Café racers are storming back in popularity these days, with people looking to pick up project bikes that they can make their own without having to spend a mountain of money along the way.
Truth be told, there’s never been a better time to getting on the action of building a café racer than right now, either.
For one thing, there are more starter bikes and “donor bikes” available today their maybe ever before – some pretty incredible bikes that make rock-solid foundations for a café racer overhaul without sky-high price tags.
Secondly, because café racers are starting to get super popular again there are a lot of parts manufacturers that are producing café racer-ready mods that you won’t have to fabricate all on your own.
That’s a huge deal, especially if you are new to the world of modifying motorcycles!
At the same, though, you need to know how to hack this process if you’re going to build a really special bike without spending an arm and a leg.
But that’s why we have put together this quick guide.
- Start with a Solid Base (Read This First)
- Your Tank and Seat Make or Break Your Bike’s Look
- Lean on Naked Parts
- Drop Cash on Suspension and Safety
- Fall in Love with Dremels and Chop Saws
By the time you’re done with the inside info below you’ll know EXACTLY how to build a better, faster, safer, and cheaper café racer that’s a true one-of-a-kind.
Let’s jump right in.
1. Start with a Solid Base (Read This First!)
Nothing is more important than starting your new café racer build off with a rock-solid base bike.
Maybe that’s Honda CB, a BMW R Series, or something else entirely – the specific make and model of your base bike isn’t all that important.
No, it’s much more important that you are getting your hands on a base bike with:
- Plenty of aftermarket support
- Solid rate pads and brake lines
- Decent rubber on the front and the rear
- A good battery
- An engine that runs smooth
Check off all of those boxes and you’ll be able to hit the ground running with a café racer build that goes smooth every step of the way. You’ll also save a bundle of money avoiding most of the common overhauls folks have to do when buying starter or donor bikes to turn into café racers, to begin with.
2. Your Tank and Seat Make or Break Your Bike’s Look
No matter how you want your café racer to look when you are finished you have to focus exclusively on the tank and your seat above all else, especially in the early stage.
Nothing – and I mean NOTHING – is going to have as distinct and as influential an impact on the way your café racer looks, the way it feels, and the way it rides as the tank and the seat choice that you make.
These two components are going to dominate the way that your café racer looks and handles, which is why it’s so important to really knock it right out of the park.
You have a couple of different options to get a tank and see a configuration that you really like (modding your own OEM options or going aftermarket, it’s up to you) but this is something that you have to get right or the rest of your build will feel off.
3. Lean on Naked Parts
A great hack to save a pile of cash on your café racer build (especially when you’re trying to spread a thin budget around) is to use “naked” parts whenever possible.
Paint and primer get pretty pricey in a hurry, especially if you want a true retro or vintage finish that looks crazy good sitting still at a light or screaming down a strip of highway.
You can save some of that dough and put it elsewhere in the beginning stages of a build by leaning on naked parts and giving your café racer a real stripped down and industrial kind of look.
There aren’t a lot of bikes that can get away with a naked tank and totally bare-bones look the way that café racers can look finished when other bikes would have looked like they were just getting started.
Take advantage of this opportunity to funnel money where it needs to go when it is tight, coming back for paint when your budget allows.
4. Drop Cash on Suspension and Safety
Speaking of spending money on your café racer project wisely, you’ll want to be sure that you are dropping cash on suspension components and safety parts more than maybe anywhere else – provided you get your hands on a solid starter/donor bike, to begin with.
Your suspension is going to make or break how much fun you have on your café racer right from day one.
If it is loose and sloppy you’re going to hate riding your bike around. If it is too stiff it’s going to be a nightmare, too.
On top of that, you need to be sure that all safety elements (brakes, brake lines, lights, etc.) are dialed in as well. The flashiest-looking café racer on the road is still a deathtrap if your safety is at all in jeopardy when you climb on top.
5. Fall in Love with Dremels and Chop Saws
Lastly, thanks in large part to YouTube and other online resources more and more people are comfortable getting their hands dirty with café racer projects than ever before.
If you want to save a bunch of money on your café racer build but don’t necessarily want to cut corners just to cut costs, don’t be shy about picking up a Dremel, grabbing a saw, or even learning how to weld or paint.
You’ll learn some valuable skills while building out the café racer of your dreams, but you’ll also be putting a very distinct fingerprint on your build that makes this bike a true one-of-a-kind.
Your first few attempts at customizing your café racer may not come out identical to what a custom builder with gates of experience under their belt could pull off – but that’s not the point.
Your café racer will have a real style, a real personality, and a really unique look that sets it apart from the rest of the pack, and you’ll have a lot of pride knowing that you helped bring it to life along the way.
Can’t put a price on that, can we?