A Café Race is a lightweight, lightly powered motorcycle optimized for speed and handling rather than comfort – and for quick rides over short distances. With bodywork and control layout recalling early-1960s Grand Prix road racing motorcycles, café racers are noted for their visual minimalism, featuring low-mounted handlebars, prominent seat cowling and elongated fuel tank – and frequently knee-grips indented in the fuel tank.
In 1973, American freelance writer Wallace Wyss, contributing to Popular Mechanics magazine, wrote that the term Café Race was originally used derogatorily in Europe to describe a „motorcyclist who played at being an Isle of Man road racer“ and was, in fact, „someone who owned a racy machine but merely parked it near his table at the local outdoor cafe.“
The term developed among British motorcycle enthusiasts of the early 1960s from Watford, and London, specifically the Rocker or „Ton-Up Boys“ subculture, where the bikes were used for short, quick rides between cafés, in Watford at the Busy Bee café and the Ace Café in London.
In post-war Britain, car ownership was still uncommon, but by the late 1950s the average Briton could now afford a car. So by the early 1960s the Café Racer’s significance was that a bike had come to represent speed, status and rebellion, rather than mere inability to afford a car.