Cafe Racer TV Season 2 “A Vintage Blur” by: Mike Seate

During a broadcast of Café Racer, viewers take in thousands of individual images, some of which zip across the TV screen so quickly, our brains sometimes wonder whether we’ve actually seen what was actually there. The speed of it all reminds me of the first visit to the Isle of Man TT I made about eight years back; I was shooting photos as fast as my Cannon Rebel would allow, with the shutter pressed to the metal and the electronic motor on “full sports” more which allowed the camera’s brain to enter hyperdrive mode. Unfortunately, when I returned home and went to the photo processing stores (remember those?) I was shocked to find my film was about half-filled with empty frames- the racers were whizzing by so fast, that most frames contained only a rear tire, if that.

That experience- which seems funny with a few year’s distance applied- reminds me of a shot that appears very briefly during the promotional summary segment that aired during the first show of this season on Wednesday, August 43. It was filmed at Squires Coffee Bar near Leeds, England and captured a fellow doing a massive burn-up on an original Manx Norton. For the uninitiated, the Manx Norton was the racing machine of the 1960s, claiming more British and International racing titles than Usain Bolt does today in track and field. For a 350cc or 500cc single, the Manx clearly punched above its weight – so much so that a few years back, Grand Prix champ Phil Read took on a modern Yamaha YZF-R1 with his trusty bump-start-only Manx Norton and lapped England’s Donnington Park circuit nearly as fast as the R-1 pilot!

Well, when our crew spotted the Manx sitting beneath the Squires sign, we struck up a conversation, and during our chat, asked just how fast the little silver devil could actually go. “About 130 when she’s in the proper mood,” the owner proudly boasted, which caught us off guard. A true 130MPH form an air-cooled, four valve, 500cc single just didn’t add up, not when we’ve struggled to do 120 on modern, air-cooled café bikes manufactured and designed in the modern age. But before we could voice our doubts, CRTV producer Brad Jones was shoving the Manx and its rider along the Squires car park, helping to bump-start the machine, which erupted to life in a glorious swell of single-cylinder thunder.

The crew placed their cameras alongside the undulating, two-lane road adjacent to the coffee shop and as a small crowd of rockers gathered to see the legendary machine in action, the owner revved his throttle for all it was worth and blasted past us at a speed well in excess of the ton. Grin firmly planted on his face, he turned around and burned by us again, even faster. You can youtube the clip and share in this amazing spectacle and I’m glad we were there to see it ourselves. If our collective jaws didn’t scrape the pavement that day, they should have and it wasn’t the first- and thankfully will not be the last – time we’ve been completely godsmacked by the sheer speed and mechanical prowess of a vintage café racer. No wonder riders in the know treat Manx Nortons with the respect and reverence NBA players did a Michael Jordan jump-shot. Who knows how Norton created a machine with that sort of performance capability back in the days when most streetbikes were barely capable of wheezing their way to 100 MPH, but the next time I doubt some old school rocker about his machine’s top speed, I’ll remember that particular ride.

Now, I wonder if we can piece one together in our own garage…

Cafe Racer TV Season 2 – “Swap Meet Memories” by: Mike Seate

With the first cool morning of a long, dry summer finally upon us, it’s time to start thinking about winter custom motorcycle projects. Whether you’re looking for a vintage or antique machine to restore to its original condition or searching for a later-model machine to transform into a custom café screamer, the winter downtime is the perfect excuse to tear into a new project. Though the professional builders who present the goods to viewers on each weekly episode of Café Racer TV always seem to knock the ball straight out of the park with their project bikes, some of the machines that get built off-camera deserve their own accolades and exploration. Case in a very rusty, neglected point- the 1979 Suzuki GS 750 that appeared in last season’s final three episodes. Don’t recall this particular motirbike? Well, she was one of a trio of 1970s Japanese commuter machines that myself and CRTV narrator Ben Friedman picked up at the massive swap meet staged every year at the American Motorcyclist Association’s Vintage Motorcycle Days event. Ben and I were granted twelve hours to change $1,000 cash into custom café racers and though Ben had the good sense and foresight to spend his hard-earned on a pair- that’s right, not one, but two Honda CB 360 twins, I blew most of my bankroll on a fairly good condition Suzuki GS 750. Why, you ask? Well, the whole era of double overhead cam Japanese bikes from the late 1970s and early 80s have been largely overlooked by custom builders and I saw – well, what I imagined- to be great potential in the 492-pound, 68 horsepower beast.

