Setting out on a project bike is an exciting time. Whether you’re going it alone or having someone do the work for you, seeing your bike be torn down and come back together piece by piece will undoubtedly stir some emotions. If 2019 is your year for project bike glory, check out my “how to build a café racer” blog. We covered off the step by step process that I use when approaching a bike and a big part of that is your Cafe Racer parts list. From tearing down the bike to Polish and paint everything you need is in there, if you are going it alone it’s a must read before you get going.
At some point you’re going to have to open your wallet and fork out for Cafe Racer parts, especially if you aren’t one to hand make everything yourself. Here I’ll cover what parts you will generally need to take a stock ride into cafe racer glory. Assuming the engine is ok, I’ll start with the absolute essentials and as we progress down the list it will get into the finer details that really help separate the nice bikes from the all out custom Café Racers.
You’ll notice a common theme among all of these categories and I’ll mention it again here. It pays to buy quality, whether it be your LED lighting, a hand made seat, new speedometer, or your lighting control box + Switches. These things are an essential part of your motorcycle functioning safely and reliably. I understand that everyone wants to save a dollar when they can, but pick your battles with this. Buy quality, and support your local parts suppliers, mechanics and trim shops, I can’t stress that enough! Lets take at what should be on your Cafe Racer Parts wish list.
1.Cafe Racer Custom Seat
I’m a big advocate of hand made seats, I make all my own and have them upholstered in house with Timeless Autotrim, it’s really a make or break for any bike. Done right it can work wonders, done wrong and it can bring your entire project down. Stay away from one size fits all seats. The only thing on my Cafe Racer parts list here is the leather for the seat.
Choose carefully, and make sure you’re making the seat to suit the frame, and not the other way around. Buying the seat first then building the frame around it can be done, but it will more than likely be more trouble than what its worth.
2.Cafe Racer Tail Hoop/Cowl
Closely following the seat is your Subframe and/or tail cowl. Some models need zero modification and can have a nice tail cowl fitted on the standard frame, others (especially if you have a brat style seat) will require a seat hoop. Readily available from your local tube benders, usually 1” or 7/8” tube with a 225mm or 215 CRM.
3.Cafe Racer Headlight and Tail Light
Traditionally Café Racers had the large headlight out in front and a minimal tail light on the rear. LED lighting has seen a huge amount of options introduced with LED headlights and slimline LED strips becoming the norm. PBM now has a large range of headlights to suit most styles, with the addition of our classically styled and aptly named “Flashpoint Classic” solving the issue of a bright LED headlight that fits the style of modern or vintage motorcycles.
Get something that suits your style, My personal pick on tail lights is Custom dynamics LED strip and After Hours choppers. Other than that I haven’t found one that’s really grabbed me, so I’ve made my own. The Orbit Brake light is a painfully simple and minimalist approach to an incredibly bright brake light.
4. Clip-On or Low Bars for Your Cafe Racer
These help with the racier riding position but sometimes aren’t all that practical, in a pinch lower rise bars will suffice. Low rise (MX style) bars are suited better to a lower budget as they don’t demand the compliment of rear-set pegs. Clip ons while being great can be troublesome with some older bike designs on top triple clamps, leaving you with the factory bar risers once the clip ons are fitted. A good way around this is to use the old bar risers to hold your new gauge cluster by neatly cutting out an Aluminium plate that houses your gauges and light. This can be seen on our Nemesis 400 Café Racer.
5. Rear-Set Cafe Pegs-
I see a lot of bikes with super low bars without any thought of rear-set pegs, I always try to put them on Café racers as it not only looks the part but greatly helps the riders ergonomics while riding. Personally I think they should be higher on most peoples Cafe Racer parts list. Having dropped your bars, if you don’t move the pegs at least a little backward most riders will end up crunched over their knees in something that resembles the fetal position. The only thing more important than how your custom café racer looks, is how it runs and rides. Rearset pegs help enormously to give the rider that low down, “race ya mates” ready rider position.
6. Cafe Tyres
This one has a foot in both fields, Both performance and looks but always a part of everyone’s Cafe Racer parts list. There are some awesome Classically Styled tyres available from a few sellers. My weapon of choice here is a Shinko E270, Styled in the vain of the Firestone tyre and feel great on the road. The other side of the coin you have some super sporty options, I personally run Metzeler tyres on my bike but these aren’t available for some of the older sizes used. Whatever you choose keep in mind what types of riding you do!
