The Cafe Racer - What's Next

Motorcycle enthusiasts are not simple minded one point focused, We're very aware of what's going on in the motorcycle culture at large because any one of us is either in the new wave of motorcycle cool or isn't. This either matters to a person or it doesn't, but I'd say even our apathy is strategic. For the past few years, the Cafe Racer saw a resurgence in the motorcycle zeitgeist. That tide has gone out at this point, but what I think is interesting is not wat's rolling in to replace it (the Scrambler return), but rather what's left behind.

I should clarify that when I say 'Cafe Racer,' I'm using that term as liberally as everyone else does. That is, what used to be fairly narrow type of motorcycle defined by specific criteria and heritage has become an appropriated shorthand for a much wider swath of custom motorcycles, both good and bad, vintage and modern. Ironically, it's only the traditional Cafe Racers that eem to be waning, in what custom builders are putting together and what people are sharing on Instagram and Facebook.

I'm seeing a lot less checkerboard these days, even if the term Cafe Racer endures. The OEMs are like our parents. As soon as they decide something trendy is safe enough to embrace for the mainstream customer, it's probably over. Yesterday's devil music will play softly in the elevators of tomorrow.

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40-years Honda Gold Wing Brand

Today the Honda iconic 'Honda Gold Wing' brand celebrates its 40th anniversary. What was launched as a 1000cc motorcycle back in 1975 has turned into an iconic top of the line touring motorcycle now-a-day.

The Honda Gold Wing has over the years introduced many firsts in the motorcycling world, including an electric reverse and not so long ago the first commercial available airbag system for motorcycles.

From the flat-four engine that powered the Honda Gold Wing GL1000 to the current six-cylinder GL1800A, it has grown and evolved in every sense you can imagine.

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The Indian Motorcycle Story

Indian Motorcycle, with the financial and full knowledge support from Polaris, the Indian Motorcycle engineering team has designed and built a tree new motorcycles in just a few days short of 26 months, sharing a brand spanking new 1811cc V-twin engine, coincidentally the same displacement as the most expensive Harley-Davidson. And also, as you might expect, they made the new range of Indian Motorcycles complementary to rather than competitive with the existing Victory Motorcycle range, which is also owned by Polaris..

The main difference between the Victory Motorcycle and Indian Motorcycle range is that the Victory motorcycles are designed more as performance-oriented cruisers, while Indian motorcycles are the luxury long-distance offerings, though the two actually do crossover at the top end of each range on price and purpose.

So on the face of it, it was not a bad idea for Polaris to purchase Indian Motorcycle. Polaris already has expertise in designing a line of motorcycles from scratch, so doing the same thing again, albeit with a different take, should have been a relative easy job. And the fact it only took a bit over two years suggest as much...

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Honda Anniversary and Buddhist Meditation

This year is an anniversary year for Honda, Soichiro's crew are celebrating the 55th year of producing the venerable Honda Cub step-thru with a special limited-edition motorcycle.

Since its launch in 1958, Honda has built more than 85 million Super Cub C100s and the firm is producing 1500 Anniversary Little Cubs (the 50cc version of the Super Cub) to celebrate this achievement. This “sadly” Japanese-market-only special edition comes in Black or Fighting Red, with red rims, black hubs, chrome side panels and commemorative decals.

One has to ask what lies behind the little Honda's unprecedented longevity. European rivals such as the Bantam aren't in the same league. Perhaps the answer lies in Zen meditation, Soichiro Honda, the Cub's designer, was in the habit of meditating at Buddhist shrines to clear his mind and get inspired by ancient ideals. By contrast, the guys at BSA, which was at the time one of the largest motorcycle manufacturers, pondering how to turn their war-booty two-stroke German engine design into a doughty utility machine, used nothing more mind-expanding than strong char and roll-ups.

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The BSA Daytona Days

After the debacle of the 1923 TT, when a full BSA works entry failed so completely and embarrassingly, it took the commercial opportunities offered by racing success in the US market thirty-years later for BSA to forget, swallow their pride and try again.

In the late 1940s, with the British economy still struggling after the war, the government encouraged manufacturers to export or die. By the early 1950s, North America was becoming BSA's biggest market, and after fact-finding missions to US dealers in 1951 and 1953, BSA embarked on a program of systematic development to produce motorcycles specifically for the American competition market, motorcycles which could be used on long 200-mile races like Daytona or mile and half-mile oval tracks.

Roland Pike, then a BSA development engineer, was given the go-ahead to produce prototype Gold Star and Shooting Star models to race at Daytona in 1954. These had to be production-based to comply with US class 'C' AMA race regulations of the time. A welded trails frame with a rigid rear, alloy mudguards, rims, top yoke and removal of excess brackets substantially reduced weight. Both used Daytona gear ratios to deal with the unusual combination of sand and tarmac. While the BSA Gold Star was already being produced as a competition motorcycle, for Daytona a pre-production CB engine was fitted inside the shell of a BB engine.

