History of Café Racer
How can cafes on British roads become the centre of a motorcycle subculture? Why did the small, quiet restaurants and shops that had served only snacks turn into a gathering place for Rockers and his girlfriend? Where does the name of Cafe Racer come from? And what is Rocker?
To explain all this, I will explain 2 things separately: The street system in Britain and the rise of youth culture. First, we return to the years after World War I. Britain has gone through war and the atmosphere has returned to normal. At that time the traffic lane in the UK more filled by cars and motorbikes. “Chariots without horses and motorized bicycles” are no longer considered mere new trends. With the increase in traffic figures a new road system was created in the UK. The old roads are no longer able to accommodate the increasing number of cars and motorbikes and finally upgraded and added new roads.
With the UK industry back to normal, the freight and transportation business is growing rapidly along with new roads called motorways. Together with this industry, cafes, gas stations, and resting places on the side of the road have sprung up which are visited by truck drivers and motorists who want to take a short break on their journey.
These new motorways make the delivery of goods out of the main streets and across England to cities like Manchester and Birmingham in the north. Motorways at this time cannot be compared to highways as they are today. The shape is small and narrow, some of it is only a dirt road or footpath that is widened and flattened and then fitted with signs. Sharp curves, narrow lanes, and herds of cattle that just cross, make these routes impossible to pass at high speed. In addition, vehicles today are still primitive compared to today’s transportation. Some small trucks can only go with a maximum speed of 30 mph. So it is natural that these transport workers often stop on their way. Every few miles along the route taken is usually found a lot of stops. Most of the stops are intersections leading to smaller towns and villages. Almost every stop like this can be found a café.
For many years these cafes and restaurants only open during the day during work hours. They serve visitors with warm food and a cup of hot tea. Some café owners may stall the closing time of one or two hours to get more customers, but there is no intention to make it a social centre or hangout. These cafes are just simple resting places along the new British highway system.
The next important factor in the emergence of Cafe Racer and Rocker was the rise of Oral Culture, although before World War II, understanding of this concept was still weak. In the early 30s, Britain came out of the crisis and its youth were working again. With decent work, these young people have more money. Add to this the high number of old motorcycle supplies, the result: in a short time the youth filled the streets with their motorbikes. Some just go for a walk with their girlfriends, others only want to drive with recreational goals.
As Britain’s post war rise, dozens of companies offered various types of motorbikes and their parts. So motor racing was back in popularity. Not satisfied with the standard motorbikes, these young men replaced their parts with more advanced ones, which they saw at racing events. Even some of them make special home made parts.
But all this suddenly stopped in the late 30s, these young men had to take off their leather jackets and wearing army uniforms as the British fought against Germany. During World War II the British government took control of the motorcycle industry for war needs. With the end of motorcycle production, the world of racing and motorcycle enthusiasts also went out. After the war ended, it took 7 or eight years for the lives of the British people to return to normal, but everything was not the same as before.
Some things happened in the early 50s where everything combined to revive the era of cafe racer. Young people in the UK are back at work and have more money. The UK motorcycle industry has also reached its heyday, with many great motorcycles such as Norton Dominator, BSA Gold Star, Triumph Tiger 110 and Velocette Venom. This motorcycle is not only widely used in racing throughout the UK, but also widely sold at dealerships in every city. And if you can’t get the model you like, you can replace the tank and fender and make it better with the accessories you see on The Isle of Man TT or Silverstone. With the end of the war, young men and motorbikes re-joined.
Perhaps the main factor in the formation of Cafe Racer or Rocker culture is the booming of Youth Culture and its new ‘anti-heroes’ in the’ 50s. At that time the vocals of Eddie Cochran, Elvis Presley and Gene Vincent were playing. Rock-n-Roll has become a new threat to society. Marlon Brando and other rebels graced the silver screen with their leather jackets. In a short amount of time, all of this made the motorcycle with its distinctive lifestyle seen as ‘cool’, and of course the sales figures increased. Then items such as handlebar, fiber tank, rear body, and swept-back exhaust become standard equipment for riders, and suppliers of these goods become big business.
After the Youth Culture boom, there was still no place they really used to hang out until they found the cafes at the stop. So then the cafes along the North and South Circular road open longer to accommodate these motorists and their girlfriends. These cafes become the social centre of this new culture. Groups that often come to a café will make it a permanent hangout. Sometimes these groups race from one café to another with speeds above 100 mph (hence the term ‘ton-up’). The activity, especially in the middle of the night coupled with the naughty impression of a leather jacket, seems to give these young men a bad reputation in the eyes of the British Press, police and even – funny – the British motorcycle industry. And from it all, a new Youth Culture was born: The Rocker.