Back when I started writing this column for our esteemed ‘ead ‘itter, Jeff, when we were still revelling in the joy of a motorcycle magazine that was actually printed on real, soft-to-the-touch, paper, I mentioned the influence that café racers have had on streetfighters over the years.
Back then, I made the statement (some would say ‘assumption’, but I think it’s far clearer than that) that café racer styled bikes were one of the earlier forms of streetfighters. Bikes that had been modified by their owners to become better in terms of performance, with a higher power output and improved handling.
Far too many people think that a ‘custom bike’ is nothing more than an over-sized, overweight, over-long behemoth powered by an American vee twin engine developed long before Noah started nailing planks together, but the truth is that a custom bike is any motorcycle that has been modified, for whatever purpose or desire.
But I digress. We were talking about café racers.
So, when be-quiffed rockers were squeezing Triumph parallel twin engines into sweet-handling Norton frames, they were building custom bikes. Custom bikes with an improved performance. Yes, they were streetfighters. Now, if you’re one of those folk who have forgone the world of printed motorcycle media (and if you’re reading this, then you are!) you will no doubt be aware of the glut of online resources that’re earning a fair few dollars for their owners by championing the current popularity of the café racer.
Some by simply using other people’s pics without any form of financial reward (yes, I am a victim of this blatant copyright infringement, and yes, I am thoroughly pissed off at the arrogant nature of the perpetrator in question and how he thinks that the ‘return’ of a bike style that never went away makes his actions acceptable).
You’ll also be aware of how the café racer style has been jumped upon by the so-called ‘hipster’ movement and has become the main focal point of a number of high profile shows around the globe.
Now, I’m not here to diss hipsters. After all, if what is nothing more than a fashion brings motorcycles to the attention of more youngsters, what could be better? Nor am I going to label anyone with a café racer as being a fashion victim.
I am merely making observations. And those observations are that the popular shows and events that I make reference to (the Bike Shed shows in London and Paris, Wheels & Waves in Biarritz, Deus ex Machina gatherings, etc) are no longer incorporating just café racers, bobbers and street scramblers. There is an increasingly large element of streetfighters in the bikes on show.
The last Bike Shed show in London not only had some very trick, big performance café racers (remember the comment about them being forerunners to the ‘streetfighter’?) such as Vincent vee twins, and nitrous-snorting Harleys and BMWs, but also big-bored Suzuki Katanas and Kawasaki Zeds, endurance race replica Hondas, stripped-to-the-core oil-cooled Suzukis and far more. Essentially, the sort of bikes that were around when the term ‘streetfighter’ was first used, back in the late Eighties.
What goes around, comes around. Fashion changes, but style remains. The Streetfighter is dead? Long live the steetfighter!
Images: BP Engineering, Owen Stuart, Keith Muir, Alain Saquet