Retro revival: Café racers are back!

By Adam Plowright Time of article published Dec 23, 2013

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Motorcycle manufacturers are riding a wave of swinging 60s nostalgia with new models seeking to capture revived interest in the classic looks of the period - with demand helped by fashionista-in-chief David Beckham.

Royal Enfield, an Indian-owned manufacturer of British heritage, is the latest to try its luck with a new bike inspired by the “cafe racers” seen around London in the late 1950s and 60s.

These single-seater two-wheelers were some of the quickest of their day, modified and driven at the highest speeds possible by their young male riders dressed in the “rocker” fashion of the era.

After a trip in search of the mythical “ton” - 100 miles per hour (160km/h) - they would retire to the Ace Cafe in northwest London for cups of tea, making it a famous meeting point for bikers to this day.

Enfield chief executive Siddhartha Lal said at a launch event for the bike in India in November: “We believe cafe racing was around in the most beautiful and the best time of motorcycling.

“It’s a very specific look.”

“We’ve reproduced the style faithfully in the new versions: striped back, dropped handle bars, long fuel tank and a single seat. Leather jackets and open-face helmets come as optional accessories.”

Royal Enfield, whose sales have quadrupled in the past four years thanks to booming demand for its classic “Bullet” model in its home Indian market, is following in the footsteps of other famous British names.

Triumph sells a “Thruxton” cafe racer, a beefed up and modified version of its classic “Bonneville” model, while Norton has a waiting list for its equivalent, the “Commando 961”.

Other companies looking to bygone years for inspiration for their latest models include Moto Guzzi and its “V7 Racer” and BMW with its recently unveiled “NineT”.

Triumph sales and marketing director Paul Stroud calls it “a resurgence in classic motorbiking”.

The new models are production versions of one-off retro customs created by niche builders in Europe, Australia, the United States and Japan for decades.

Known variously as cafe racers, brat-style or bobbers, these bikes are ridden by enthusiasts or hipsters seeking to ape the looks of legendary silver screen bikers of the mid-20th century, such as Steve McQueen and Marlon Brando.

Their ranks were joined recently by former England football captain and model David Beckham, who has been pictured riding a bobber, a fully customised model based on a modified Harley-Davidson.

Harley Davidson has been the most successful over the years in selling the heritage of its brand.”

Hugo Wilson is the editor of Bike, Britain's biggest-selling monthly motorbiking magazine.

“What's been building for a while,” he said, “is people sauch as Triumph and Enfield delivering a cafe-racer version of that.”

He said the popularity of classic-looking bikes could be attributed to two factors, firstly that “modern bikes are getting to the point that are way beyond the capability of most people”.

“But there are also retro design themes in so many things now. People are looking for established brands to deliver them a retro package.” - AFP

The Royal Enfield Continental GT will be available in South Africa from the first week of January 2014 at R71 990.

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