A guide to building a budget cafe racer motorcycle.
The cafe racer is a type of custom neo-retro motorcycle born in the 1960s when the English raced from cafe to cafe.
To avoid surprises, we advise you to start by defining your project as well as possible in order to have a global vision. Using the following steps, you can refine your project.
Step 1: Set your budget
There are two elements to consider before having a number in mind:
We often underestimate the cost and the work to be done
We will inevitably forget an element in the calculation.
Once this awareness, we can count on a budget with a margin of safety . The budget will be balanced between the price of the basic motorcycle and the work / parts to be done on it.
Step 2: Choose the motorcycle
This is a crucial step in achieving your preparation .
To stay within a small budget, we will start from a base requiring little modification to be transformed into a cafe racer motorcycle .
The base must be a little something , a style to bring to the preparation.
So for our part, we prefer motorcycles from the late 80s and 90s in order to have a rolling base in very good condition from 1000€ to 2000€.
As seen in step 1, it is better to put a few hundred euros more on the purchase to avoid thousands of additional euros later.
For our selection, we started with Japanese models after 1980 in order to have a fun , reliable motorcycle that could give rise to beautiful café racers .
Here is a selection of motorcycles to make you happy:
CX650 & GL650: a very popular motorcycle in preparation. We love its mythical engine. We don't like the back loop and the steep climb less.
XJ650 & XJ900: a reliable and robust motorcycle. Easy to find. We like the possibilities it offers. We like the original tank less.
Kawasaki Z 650 & Z 750: The universal Japanese motorcycle. We like its original tank and rims. Rare at less than 2000€ in acceptable condition.
You should also look at unfinished or "failed" preparations that can lead to good deals:
The list is not exhaustive and corresponds only to our aspirations .
Step 3: Planning
At the same time as the definition of the budget, it is advisable to plan the work to be carried out .
We can note that as for the budget, we underestimate the time necessary to carry out a cafe racer motorcycle preparation as well as external factors that can delay the process.
Depending on the preparation, it is reasonable to prepare a motorcycle in 6 to 12 months.
Step 4: Parts and Materials
The first step to overhaul the motorcycle if this has not been done.
Given the limited budget, the goal of keeping the most elements without impacting the look and safety.
Here are the basic elements that will turn your motorcycle into a cafe racer:
- A motorcycle cafe racer saddle:
- A back loop:
- A round headlight
- A rear light
- Turn signals
- Air filters
- A bracelet handlebar
- Megaphone exhausts.
With these basic elements and according to your budget, you can push the preparation by changing the counters , the handles , the mirrors , the tank etc.
Do not hesitate to ask your friends, the network of friends helps a lot in achieving preparation . We often have a friend of a friend to do the welding of the loop, another friend who has a plan for the painting... This saves part of the budget.
Step 5: Preparations
Your project is clear, the bike has arrived in your garage, it's time to attack!
You will have the satisfaction of the work done if you take photos regularly.
This step begins with the dismantling of the motorcycle , you have to remove as many elements as possible in order to be able to clean or repaint the frame and the various elements.
The best solution is to bare the frame , clean and store the elements to facilitate the next reassembly.
Step 6: Cutting the frame
It is at this stage that the frame is cut in the event of a loop being fitted, the unnecessary appendages, the supports and the frame are cut out if it must be modified.
This step is not mandatory, it depends on the parts to be installed and if you want extensive preparation.
Indeed, the installation of a cafe racer motorcycle saddle will require a new buckle and supports to accommodate it. The harness may require new storage under the saddle.
Once the elements have been removed, we move on to installing the new elements . It's time to get out the soldering iron or call your plumber friend.
The buckle is placed according to the future saddle. Place the various supports.
Step 7: Painting, repair or simple cleaning.
Depending on what you have done in the previous step, a simple cleaning may be enough until a complete epoxy paint.
Once the painting of the frame is done, you have to take care of all the other elements such as the fork sleeves, the accessories, the wheels...
The same is true for the tank you have chosen. If it's a used tank, a refurbished one with interior protection can be a bit of filler and it'll be ready to roll for years to come.
For painting, there are quality bombs these days in order to do a professional job. It is advisable to be patient and to carry out all the steps (sanding, primer, painting) as carefully as possible in order to have a perfect result.
Example of a red powder coat paint for a customer's bobber.
For best results, you can use spray paint or epoxy paint.
This step can be laborious, it may be wise to refer you to a professional according to your desire and budget .
Once the painting is done, the parts must be protected as much as possible so as not to damage them during reassembly.
Step 8: Reassembly
The reassembly is the most exciting step, we see the work done for months and our imagined project, merged before our eyes.
Here is Gannet's example:
To the result:
Normally, with the blank test, reassembly goes smoothly.
It is necessary to stain not to forget parts, screws or nuts. This could have dangerous consequences .
Test the parts before putting them on and test them with a few other parts, especially spares. Rather than putting something on and taking it off again and again, if you test it, you can usually put things on once and not have to undo them again.
While being careful not to damage the freshly applied paint on your parts.
Once the reassembly is finished, we check that all the elements work before doing a road test. We do the levels and we run the engine.
Step 9: It's the big day
And here it is, the cafe racer is ready, your cafe racer . You can be proud.
You have just built a cafe racer , your own creation , unique and you will learn a lot from it.
It may be difficult, but now is the time to start enjoying your cafe racer motorcycle .