Tuesday, July 15, 2014


The website Ultimate Motorcycling has a review of my 'Café Racers' book (my text, Michael Lichter's photos), based on our 2013 Sturgis 'Ton Up!' exhibit. The show featured 35 café racers, of which 12 were vintage, and the rest contemporary; several machines were built for the show, as Michael Lichter's 'Motorcycle as Art' exhibit has been running for 14 years now, and contemporary custom-bike builders are literally banging on his door to be included. This is understandable; there is no other motorcycle exhibit with 250,000 potential motorcyclist/viewers within a 20-mile radius.  Sturgis is a Thing unto itself, which needs an essay from me, but I was just too busy with the exhibit last year... 
From the book: Ray Drea, head of styling at Harley-Davidson, built this remarkable 'XRCR' for 'Ton Up!', from an XR1000 engine and lots of carbon fiber - wheels, bodywork - plus upside-down forks and killer styling.  It was my favorite bike in the show...but sadly, H-D can't build it, as they no longer make the XR engine...
I'm joining Michael Lichter to co-curate an exhibit again this August, 'Built for Speed' at the Buffalo Chip, featuring race bikes from various disciplines (drag, road, dirt, salt), plus custom bikes inspired by these genres. It'll be another great show...and I'll be there test-riding my Cannonball Brough Superior for the first time, as Revival Cycles, my team #38 partner, is exhibiting their cool Ducati 'Pyro' in the show.  If any readers are interested in an 'Alt.Sturgis' ride through the Black Hills on Saturday Aug. 2nd, let me know...it'll be vintage only, "no baggers, no do-rags, no tits".  I might relent on that last point, but you know what I mean.
One that didn't make it into the book; Mark Mederski's '69 Honda CB750 café racer, modified by him in 1970. Mark wrote the forward to the book.

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.
Ben Part (of Sideburn Magazine) contributed some 1980s/90s photographs of London's 'other' café racer club, the Mean Fuckers, and an essay by Dave Lancaster about the club is really good!
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 TheVintagent

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.
Quite a few 'wet plate' photographs are included, which Susan McLaughlin and I shot in the past 2 years as part of our 'MotoTintype' project.
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.
The discussion of café racer history includes 100 years of 'racers on the road', from the 1914 Norton 'Brooklands Road Special' to contemporary customs.  Here's a page about the 1970s/80s...
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


David Blasco said...

"No tits"? I'm sorry, I don't know what you mean. I've never been to Sturgis, of course. But, even so, I can't make sense of that one.

The Vintagent said...

No David, you clearly haven't been to Sturgis! The celebration of the American Mammary - unasked for but unfortunately still seen - seems as much a part of a Harley rally as the bikes. Pardon my crude reference!

GuitarSlinger said...

Here was my comment of the book before any of the reviews came out on another M/C site ;

" Two of the best [ photographer and writer ] join forces to create one of the best motorcycle books in years . Even if you're not a fan of the Cafe Racer genre its worth a look as well as putting one on your bookshelf "

Which is to say good sir .. Two Huge thumbs up ... and worth all the effort it no doubt took to create the book on both your parts

Hey though ... wait just a ___ a minute ! It looks like that reviewer stole a line right out of my review !!! Oh well ... its all in a good cause ... so all is forgiven .. ;-)

jeff said...

Great book!
And you know, "...horseshit roads of 1867" is not a profane judgement but a profound fact. The roads, bad as they were, were made all the worse for being covered by horseshit, the carbon monoxide of its day.

Meeker128 said...

I looked at the Ducati Pyro. Without a doubt, the most no nonsense bike known to mankind!
And not one plastic panel in sight!
Jim A., Tucson, AZ