powerful technology should mean that I am able to work smarter and be more efficient in my job so that I can afford more time for the things that really matter. Technology should enable me to get the job done more quickly which should drive me on to a greater work/life balance.

Ace Cafe Thruxton 900, British Customs.

What actually seems to have happened is that technology has created an insatiable need for instant gratification, answers and output. In work, this translates into everything being required yesterday and a job that ignores the traditional nine-to-five boundary. In essence, much like the technology I work with and create, I have a job that is always on.

Modern jobs then require a lot of time and attention which make the work-life balance ever more elusive. Finding time for hobbies such as motorcycling seems like a simple endeavour but what happens when the culture (We call hobbies culture these days) demands more? What does the young, family-first, career-chaser with a penchant for customised bikes do with so little time available? How does one satisfy the desire for a stand out steed? Most of us would love to get dirty in the garage building one-off motorcycles, skills permitting, but many of us simply do not have the time to pursue builds of our own. How then, do we achieve a personalised statement on two wheels?

Purchasing a custom build bike completed by somebody else is certainly a possibility and this would ensure the need for customisation is quenched. This path, however, has the obvious drawback of missing the personal touch and the reward that comes with it. Perhaps it could be taken one step further and a one-off bike could be commissioned with input so that the end result reflects individual taste. Although this sounds like a costly option, I suppose you need to weigh it up against the potential cost of a new machine from a big manufacturer. Purchasing old bikes and customising them also means you still end up with an old bike so reliability may play a factor in the decision.

Off the shelf modification of standard bikes has become another popular avenue of pursuit for ‘customisers’ and a good one to boot. There are many, now well known, brands that focus on adding signature styles to pre-existing bikes both new and old. Some of these small companies have become so well known that it appears that even the big boys have taken note and created lines of aftermarket products for their factory bikes that just didn’t exist a few years ago (I guess with Harley being the exception to the rule as their aftermarket parts list is biblical). Off the shelf modification of existing bikes is a good option for many custom connoisseurs as the mods are generally focused on the DIY enthusiast and do not take an overwhelming amount of time. Simple modification using off the shelf parts to achieve individuality has obvious benefits for the time-strapped modern citizen.

If you are in the market for a new bike then there are many new factory bikes these days that come straight from the shop with the look and feel of a highly customised bike. It is fairly obvious that the big bike manufacturers are tapping into our desire for customisation and are providing standard bikes that look like one-offs whilst simultaneously adding to the ever-growing pile of off the shelf part options that satisfy the need to customise.

With all these potential avenues to pursue, and I haven’t even discussed the actual choice of bike here, what should one do? Is one route better than another for the modern person and how do you weigh one up against another? There are so many possibilities within reach of even a modest budget making these types of choices is becoming harder and harder. It would be easy if you knew exactly what bike you wanted and how you wanted it to look but I’d bet that the majority of people lean towards a style of bike and that’s about it. How do you move from “I like café racer bikes and would like one for myself” to the finished custom article?

DGR, 2016

I suppose that ultimately there are a few paths and those are fairly dictated by funds and time. Building your own highly customised motorcycle may not be an option but there are ways for the time-strapped to achieve the same result.

If you are not limited by budget then go ahead and get a one-off bike commissioned with the input of expert builders at the top of their game. If you are able to afford a new factory bike with the look and feel of a retro machine then that could be the avenue for you. Perhaps you could even stretch to a few extra mods to give it that extra special touch. When there is a bike already sat in the garage it makes sense to pursue aftermarket DIY mods which can open you to a world of spanners and skinned knuckles as well as achieving the custom build you hanker for.

Whatever you decide, it is ultimately up to you, a reflection of your circumstance, taste and style. Whether you end up on a slammed chopper or a drop-bar café racer with a seat as thin as paper is your choice, but make the most of the time you have available. Anything that makes something better is ok in my book and pushing the boundaries of what can be done is the reason we are where we are with bikes (and everything else) today.

Myself, Andy, Sam & Jamie (DGR, 17)

Oh, and don’t forget the main reason for all of this is to have something you are proud of and all that really matters is that you enjoy it. Failing that you could just get on your bike and go for a ride.

Andrew Harrison

Baffle Culture