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The Story of Disc Brakes

Motorcycle brakes were sadly, even less sophisticated as a common ' remedy' for poor brakes was to fit an 8-inch drum adapted from a mass-produced Ford car. Friction materials were secret recipes which might include such unlikely materials as horsehair, easily deteriorated by heat. The malady known as ' brake fade' is thus very old!

Riding and driving skills simply took poor brakes in stride, substituting engine braking through the traditional downshifting, aided by prudent forward planning. In those faraway days braking was a much less important component of lap time, while top speed on the longer ' natural' courses such as the Isle of Man was paramount.

Those who have heard the late Peter Ustinov's clever, extemporized ' Grand Prix of Gibraltar' recording will recall the exchange between the Italian racing team owner ' Commendatore Fanfani' and some nobody who dared ask about brakes.

'Brakes? Brakes make a car go slow, but it takes a genius to make it go fast!' That was the dominant attitude – that brakes needed no improvement because they just make you go slow. Like 'spec' racing tires today, bad brakes were 'the same for everybody'.

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The Ducati 1199 Panigale - Frameless and Without a Chassis

Bolting an engine into a bicycle frame was the starting point for more than one motorcycle manufacturer and has always been the traditional template for how a motorcycle is made. With vast majority of motorcycles made in the last hundred years or so, if you take the engine out and leave it on the workshop floor you can still roll down a hill on the remaining motorcycle-shaped carcass.

Not so with the Ducati 1199 Panigale. With that motorcycle, if the engine is on the floor the rest of the machine will look like little more than a collection of suspension parts and miscellaneous lumps of metal and plastic. The bicycle-framed roots have been ripped away, and with it one of the basic concepts that a motorcycle is a combination of three main components; and engine, a chassis and a pair of wheels. The chassis is gone.

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The BMW R32 - The First R-Series and Real Icon Motorcycle

There was a time that BMW was known as BFW – Bayerische Flugzeugwerke – until the Treaty of Versailles banned the company from building its 19-liter 220 horsepower, inline, six-cylinder aviation engines at the end of World War One. So superior in performance at high altitudes were those large-capacity six-cylinder engines that the two-year-old company was no longer allowed to build engines larger than 500cc.

When BMW decided to build its own motorcycles early in the 1920s,Chief design engineer, Max Friz was asked to redesign the Helios. He preferred to start with a clean sheet, and drew up a new 486cc, 8.5 horsepower boxer twin, rotated 90 degrees so that both air-cooled cylinders would benefit from the oncoming breeze. Though the layout was not completely unique to BMW as it was also used by British company ABC before, Max Friz design bristled with further innovations including the use of shaft drive.

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The Yoshimura Story - Japan and USA

Ask any Suzuki sportsbike rider for the name of a great Japanese tuning house, and all will say Yoshimura. But what you might not be aware of is that there are actually two Yoshimura companies. The first, Yoshimura Japan, is based in Aikawa and they produce exhaust system, engine parts and other tuning parts. Fukuoka is where the metaphorical grandaddy of tuning started. Hideo 'Pop' Yoshimura began tuning the motorcycles of American airmen based in Japan after WW2.

Popp had been trained as an aircraft mechanic during the war, so he had a load of knowledge on how to tune the 50s-era motorcycles used by the bored USAF personnel. Put yourself in their shoes – you have a load of guys with motorcycles, plenty of spare time, and a 3.2 kilometer runway. How could you not start racing up and down it? And how could you not start messing with the motorcycle – especially if this crazy Japanese guy could get a stack more power out for you?

The second part of the Yoshimura story probably owes its existence to this early link with the US. Hideo went to the US in 1973, and began the expansion that led to the industrial unit. Yoshimura R&D of America Ltd is based in a cluster of large, anonymous sheds in Chino – a hard-baked, dusty, urban sprawl on the edge of Los Angeles.

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The Harley-Davidson Story

When, in 1903, William Harley and Arthur Davidson put their names on the fuel tank of their first motorcycle neither could have possibly envisaged the impact that their new creation would have.

Harley-Davidson isn' t just the world's oldest motorcycle manufacturer, it's one of the most famous brand names in the world, anyone and everyone knows the name Harley-Davidson. Ever since its first motorcycle Harley has ruled the cruiser market, leaving other manufacturers to fight for the scraps. You don't buy a cruiser, you buy a Harley, it's an aspirational model for young riders and mid-life crisis accountants the world over desperate to buy into the Harley-Davidson lifestyle.

In America alone Harley-Davidson has a 57 percent stake in the cruiser market, the next closest is Yamaha with 17 percent. But that is just a fraction of the story.

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