The Café Racer Look, but what you actually have to consider swapping?
Although café racers come in many custom forms, there are some commonalities that run throughout the design. With the lowering of the handlebars and changing of the gas tank and seat, the outline of the bike becomes more curved. It is important that the café racer is not clumsy in appearance. With parts brought toward the center of the bike, the bike becomes more visually aggressive. The gas tank and “humpback” seat (described here) mirror each other, accentuating the curved look.
Let’s face it for the current owner who’s wanting to replicate the ’60s look of a café racer, keep reading I have good news. Indeed today are many over-the-counter parts for the most popular bikes like Suzuki GN, Honda CB, BMW R80, Yamaha XV and many more. Adapting some of these café racer parts to fit any bike is not out of the question but may require some basic engineering.
Further you should be aware and have already a master plan in mind on how your café racer should look like after your are done remodelling. Check this Youtube video provided and uploaded by RacerTV. They disclose 5 Tips to begin your café racer design.
Parts to be replaced include:
- Handlebars and levers (grips)
- Gas tank and seat
- Front fender and rear cowl (and sub-frame)
- Suspension, front and rear
- Tires (and Brake pads)
Handlebars were designed to be a compromise between racing clip-ons and the regular stock bars. Unlike pure racing machines, stock street bikes typically had their headlight mountings covering the top of the fork tubes where the clip-ons would be mounted. In addition, ace bars can be fitted to bikes where the original gas tank is being retained.
Fitting handlebars is a simple case of removing the old street bars and fitting the new bars using the stock mounting points. However, there can be a number of complications, namely the cables, which can be too long. Shorter aftermarket cables are available for the majority of applications or can be adapted to counter this problem. Of more concern are handlebars that have the electrical wires inside on the stock setup. The handlebars must not be drilled to create an opening for the wires, as this will greatly reduce their strength; it is better to replace the switches with ones that have the wires running on the top of the bars.
The new handlebars should initially be fitted loosely to position them for rider comfort and gas tank clearance on full lock. Once the bars have been positioned, the retaining bolts should be torqued to the appropriate setting.
Pro-Tip: It is very important to check that the throttle cable is not being pulled as the bars are being rotated. This can be caused by poor routing or a cable that is too short. When the levers (brake and clutch) have been fitted, the mechanic should ensure that there is a small amount of free play on the clutch cable (approximately 1/8” or 3 mm).
Fitting a replacement fuel tank can be challenging, so unless you have extensive engineering experience, it is best to purchase a tank that is specific to your make and model. Luckily, there are tanks available for most of the popular machines currently being converted.
When replacing a tank, the mechanic must give due consideration to cable routing – this must be conducted at the same time as handlebar replacement, as the two have a major effect on the cable lengths.
The original “humpback” seat on café racers was copied from the Manx Norton racers of the ’50s. Most seats are made out of fiberglass nowadays. Typically the seat will either be completely flat, or have a hump behind the rider where a passengerwould sit. The extra space provided by this hump is most commonly used to relocate electrical wiring and/or a battery if the bike requires one. Café Racer Seats are not commonly know to be comfortable, but I’d bet the below pictured ones would feasable options to fit on your bike.
Read more about Café Racer Seats here!
Making the bike sound louder was all the rage in the ‘60s. To meet the street rider’s demands for louder exhaust systems and to try to stay within the law, manufacturers produced the reverse cone megaphone. These mufflers are available in most sizes to give your bike the classic café racer look and are generally a bolt-on accessory.
For some modern street bikes, swept-back pipes are available. They were originally fitted to improve engine performance and to increase ground clearance at full lean. Wherever possible, the original mountings should be used. This is particularly important with the megaphones, as they will tend to vibrate and cause stress on their mounting brackets. As a result, they should be mounted high for increased ground clearance.
Front fender and rear cowl
The original front fenders of choice for the ’60s café racers were made of aluminum. These fenders are still available from most classic motorcycle parts suppliers. An alternative is to fit a fiberglass or carbon fiber front fender (fiberglass fenders are generally light, easy to fit, and less expensive than the aluminum alternative). Basically, the café racer fender is a shorter, lower profile counterpart.
Tires and Brakes
Actually you want to find the a nice pair of of authentic vintage motorcycle tires at your dealer of choice. Every tire manufacturer makes them in the 18” range that will give good grip and great transitions from vertical to leaned-over.
The website caferacerz.com published not too long ago an articel about tires
and thier pros and cons. They really describe details on each tire they presenst. A very well written articel you might consider reading before to get to choose your tires.
Feel free to read the article here Get Some Authentic Cafe Racer Tires
If you tend to make some more improvements, you should check if there is a similar model to yours. Which obviously has a lighter, smaller rear hub, or a smaller and lighter disc.
Since we are up-front anyway, why not make changes to your brake system.
In general discs can be swapped out for a larger disc from another brand or model, or you could even swap the front hub for something that originally came with two discs.
Bottom line, by changing these main components and following the guidelines for Café Racer style, you can create a bike that is both in the Café Racer style and completely original.
Need more inspiration, then check our recent posts!
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