We’ve often been asked whatever happened to the trio of machines built during that hectic, humid weekend at Mid-Ohio, and to be honest, I believe the crew nearly forgot all about them. I know I did for a while. It turns out that two Honda CB’s were split between Jay LaRossa, who assisted Ben Friedman with his build and CRTV test rider Blake Kelly who is busy using ths bike to meet women…It turns out, my co-builder A.J. Fulgado of New York’s XPO Streetfighter asked that the Gee Ess be shipped back to his Big Apple garage so he could, in his words, “really do her up right.” Well, schedules being busier than one-legged man in ass-kicking contests, a year passed and nary a peep did we hear from A.J. about completing the rather rushed build job we performed on-camera last year.

As fate would have it, I started worrying about the bike’s condition and after a few well-placed phone calls, I found that the Suzuki had been parked up at XPO for the past 12 months, sitting unloved in a damp driveway. Being an confessed Crazy Cat Lady of motorcycles, I can’t stand to see a decent bike project go without a home, and a few weeks ago, the Swap Meet Special GS was occupying a place in Café Racer magazine’s very crowded garage.

As you can see, no changes – or improvements- have been made since you last saw her and yes, the tacky checkerboard tape remains in-pace though the fugly, ill-fitting fiberglass seat unit has long since been lost to the four winds (or NYC bike thieves.) But in testament to the strength and engineering of what used to be called Universal Japanese Motorcycles, the bloody thing started right up, watery gasoline and bird’s nests in the intake manifolds and all!

Sure, she’s still got a long ways to go in order to look and run like anything besides a trash heap Tessie, but as we progress, we’ll be slipping you images of the old girl’s progress over the coming months. Just imagine what’s possible now that we’re no longer hamstrung by a measly $1,000 budget and twelve brief hours…

– Mike Seate

Cafe Racer TV Season 2 – “Back when we had hair” by: Mike Seate

The wheels are turning and Café Racer TV is finally back for another season. Thanks for following along as we rev up for an entire new year of fast, custom motorcycles, fascinating events and motorbike history and, of course, innovative builders. As with our first season, the builders and their formidable talents will continue to be the primary focus of each weekly episode of Café Racer. However, you may notice that we’re doing a few things a little differently. For example, we heard you loud and clear when folks contacted us requesting more speed (the principal desire of café racers for generations!) To that end, the majority of our test rides will be conducted on closed-course racetracks around the world, places where our skilled test riders Ben and Eric Bostrom and Blake Kelly don’t have to concern themselves with gravel, cops, texting SUV drivers and whatever else the world can throw in their path.

As a result of this change of venue, you’ll notice that the top speeds achieved by the custom builder’s machines have rocketed skyward, as has the excitement level.

There’s also a renewed emphasis on the technical and mechanical side of our weekly builds, with more footage covering the nuts and bolts of building motorcycles, whether we’re talking in-depth interviews with the men and women behind the machines, or close-up shots of individual parts being fabricated one at a time. Need parts? Just visit this website for links to everything you’ll need to customize your own bike. When it’s all said and done, if there’s not grease under your fingernails and metal shavings in your pockets, you’re not sitting close enough to the TV.

Digging around the globe like a team of black-leather archeologists, we managed to unearth some amazing footage from café racing’s infamous past and we met and rode with some legends of the sport as well. My personal favorites? Well, having joined the legendary 59 Club way back in the 1990s, I was honored to hang with and chronicle the stories of many of the organization’s original members. These riders risked everything – licenses, lives, livliehoods- in order to understand how to make ordinary streetbikes go that much faster, and it’s always a proud moment to think we’re the first film crew to preserve their unique – and very often hair-raising tales- for posterity. The club’s history is covered a couple of fascinating features this season and it was a thrill to listen as the speed-crazed young riders talked about what it was like creating and joining the first bike club dedicated to rehabbing their often unfairly-issued image as tearaways and hooligans. Doing so, they became a force for good in British society.

Closer to home, it’s been a blast to meet a new generation of café racer riders who’ve just recently discovered the thrills of low bars and high-performance motorcycles; from the Pacific Northwest to So Cal and everywhere in between, the enthusiasm and sheer imagination of today’s retro café crowd is an inspiration to behold. We’ve seen some motorcycles customized to show-winning quality for the sort of money some folks invest in a set of chrome rims, proving again and again that this is truly the anti-chopper: motorcycles that are cool because of what the owners invest in them, not based on the depth of your wallet.

What else is on tap? Well, we were deluged with questions about where the classic, flattop rocker hairstyle came from so stay tuned for a feature that’s sure to wave your hair. And there’s more music by a broader selection of roots rock, rockabilly and early rock bands lined up; your old friend Ben Friedman from Atlanta’s Cigar Store Indians is bringing you each episode’s narration, while yours truly is caught on-camera hosting Café Racer magazine’s annual Reader’s Ride-In Bike Show, which has some of the craziest motorcycles- and riders- on the planet competing for trophies and bragging rights. Best of all, we’re just getting up to speed here and we hope you’ll stick around for more fun and fast rides. It’s going to be one hell of a ride.

– Mike Seate, Coordinating Producer