Café Racer TV Week Four – Travel Tales

It’s been a couple of weeks off from our near-constant road duties producing Café Racer for HD Theater, and already, the memories of a year spent riding, wandering and working on a TV crew are starting to flood back. We were on the road for part of 2008 and 2009 and most of the 2010 calendar year, so it’s easy to forget some of the funny, weird and downright memorable events that occurred but, alas, did not make the final edit.

Tales from The Road Week 4 of Cafe Racer TV

One of the memories that causes me to laugh out loud involves our visit to East Sussex, England to the bucolic compound of Dave Degens, a man considered the godfather of the Triton special. Dave is known as a somewhat difficult man to get to know, and as one of my heroes- he did build a café racer in his garage that defeated the factory roadracing teams at the Barcelona 24-Hour Endurance Championships back in the day- expectations and apprehensions were high.

Tales from The Road Week 4 of Cafe Racer TV

Well, Dave turned out to be both accessible, warm and funny, traits that emerged even more fully when the shoot was over and we embarked to a tiny little 18th Century pub nearby. Dave regaled us with stories from 60 years of motorcycle riding and café building and his mates Eric and Steve kept our glasses filled and our eyes watering with various tales of life on two wheels. Dave explained that one day while serving in Her Majesty’s Armed Forces in the late 1950s, he often challenged himself and his Triton to make the 40-odd mile trek from his military base to his London home in ever-quicker times. “One day, I roared through Trafalgar Square and there were all these people cheering and waving at me. I thought they were cheering for me and it turns out I’d written into the middle of a Ban The Bomb march, and they were all chanting slogans!

Even weirder was the crowd gathered in the pub that day- one fellow kept stumbling amongst the trio of parked motorcycles outside, stopping by occasionally asking questions to Degen’s crew whom he obviously knew. After watching the man down several high-alcohol pints in the span of just a few minutes, I asked who he was. “He’s the local taxi driver. You’d be smart to only ride with him before mid-day,” Degens said.

Ah, the British, they certainly know how to live!

Other memorable occasions came when Test rider Blake Kelly and I rode from London to Liverpool for a visit to this year’s Isle of man TT Festival. Blake had never visited this veritable motorcycling heaven, and after four TT’s, I figured it was time to share the magic with another dedicated enthusiast. The experience was, as always, amazing, with beautiful scenery, incredible, speed-limit-free mountain roads, friendly locals – many of whom drink like our friend the taxi driver- and more sportbikes than you can shake a radar gun at. Naturally, it pissed down rain for the entire 200-mile ride from London to the ferry port in Lioverpool, stopping only when we slung out wet exhausted butts into our seats on the boat.

Tales from The Road Week 4 of Cafe Racer TV

The days at the Isle of Man are an incredible mix of doing laps along the 38-mile, 225-turn TT course, stopping for fish and chips at a quaint pub, a few more laps and then riding like mad to find the best vantage point for viewing the day’s races. Standing a couple of feet from a superbike roaring past at 170-plus MPH is one of life’s must-do experiences and even after five TT’s it still caused a chill down the spine. Blake was gobsmacked to say the least, and I was surprised to hear this former stunt rider and AMA racer proclaim, “you’d have to be crazy to race here. I’d never do it!” We saw a 3-D film crew making a film about the TT that’s said to be headed to Imax theaters sometime soon and it was a blast to meet competitors who all seem friendly and eager to mix with spectators- try that at a Moto GP round! On the way back, the skies cleared and we found a toll road going South back to London- we pegged the two Triumph triples at a steady 110 and after a few miles of getting into a comfortably fast rhythm, we were having the time of our lives as we diced with blacked-out turbo Bentleys who hogged the fast lane and whizzed past our motorcycles like we were in reverse. As we rode on, I noticed the distinct smell of burning plastic. Looking ahead at Blake’s Street Triple R, I saw that the bag he’d slung over his tail section had been cushioned by a hotel hand-towel which caught fire, roasting his luggage, and, if I hadn’t frantically signaled him to stop, his rear end as well!

Tales from The Road Week 4 of Cafe Racer TV

As we beat the burning towel and luggage out on the roadside, a British police car slid to a halt beside us- and the officer informed us, in typically polite understated tones, that we were in violation of British law, having stopped on a dual-carrigeaway. “You should have made it to roadside services before stopping,” he said flatly. Maybe his squad car had never been on fire at 110 MPH before…

– Mike Seate

Jokers In The Pack from Week Three of Cafe Racer TV

It’s funny, but people who see and recognize us crew members from Café Racer often remark that we must have the best jobs in the world. I’ll insist that title belongs, inarguably, to the guy who gets to measure Beyonce for her mini-dresses, but sure, testing and building fast motorbikes for a living can be a blast.

