The Cafe Racer culture was born in England in the 1950s and has since become one of the most influential movements in motorcycle history. It was the time of the Rocker culture, in which they prepared their motorcycles to go from cafe to café - as fast as possible - as its own name indicates. During this time, hangouts were organized in the London highway cafes, which ended up becoming the meeting place and place to organize illegal street races.
What is a Cafe Racer?
The original Cafe Racer were British bikes modified to go as fast as possible. Any unnecessary accessories that added weight to the bikes were often dispensed. The tank, handlebars and even the engine were also changed to improve performance and thus win the illegal races. Comfort was secondary but aesthetics were important. These years were a 'boom' for brands like Triumph, BSA, Royal Enfield, Norton, ...
Ace Cafe and the Ton-Up-Boys
One of the most emblematic places of this culture was the Ace Cafe in London, founded in 1938 and rebuilt after the Second World War. The service area became the meeting point for the “Ton-Up-Boys”, the boys who surpassed “the ton” (100 miles per hour - 160 km/h). It was the time of the beginning of Rock & Roll, which was not played on the radio, but it could be put on the jukeboxes of the cafes like the Ace Cafe. These songs, about 2 minutes long, served as timers for the races. The beginning of the song was the race start and the race consisted of driving across the railroad bridges, around the roundabout, and back before the song was finished. Runners who exceeded 100 miles per hour became part of the prestigious group of Ton-Up-Boys.
The famous Cafe Racer temple was a youth club in a church in Hackney, London, founded in 1959. Three years later, father Bill Shergold visited the Ace Cafe and was so impressed that he invited several Rockers to visit his club, that already had a motorcycle section. Some decided to accept the invitation – jokingly - until they arrived and saw the club with a large parking lot for their motorcycles, a beautiful jukebox, a ping pong table and a pool table, a bar, ...
Father Bill organized numerous charity events and faced the press numerous times to defend the bikers in his club from him. The 59 Club gradually made its way into society and at the end of the 60s, it already had more than 20,000 members and celebrities attended with Elizabeth Taylor, Princess Margaret, the Earl of Snowdon and Sir Cliff Richard among others.
Triton The first Cafe Racer?
You may have heard of, seen photos, or even seen a Triton. The Triton motorcycles of that time were never made by a company named like that. They are a hybrid between the Triumphs and the Nortons. The Norton frame used to be used with the Bonneville engine, creating an unbeatable mix at that time.
Other known combinations were the Norvin, a mix between Norton and Vincent or the Tribsa, which combined Triumph with B.S.A .. Legend has it that the first Cafe Racer was a Triton.