Day timers. Dry erase boards. Endless lists tagged to tool cases and refrigerator doors. None of these so-called time-savers can help much when you’ve run out of minutes on the clock and you’re still not anywhere near completing a custom bike project. This is a subject near to our stress-filled hearts at Café Racer magazine, and the reality of too many plans and not enough time plays out brilliantly in the second week of “Café Racer” TV’s third season.
Our staff had only the purest of intentions when we picked up a slightly rusty-but-complete 1973 Norton Commando project bike at the ginormous swap meet during a recent AMA Vintage Days celebration. Sure, we’d been piling up box after costly box of top-notch aftermarket components to rebuild the groovy old parallel twin, but never seemed to find the time to do so. Enter a road trip from our Pittsburgh-area offices to the well-appointed (if greasy) New York City workshop of Britbike ace Hugh Mackie who graciously, and unexpectedly, accepted the truck bed full of parts and agreed to turn them into one hell of a motorcycle.
Also, Florida’s favorite funky father, Reverend Jim from First Church of the Apehangers gets down and dirty rebuilding his 1970s Honda CB 750 Goldenrod edition dragbike motor, while his neighbors at Florida’s Desmo Pro, turn over their amazing GT 860 café racer to the talented Bostrom brothers for a top speed racetrack test meant to determine whether high-end Italian motorcycles are intended for show or go.
In episode four, you’ll join “Café Racer” on a rare journey to Italy’s industrial heartland, a place where old school craftsmanship and, lucky for us, British motorcycles still live. The builder, nestled in these steep hills, is none other than Fabrizio DiBella, a custom café racer builder and designer who loves the smell, look and sound of British bikes so much his friends have nicknamed him “McDeeb,” which is about as British a label as you’ll hear in these parts. DiBella’s specialty is modern, 500cc Royal Enfield singles, a machine that he rebuilds into amazing replicas of 1950s café classics like BSA’s Gold Star and the Velocette Thruxton.
Back on New York’s gritty, Lower East Side, Hugh Mackie and shop tech Fumi Matsueda begin piecing together the Café Racer Magazine Norton Commando – or more accurately, they attempt to if they could only find enough fresh, new or unmolested parts in those greasy old boxes.
And finally, Reverend Jim’s prayers may be answered if enough divine intervention can be mustered as his Honda CB 750 dragbike meets nine-time drag racing champ, Rickey Gadson on the quarter mile. This is one test that should get everyone from roadrace fans to top speed junkies and street riders cheering as Gadson, a former outlaw street racer, rides a vintage Honda under the speed traps for the first time in 25 years. During the taping at North Georgia Motorsports Park, Gadson admitted to, ahem, borrowing and racing his Mother’s CB 750 back in the day, and this week will reveal whether you can ever separate a rider from the connection they made with their first fast motorbike.
– Mike Seate, coordinating producer
Looking back over the past episodes of Café Racer, I’ve come to realize there’s been some incredible, insightful people interviewed. Spending a few days with veteran motorcycle enthusiasts always reveals some fascinating thoughts, humorous anecdotes and stories so good, you find yourself asking later whether they were real. The best ones always are, of course. Many of these nuggets of wisdom, unfortunately, failed to make it on the air. Lucky for us, I kept a diary of the people we’ve interviewed, the incredible motorcycles we were lucky enough to ride, and all of the banter that passed between us during the past year.
Not surprisingly, some of the funniest moment that happened all year came when the cameras had stopped rolling and the equipment had been packed away. And a few of the genuinely most interesting sound bites have been good enough to end up printed on T-shirts. Wherever they end up, enjoy!
– Mike Seate
Hugh Mackie, 6th Street Specials, New York City
“In the books you see all these young British rockers riding Tritons, but to tell the truth, you needed a lot of money to have a Triton back in the 1960s. If you saw someone on a bike that had a new Triumph Bonneville engine inside a fairly new Norton featherbed frame, well, that person was probably a thief because nobody could afford two brand new motorbikes that they’d tear apart and just use one piece of.”
Marcel Nistor, Motorcycle Builder, Michigan
“Having a café racer is a lot like owning your own private roller coaster. Only you’re in charge of how fast it goes and you have to know where the shut off the fun in certain places.”
Mark Wilsmore, Ace Café, London
“A lot of today’s riders don’t realize it, but back in the day, when you attempted to wring The Ton from your motorcycle, all sorts of things happened to the riders. The old goggles didn’t fit very well and after about 80 miles per hour, they’d come off your face and were wrapped around your neck, threatening to strangle you. Your eyes were tearing and your helmet strap was cutting off your air as the helmet rose a few inches above your head from the windblast. Your white silk scarf blew off miles ago and is now wrapped about your drive chain – it was all pretty frightful, but I understand the lads loved it.”
Joe Stitch Deluxe Barbershop, North Olmstead, OH.
“People forget the most important ingredient in any pompadour is hair. Maybe I can just get you a hat.”
Blair Powell, Rockabilly band Highway 13, Pittsburgh, PA.
“I like the way café racers build their speed- it’s not scary, tear-your-arms-off, oh-my God-I’m-going-to-die-in-a-fiery-crash-and-it’s-going-to-hurt-a-lot fast like the new Triumph Speed Triple or a sportbike. They’re just fast enough.”
Greg Hageman, Motorcycle Builder, Davenport, IA.
“I think young people are embracing café racers because they’re fun and they’re cool and the bikes are recession proof to a point. I mean where else can you get into a custom bike for a few hundred dollars?”
Derek Harris, Lewis Leathers, London
“It was amazing to see all the skulls and death’s head imagery from the Rocker era actually was available as decoration to put on leathers back as early as the 1930s. Before that, early aviators wore the same type of insignia because of the danger of flying and the kind of glamorous flirtation with death and destruction. It’s amazing that it’s carried over to this day, pretty much unchanged.”
Martin Menucci, Mod, Dallas, TX.
“It wasn’t as bad as the films made it out to be- a lot of us mod lads came from the same schools as the rockers and they’d help us learn to maintain our scooters and give us tuning advice. You couldn’t help running into each other at the coffee bars or pubs so there couldn’t always be these vicious punch-ups you read about. Sure, the lads could get stroppy with each other and the East London mods, they were a rough bunch and liked a punch-up on Friday night after they’d had a few pints. But I think a lot of the rockers hated us because us mods always had the better-looking birds riding pillion with us.”
To all the aspiring “builders”, “mechanics”, “bike guys” etc. There are two “jobs” that separate those who “can” and those who “cannot”, those who “know” and those who “know not.”
#1. Fixing a rear flat on the road – Preferably on a 1978 T140V Triumph Bonneville. Removing the wheel, pulling the tire, switching the inner tube, replacing the wheel, while alone, is the physically hardest mechanical job on a motorcycle. If you complete this task successfully, and ride on down the road, there is nothing you can’t do while “building” a bike.
#2 Ignition Timing – Setting the ignition timing on a motorcycle, any motorcycle, is the same job whether it’s an old magneto, points and coil, or modern electronic ignition, the principle is the same. Learn it, understand it. Many people can describe what ignition timing is, but have no understanding of what is actually happening on the machine. My point is “ignition timing” is the hardest concept to grasp and once understood, there are no tasks you can’t perform on a bike.
Follow these tips and you could wrench in any shop, anytime, anywhere.
- Hugh Mackie, 6th Street Specials. NYC.