But as a career, it can also have unforeseen dangers.

During the shooting of the series, we had a few mishaps that placed riders squarely on their butts, and as a veteran of a few crashes- some bad, some just plain embarrassing- I can tell you that getting horizontal on two wheels is never fun. Viewers will see one bust-up during the series, while a few others I witnessed were, mercifully, not captured on video. The odd thing about the crashes I witnessed this year was that nearly all of them could have been avoided. Statistics show that a great many motorcycle accidents were caused by rider error and that surely seems to be the case in my experience.

After concluding one shoot involving a group of café racer riders, we decided to head off en masse for lunch. The riders represented all different ages, makes of motorcycle and riding styles. I generally ride alone, because years of road riding in groups has taught me that you’re only as safe as the least skilled member of any riding group. All it takes is a novice or someone who hasn’t ridden in years with rusty skills to put everyone else at risk.

Jokers In The Pack from Week Three of Cafe Racer TV

That was the case during our group lunch ride- a biker who seemed in perfect control of his Triumph managed to panic brake in a tight, decreasing-radius turn, launching man and machine into a guardrail. Leading the group, I had the sickeningly familiar experience of looking into my rear-views to see no one following behind me. Returning to the scene, I was relieved to see the rider wasn’t seriously hurt, though that’s more than I could say for his poor Bonneville which had twisted forks, a dented gas tank and exhaust pipes that looked like they lost a battle with a  transformer robot.

In the aftermath, I resigned myself to start riding alone again, and to stick to my rules about recreational riding. Though it may seem a bit of a buzz-kill, I’ll insist on making it a point to chat a little before heading out on the road, with everyone involved. It’s better to ascertain their individual riding skills, whether they’ve had a few beers or even if their motorcycle is properly maintained before finding out the facts in the middle of a fast corner. And knowing what’s up can only make the ride safer and more fun for everybody.

– Mike Seate

Road Tales from Week Two of Cafe Racer TV

It’s hard to fathom right now, with the trees doing their paint-by-numbers thing and riding season just about over here in the Northeast, but the Café Racer series was actually started nearly a year ago. Back then, we visited what seemed like (and still does) the remotest rural section of Virginia we’d ever seen to film interviews and the building of the electric-powered Norton road racer of Brian Richardson. The Richardson family sheep farm is located in an area so far off the map that coyotes need G.P.S. to find it; located on the property, however, was some really boss British biking gear, including the barn – seen on last week’s episode – and an old smokehouse transformed by Brian into a Norton-themed man-cave of extraordinary detail. There was n old Coke machine filled with cold beer, a computer monitor running Norton advertisements from the 1960s and a talking, life-sized Austin Powers – yeah baby, indeed!

Meeting students from Brian’s Virginia Tech engineering project was a blast as their enthusiasm and can-do attitudes could shame a Moto GP paddock. And we really, truly regret not getting to taste the lamb stew that Mrs. Richardson made for us because we were too bloody busy. Well, there were a few minutes to good off like when director Ed Coughlan rode pillion behind Brian on a tiny off-road bike to herd the sheep. And the townsfolk- what few there were- turned out throughout the shoot to welcome our crew and let us know that, way back in the day, a Clark Gable movie was shot on location here. Me? I just wish I’d had time to come back to Blue Grass as the roads snaking through the Appalachian Mountains were some of the best twisties I’ve seen in 30 years of motorcycling. Give me a fast Triton with sticky tires and I may end up farming sheep here myself.

It was quite a contrast to our next shoot at York, Pennsylvania’s J&B Moto Co. where the streets were filled with the throb and rumble of Harleys- hundreds of them. Most of The faithful come to tour the production plant in York, which we’re told is the factory tour capital of the world. That’s all fine and dandy, but I gotta wish more folks would stop by and see what the boys at J&B are up to, as they’re building some of the most unique café racers around. We really dug the fact that Jeff, Brian and the boys are just good old school gear heads who appreciate all sorts of badass machinery, whether it’s new, old, fast or slow. There’s a stripped-down Vincent Black Shadow project bike currently in the on-deck circle at J&B and with their ability to lay down hand-made fiberglass bodywork and tune a motor, I can’t wait to see what becomes of this baby. Their struggles to adapt a Jon Britten-style suspension system on a traditional Yamaha XS 650 was inspiring to watch- the guys worked like rented mules to sustain their ambitious dream and we consider ourselves lucky to have been a part of the process. My favorite bit of the shoot? Gearing up and heading out for a brief ride, we passed a bunch of aging outlaw biker types gathered around a local saloon. Despite their insistence of behaving like extras from Clint Eastwood’s “Every Which Way But Loose” some of the gangsters smiled and waved when they saw the café racers buzz by, probably remembering when they themselves rode British and Japanese bikes years before. Café racers have a way of doing that to people.

