Yesterday the annual Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride took place internationally. The event originated in Australia and involves dressing up in your smartest, most dapper clothes and joining other equally well dressed motorcyclists in your region for a leisurely ride to support prostate cancer awareness and research. Marnitz, my friend,co-conspirator and photographer for this Retro Write Up blog, organised the first local DGR event in 2012 which only took place in Gauteng, attracting no more than twenty motorcycles, mainly Harleys from Pretoria. In 2013, the DGR was independently organised by the guys in Cape Town and Durban while Marnitz once again handled Gauteng. With better planning and marketing, the Gauteng event grew to an attendance of about 200 motorcycles. Although internationally the DGR is traditionally for cafe racers and classic motorcycles, the parking lot at the meeting venue was filled with cafe racers, classics, scooters, bobbers and cruisers. On an overcast day the Rainbow Nation made a welcome appearance with participants of every colour, creed, age group and sex arriving dressed to impress on a spectrum of different motorcycles. Heaven on Earth.
It is phenomenal how the whole cafe racer culture is growing and evolving in South Africa. Certain models, like the Honda CX500 have regained demand after thirty years of obscurity. Marco’s stunning CX500 cafe racer is the fourth CX based cafe racer that we have featured this year and there are more to come; all have unique features and style. We love them. This blog was never supposed to be a Wikipedia specification sheet. The first time we feature a certain motorcycle model, I generally mention relevant specifications for that model. I try to keep the subsequent articles about the same model fresh by introducing other aspects and anecdotes pertaining to the history and culture surrounding that motorcycle or its style. As I was sitting quietly yesterday evening, thinking about the super day I had spent with my son riding my old faithful Ariel, the wonderful people and motorcycles that had joined in the fun and what on earth I was going to write about that would even come close to complementing Marnitz’s showy night photos of Marco’s hot CX500, a worrying thought crept into my mind and it had nothing to do with motorcycles. I thought about Volkswagen Beetle Baja Bugs!
When the VW Golf was launched in 1978, the Beetle immediately became unfashionable to drive and their values fell. In the early 1980s the Baja Bug craze hit South Africa. Building a Baja Bug involved buying a cheap Beetle, buying a Baja kit, removing the fenders, front boot lid and modifying the compartment around the engine, installing the fibreglass kit, spraypainting the whole car and installing new wheels and other components depending on the owner’s desires. For a short while decently built Baja Bugs fetched good money, much more than an original condition Beetle. Unfortunately for the owners, the fad passed and standard, original Beetles became the vehicles to own. Bajas became worthless compared to the money spent to build them. They were almost impossible to return to original condition and have almost all disappeared off our roads. Of what relevance is this sad story to the fabulous CX500 cafe racers and all the other 70s and 80s model based cafe racers which we feature? The answer is a simple question. What prevents the current cafe racer building frenzy from being a passing fad?
Here is a scenario. A man buys a 1983 model CX500 Honda in what appears to be perfect running order for R10 000. He conservatively spends R15 000 on professionally customising the motorcycle into a one of a kind cafe racer. He enjoys riding the bike and the whole social vibe but circumstances force him to sell the motorcycle. He sells it easily for R35 000 to someone who really wants a cafe racer but who has no technical expertise. The motorcycle develops a mechanical noise in the engine and he returns to the guys who built the bike for the original owner and asks them for help. They politely and honestly say that they are not mechanics and are not able to help him. He now goes to his nearest Honda dealer for assistance. His beautiful, shiny and new cafe racer has now become what it actually is; a thirty year old motorcycle which has run bearings. Honda will try to assist but it is unreasonable to expect any manufacturer to still be keeping spares for a model which is at least thirty years old. If the spares are available the chances are that the mechanic who is trained on all the current models, is younger than the cafe racer. The frustrated owner gives up and sells the motorcycle as a non runner for R10 000 in the Junkmail. If this scenario repeats itself enough times and enough owners are left stranded, cafe racers will become a passing fad. Most of the cafe racers cannot be returned to original condition and if the craze ends the remaining versions will have lost all of their value along with their appeal. They will become as scarce as Baja Bugs.
The reason that I have created this horror story is because of my heartfelt concern for the cafe racer movement to prosper and survive. It is wonderfully refreshing to spend time with such a diverse, passionate group of motorcyclists who bring a touch of sophistication but no arrogance to motorcycling. If nurtured, cafe racers and their owners will continue to attract people who possibly never thought of being a motorcyclist. I created this story as a warning as well as a plea to all cafe racer builders, owners and enthusiasts. It takes more than just Marnitz with his CROSA gatherings and an annual DGR to keep the enthusiasm alive. Keep the suggestions and the events flowing. Use the social networks to share information about technical issues and take time to assist those in need of support. Create a data base of alternative suppliers of mechanical parts and skilled technicians who are able to work on the older motorcycles. We will always use our blog to share resources.
It is somehow appropriate that Marco’s CX500 cafe racer was the first cafe racer ever built by Tiago from OneOne Customs. Tiago has the ability to customise as well as mechanically overhaul his customer’s motorcycles. Every bumstop seat he makes is hand formed and therefore completely unique. The wrapped exhausts have a wonderfully deep sound thanks to the two modified scooter silencers. The original tank is retained. The short front fender, clubman handlebars and the small gauges complete the look. The number 22 painted on the rear of the bumstop, is the day in December that Marco’s godchild, his brother Alex’s child, was born. We recently featured Alex’s Suzuki GS750G. Marco rode the CX on the DGR and I heard positive comments regarding its looks and colour on several occasions during the day.
Both classic and modern cafe racers have character and presence. They never fail to attract attention and provide their owners with an opportunity to ride a practical but individually styled motorcycle. The social aspect is something to be nurtured and protected. Those involved in the movement currently have a responsibility to make the cafe racer ownership sustainable whilst maintaining the current social appeal. We need to see more motorcycles like Marco’s CX500 on our roads.