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Café Racer, the "Rockers" and the "Ton-Up Boys"

NORTON Commando, 1969

The term “café racer” is part of motorcyclist slang and its origins date back to the 1960s in England. In the post-war period, the economic difficulties of middle English people led to the popularization of the motorcycle as a means of utility transport, however, by the end of the 50s, the reality was already recovering and the use of the car had imposed itself as a family utility vehicle. , the consequence was a paradigm shift with regard to the type of user and use of motorcycles.


Since the beginning of the 60's, riding a motorcycle has become a symbol of status and rebellion to the detriment of the previous image of economic incapacity to acquire a car. It was in this context that the “Rocker” and “Ton-Up Boys” communities were born, meeting in the most popular cafes, historically the “Busy Bee” and the “Ace Café”, leading to disputes between them, the need for better services to making a good appearance in the skirmishes led to improvements and the improved bikes came to be nicknamed “Café Racer”.


Left to right, top to bottom: TRITON, NORVIN, NORTON, TRITON, TRITON, and NORVIN

The bikes were minimally lightened, improved in terms of engine and chassis performance at the expense of comfort. The aesthetics, advances, rear footpegs, long tanks, racing seats and sometimes semi-fairings or even full fairings, had a clear inspiration in competition motorcycles of that time. The most radical achievements were hybrids, joining parts from different motorcycles to achieve a better result, for example: the TRITON (TRIUMPH bike with NORTON engine) or NORVIN (NORTON bike with VINCENT engine)! In 1973, Wallace Wyss wrote that the term “Café Racer” was used in Europe to describe “someone who owned a motorcycle with a racing look, normally parked near his table on the esplanade of the local café”.


One of the essential characteristics in a “Café Racer” of that time was the fact that it reached 100 mph (about 160 km/h), this performance is called “ton”, hence the name “Ton-Up Boys” which referred to the users and/or preparers thereof. There is a legend that one of the “skills” that defined a user, consisted of putting a single to play on the “jukebox”, getting out on the bike and making a certain route returning before the record finished playing! The “Rockers” listened to “rock and roll”, wore black leather jackets, motorcycle boots and a “pompadour” or “rockabilly” hairstyle, a style that inspired several movie characters such as Marlon Brando in “The wild one”. At the same time, in contrast to the “Rocker”, the “Mod” culture was born in London, which will be discussed in a future post.

The influence on the industry

The great adherence and popularity of this style influenced motorcycle manufacturers in two different ways, initially leading to the mass production of increasingly sporty models and later to the creation of neo-classics that appeal to the aesthetics of the 60s/70s in detriment of performance. The “Café Racer” that were synonymous with performance and style, are now synonymous of style, often also performances, “vintage”! The taste for the concept leads to the emergence of many professionals or amateurs today who dedicate themselves to the transformation/recycling of motorcycles with a few years old, to give rise to evocative achievements that are often very appealing. At the same time, products appeared in the accessories industry, tires, mirrors, headlights, etc., to meet this demand.



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