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– Mike Seate

Meet The Café Racer TV Test Riders!

Ben Bostrom

Considered the handsomest man in roadracing, Ben Bostrom’s career began when he won the AMA National 600 Dirt Track Championship in 1993. He moved to asphalt racing in 1995 and his natural riding talents catapulted him to an AMA Superbike Championship in 1998 aboard a Honda CBR. The California native won a World Superbike round at Laguna Seca in 1999 as a wild card rider, a feat that blew open the doors to a career in World Superbikes aboard a Ducati 996 and 998. The Italian steed fit Bostrom well as he collected six checkered flags during the 2001 season. Since then, Ben has campaigned a Honda RC51 and a Ducati 999 alongside Neil Hodgson in AMA Superbikes and he rolled away with a gold medal in the inaugural Supermoto race during the 2004 X Games, a year after he captured the AMA Supermoto title. When Ben’s not on the circuits, he enjoys his Ducati 250 Monza café bike and test rides custom machines for café racer.

Ben Bostrom - Cafe Racer TV Test Rider

Eric Bostrom

When Eric Bostrom’s not racing, rock climbing or riding bicycles competitively, he’s lending his incredible evaluation skills to “Café Racer”. Besides winning the Harley-Davidson Super Twins Championship in 1997, Eric won the 1998 AMA Formula Xtreme title in 1998 for Erion Honda before winning the AMA Supersport Championship in 2001. Considered the hardest working dude in Superbike racing, Eric even found time and energy to compete in several World Superbike Rounds and compete from 1999 to 2003 in the AMA Superbike Series aboard a Kawasaki ZX7-RR taking second place twice. From 2006-2008 Eric competed in the AMA Formula Xtreme and AMA Superbike series aboard factory Yamahas. After taking a break he will return to Superbike racing in 2011. At home, Eric rides a Norton Commando built by his father, a former AMA racer himself.

Eric Bostrom - Cafe Racer TV Test Rider

Blake Kelly

This western Pennsylvania native has been tearing up roadracing circuits since 2007 when he abandoned a career as a professional stunt rider. Kelly’s track acumen began in 2006 where he campaigned in the Western-Eastern Roadracing Association’s (WERA) 600, Superbike, 600 Superstock, 750 Superbike and Formula One series on a Honda CBR 600RR. In 2007 Kelly earned his pro racing license in WERA competition and by 2008, blazed his way to AMA’s Formula Xtreme class, racing in the Daytona 200 and several other rounds. Recently, he’s been instructing at Team Pro-Motion/Metric Devil Moto track days at New Jersey’s Motorsports Park and testing motorcycles for Café Racer magazine and Café Racer TV. After running several laps of the Isle of Man TT course during race week, Kelly is contemplating a go at real road racing – well, either that or a straight jacket!

Blake Kelly - Cafe Racer TV Test Rider

Scott Turner

Holding his own in the top five at Daytona the last 6 years and with a laundry list of first place titles, including: The Lightweight Vintage Title for CCS in 2003, Daytona 2007 & 2009, Barber 2009 and if that’s not enough, The Dixie Cup Championship in 2003 & 2007 all in Sportsman 350 Class, he’s the real deal. Tucked away in his quiet garage in Clearwater, FL Scott builds, by his own hands, some of the most capable track and street bikes in existence. With a relaxed and humble demeanor, you would never know you were standing next to a championship winning icon when chatting with Scott at one of the local bike nights on the sunny Gulf Coast. He’s more interested in what others are doing than telling them what he’s done. Possibly, that’s one of the reasons for his successes. Scott is a true appreciator of vintage motorcycles, not owning a single bike newer than 1975 and he’s also one hell of a sportsman willing to help other riders and builders add to the notches on their belts. And if you’re still wondering if he’s legit, following the motto of “build it yourself and build it well” Scott has over 20 café racer builds to his name most of which are either show winning or track winning machines. Hot damn!

Scott Turner - Cafe Racer TV Test Rider