Your standard set-up is normally always huge and ugly, get yourself some nice gauges! I prefer running a speedo only so I can listen to my engine rev and not watch it but that’s just me. There are some really great options around from KOSO and Speedhut and even some killer mini digital set ups too.
8. Custom Cafe Exhaust and Mufflers
Everyone’s favourite, the noise making parts. You can spend $200 or $2000 on an exhaust. If the Cafe Racer parts budget permits I highly recommend a set of custom or performance headers, and a good muffler. Getting away with a good slip on muffler is definitely most peoples choice and can yield good results. The reverse cone torpedo muffler being our most popular. If you’re a little more performance inclined, you really can’t go past a full system and muffler set up. Coupled with a carburettor upgrade and dyno tune, it’s the best thing you can put on your Café Racer parts list in the performance department.
9. New Motorcycle Electronics + Switches
old bikes have been plagued with a reputation for bad wiring, while re-wiring your bike its worthwhile updating your electrics, new handlebar switches, battery, reg/rec LED indicators and flasher units are all good to get, then it’s a matter of re-wiring it all and having fun hiding it all out of sight. There are a few tricks here that can help keep your electrics tidy and out of sight. First is an under seat electrics tray to house all of your gadgets, next is a modern control box. Technology has allowed the introduction of tiny modules that run all of your bikes electrics, the Black Box being one of them. With built in circuit protection fuses and the smarts to take care of all your switching and lighting controls.
10. Pod Filters or High Flow Air Filters
Unless you’re making yourself an elaborate intake or keeping the old air-box (both are unlikely) pod filters will be your go-to. A lot of people throw shade on these but if you buy a good quality filter (DNA is our product of choice) and get your jetting right they work great. Cheaper ones will often cause trouble both with the mounting flanges and providing next to no filtering on air flow. Its important to make sure when adding pod filters to have your carb tuned to suit the new set up. There’s a lot of information out there on what needs to be done, and ½ of it is non-sense. If you have the know how problem solve it yourself, if not, theres always a local mechanic to help you along the way.
11. Upgraded Cafe Racer Suspension
This would be further up the list however a lot of the time you can get away with overhauling your existing stuff so it’s not exactly on your shopping list. If not don’t cheap out on your shocks, what’s the point of having a racer that handles like a bathtub? Having the forks re-freshed with new springs, and having the rebound dampening adjusted to your weight and riding style can make an amazing difference in the way your café racer feels on the road, and the amount of time you can be in the saddle. With rear shocks there are a sea of cheap options on ebay that I steer well clear of. They’ll often blow seals, or just not function as they should. The difference between a $100 pair of shocks and a $3-400 pair is incredible, if you’re going all out a high end $700-1200 set of rear shocks would be great. That however just isn’t achievable for a lot of garage builders. A mid range set will do the job you want, and wont stretch the cafe racer parts budget too far. Gazi suspension is a great option for mid range shock absorbers and are made to suit your model bike and weight.
12. Custom Triple Clamp
Now were getting into the nice to have but not essential category. My first pick after a full custom exhaust, for any room in the budget is a nice top yoke on your triple clamp. Removing the stock bars leaves 2 ugly clamps. While they’re easily cut off and ground down, a custom top triple clamp will always set the look of your cockpit off. If you can get this on your cafe racer parts list I’d highly recommend it.
13. New Motorcycle Spokes
Another finer detail often overlooked, stripping your wheels and getting stainless steel or powder coated spokes is another great touch on your custom project. Re-lacing your wheel also allows you to play with your rim size if you want/need to. Older mild steel spokes will often pit after time, and on a vintage ior classic café racer its often a good idea to have the wheels rebuilt and trued. The life on these things is finite and old wheels will tend to fall out of true over time. If you’re interested in having a go at rebuilding yourself take a look at our wheel building guide.
14. Custom Made Cafe Racer Tank
If you have the dollars to put down on a Custom made tank, it will really take your bike to the next level, this is when people start really scratching their heads and asking, “What is it??” There are a lot of off the shelf options available and generally you can take a look at your bikes frame and with a few measurements see if you can make it work. Another option here is to simply mix and match from a other bike you love the look of.
So there you have it, I hope you’ve been madly scribbling down all the Cafe Racer parts you’re going to buy as part of your 2019 project bike adventure. As I said at the beginning it’s important to support your local independent bike shops and parts retailers. These men and women allow your city to have a thriving motorcycle and custom community, even if they’re a few more dollars its worth your support. Be sure to also check out my Scrambler Parts Checklist if you’re more dirt inclined. If there’s something you’d like to see on this list drop me a comment below, happy wrenching!
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