Here’s a trick question: When is a café racer like a radical bagger?
What do you mean, “poser bike?”
Take a good, long look at the two motorcycles on this page. What do you think they have in common? Let me help. One was a podium finisher in the 2014 World Championship of Custom Bike Building series, Café Racer class. It’s built around a 1980s era BMW R100/7 Boxer motor displacing 980cc. The shaft-driven custom is detailed with a flat-lying rear shock, bump seat, Norton Dunstall pipes, Metzler 19-inch rubber and a sleek Yamaha RD50 tank that replaces the bulkier stock unit.
Park this baby at any show ‘n’ shine, coffee shop or parking lot where bikers of all ages gather and you’d hear the same comment: “Nice bike. Nice bike.”
Of course it’s a nice bike. Everything about it suggests agility and fleetness-of-foot. Its simple yet chewy lines hearken back to a vintage era of hard-fought skirmishes between legendary competitors on the circuits of yore. I can nearly hear riders of a certain generation extolling its virtues and bemoaning their own state of financial affairs that would make owning a treasure like this simply out of the question. “Ah, the wife would kill me…”
Now take a look at the other bike on this page. Whoa. Now here’s a horse of a different colour. In this corner we have pro custom builder Fred Kodlin lighting up the radical bagger he calls “Outta Limit.” With a monstrous V-Twin under the swooping bodywork it rolls around on a 30-inch front hoop, dragging its tail behind with air-ride suspension. The long curvy tank flows seamlessly into the frame as lines re-curve into a seriously U-shaped saddle. The flow continues toward panniers that are scarcely five inches off the ground. The entire layout invites comment, pro and con. There’s a certain breed of motorcycle enthusiast who will absolutely gush over Kodlin’s creation. Indeed, it’s been drooled on at shows from Vegas to Munich. It’s possible the builder will get the 140,000 euros he’s asking though “big builds” have fallen out of favour in the past few years—except radical baggers.
But it’s precisely the type of “bling barge” that would be sneered at and disparaged as unrideable by the very crowd that only moments ago could scarcely contain itself over the BMW café. Remember those guys? They were the ones who “wouldn’t hesitate” to buy the Beemer … “if only” …
All of which brings me back to my original question. What do these two bikes have in common? Answer: they are both totally unrealistic street rides. Seriously, how long do YOU think you could spend on that hard racer bench, hunched over those killer clip-ons before you screamed, Uncle! Likely about as long as the unlucky rider of Kodlin’s bike.
Each represents an idealized version of something—an era, a genre, a dream, who knows? They might be the objects of desire for two very different types of rider, but neither would spend much time riding his respective bike. There’s a certain irony in all that. Like the extreme builds of the 1990s, the current super-hot café racer fad will also cool. In the meantime, I personally find it kind of amusing when I hear one breed of rider condemn another for his “poser bike.”