Building a Cafe Racer: How to Select a Motorcycle 

Cafe racing is one interesting sport that entails building your own café racer, there is so much joy and pride when you strip a motorcycle down and successfully rebuild it with your own specifications including upgraded materials and systems, for better performance. While there are so many factors to consider when building a café racer, there is one very important factor that cannot be overlooked, and that is the base motorcycle you intend to use.

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If you really know what you want, then you know you cannot randomly pick just any motorcycle to be your base motorcycle. Building a café racer requires your studying and comparing notes about different motorcycles from different categories, especially knowing about their strengths and weaknesses. It is true that any motorcycle can be made into a café racer; however the virtuosos of the art of building café racers argue differently, they are of the opinion that there are certain motorcycles that are generally more efficient than others when used as a base.

If you intend to build a café racer, before you pick a base motorcycle, you should also take into cognizance the flaws each of these motorcycles have. This way you have an idea what you are dealing with and where you will need to apply fixes.

To further help you decide what motorcycle to use as a base, here are three categories of motorcycles to pick from:

Modern Motorcycles

Motorcycles have evolved greatly from what they were years back. Choosing a modern motorcycle would involve you doing all that is necessary to make the motorcycle lighter, including frame cutting, taking off unnecessary parts. Also for better performance, the control/handling of the motorcycle will need to be tweaked, and also increasing the horsepower of the motorcycle for a much better performance.


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Classic Motorcycles

 Using older motorcycles as base translates to sourcing for older parts. Maintaining a classic motorcycle is difficult and expensive. Getting the parts for replacements is usually difficult, and this is due to the fact that the parts may not be in circulation.

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Japanese Motorcycles (Suzuki, Kawasaki, Yamaha, Honda)

Japanese motorcycles have easily customizable features, and another advantageous feature the motorcycles have is that they are cheap. The prominent feature the motorcycle has is its versatility when customization is involved, and they have been known for this since the ‘70s. Here are some common Japanese motorcycles:

-Suzuki GN and GS series, and for building a café racer, the GT750 and also the GS450 are perfect.

-Kawasaki W650 and Z500 are the only ones you should consider if you are looking to build a café racer with the Kawasaki.

-Yamaha SR400, SR500, XS650 and Viragos are your best bet if you are eyeing a Yamaha based café racer.

-Honda has more options of motorcycles that can be used for building café racers. Motorcycles like the CB350, CB500, CB 550, and the CB 750.

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Motorcycle parts to work on

 You have made your decision about the motorcycle you are picking, from this point you can start paying attention to the type of project to deal with. The ultimate aim of any café racer is speed. It is imperative that you make your café racer as fast as possible. This can only be achieved after taking-off or remodeling some parts of the motorcycle. Here are some parts attended to when the optimization of a motorcycle into a café racer is taking place:

  • Handlebars: While optimum speed is the aim of creating a café racer, it is also important to pay attention to the handlebars, to ensure proper control and handling. Here are some types of handlebars and their qualities:
  • Clip-ons

These types of handlebars are simple and tend to have a minimalistic feel about them; they are made up of a steel or aluminum bar/tube using a billet clamp as its mount. There are two types of clip-ons to pick from, you can either go for the classic yet simple “Straight Clips-on” which has a bad way of locking and putting the rider in a wrong position, and thereby inflict some pain on the rider. The other type of Clip-on is the “Adjustable Split Clip-On”, The units can be adjusted at three points. The rider has the ability to make series of adjustments including the distance between the handlebar and the seat, and also adjust the height and angle. The adjustable split clip-on is a much better option than the straight clip-on.

  • Clubman Handlebars

If you cannot handle clip-ons, then you can opt for the retro clubman handlebars. The stock bar mounts is where they are attached, and then the grip portions of the handle bars are lowered to the height of the clip-on.

Whichever one you decide to pick, do make sure that nothing hampers the functionality of the steering, and that every cable and wire is correctly routed and fitted, and don’t forget your rearview mirrors, as they are important. (Check here for a selection of handlebars )

  • Seats: The only way to maximize control with a café racer is by using race seats that position the riders such that they are lowly inclined to the handlebars. Picking your seats depends on the likelihood that you will carry passengers or not. However, if you will give passengers a ride, then it is advisable you fit your racer with seats that have humps behind them, other than that, the rest of the seats are usually flat. 
  • Tires: Having tweaked the handlebars and seats, it is imperative to look for tires whose high-speed performance is top-notch. It is important to get tires that properly fit the café racer, as this is responsible for balance. You are looking for tires with stability and grip, so it is important to consider the rims and choose carefully. You can pick either of these:


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  • Dunlop TT100, Avon Speedmaster and Dunlop K70 – These are oldies and were the best in the 60s. Technological advancements have led to the creation of more efficient tires
  • Pirelli Sport Demon - They are safe and can adapt to every riding condition, optimum control on both dry and wet surfaces.
  • Firestone Deluxe Champion, Bridgestone Spitfire, and Michelin Pilot Activ.
  • Fenders: Café racer fenders should be as minimalistic as possible without losing its purpose. Remember the purpose is to make the racer as light as possible. If you please you can change the fender with a chrome one or do some cutting to the original one. Now your café racer is lighter while the fender is still serving its purpose.
  • Lights: Your lights should be functional, and you may have to use classic headlights in place of the stock lights. Japanese lights are usually mounted to the forks with two clamps, while other lights come with just a central mount. While H3 bulbs are usually dim, it is advisable to get H4 bulbs that are brighter. For the taillight and signal lights, you should can try using trailer marker lights, because they are efficient, DOT approved, easy to mount, and cheap.
  • Aesthetics: You have finished building your café racer, you should also give it some head-turning appeal, give it a proper polishing/paint job.

These are just basic parts to work on, as there are other parts that will need attention. The intended aim is to build your café racer as light as possible, the lighter it is, and the faster it runs. Whatever you do, make sure you are working within a budget.

Author Bio

Mitch is the Head Content Manager at Bike Brewers Café Racers. It’s a great website and focus on custom motorcycles and live by the philosophy “Built not Bought”. The main goal is to give a view on the great world around custom bikes and their builders (they call them “Brewers” ;)) and inspire to make your own (at a certain day) or just enjoy watching bikes. 



Albert Nanda