GoGo, Bozo and the neo-moto hipster hobo/bobo-nouveau (with an afro). It’s the next big thing!

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How many of them are out there? Half finished, taken apart, half-assed “Café Racers” languishing away in living room corners, in basements, in lawnmower sheds, under blue tarps and on the street. Yamaha RD350s, XS650s, Honda CB350s, CB550s. All with wiring pulled apart and vacant spark plug holes. Most got as far as a set of clubman bars that caused giant floppy loops in throttle cables and brake lines. Stock wire harnesses bunched up and stuffed into headlight buckets or worse. Perhaps a little welding here and there, angry blobs of porous steel lumped on with fluxcore wire from $100 Harbor Freight MIG machines. It’s too bad that there isn’t simply a Cafe Racer app and, if you spent more on your MacBook, iPhone and Xbox than on your motorcycle project, then it was doomed from the start. It never represented greater value than communication and entertainment.

There must be an alternative.

Like most fellas my age, I went through the Café phase. For me it was the late ‘90s and, looking back on it now, I wonder why. Why was I trying to relive a past that did not belong to me or even my culture? Why did I feel so compelled to recreate that mid-sixties British ton-up boy, poser lifestyle? The clothing was cool, those Davida helmets snappy and the bikes, well…sweet sally in the alley, were they sexy! But how does all that really apply to me?

Folks my parents age are, and have for some time been, enthralled with muscle cars. The reason is simple, when they were in high school they came into direct contact with Hemi ‘Cudas, GTOs, 442s, Camaros, Boss ‘Stangs, etcetera. Maybe it was that crazy uncle doing a burnout in his new ’68 Superbee in front of mom’s house that seared an indelible blueprint for coolness on post pubescent brains for later retrieval. When the BMW 3-Series and Chrysler K cars that dominated the boomer lifestyle of the eighties finally gave way to the ‘90s, the blueprint resurfaced and a return to the cars of post adolescent freedom took flight. The floodgates of nostalgia opened, twenty years of corporate bullshit disappeared, and sexual potency was rekindled with vintage Detroit V8 fountains of youth.

It’s pretty silly, but at least the Boomer’s tastes represented more honesty than my yearning for a Triton, a machine that never entered my sphere until I was an adult, living in Louisiana, and had no real cultural context for it.

My first encounter with a real motorcycle was at my fathers annual office party of 1984. One of his co-workers arrived at the event on a strange new machine and I remember vividly the black and red Kawasaki GPZ900. I walked up to the thing mystified. Where was the engine? How did it even work? Were regular humans supposed to operate this thing? Was it a hovercraft or a spaceship? Then I saw the sticker, NINJA. Oh Yeah! NINJA! For a 13-year old, that was like finding a stash of Playboys under a pile of pistols, next to a crate of butterfly knives with a Haro sporting Skyway mags on top. In the midst of excited contemplation, my father found me and shooed me away from the death dealer. He pulled me aside and told me how crazy the guy who rode it was, and how he was going to kill himself on that thing. For the most part my father’s loathing of motorcycles worked, and I spent the rest of my adolescence and high school years focused on American cars from the ‘50s and ‘60s. Cadillacs especially. But I never forgot them, and was always secretly admiring those awesome ‘80s Japanese motorcycles from afar.

Fuck the Ace Café. I am a child of Miami Vice, and proud of it!

Its Always the same, I will be in a bar somewhere, drinking a Highlife and Jameson (New Orleans gloves, as it’s known), and if the conversation turns to motorcycles, the thirty something guy will start rattling on about Café Racers. “I want a café racer! A Café Racer, CAFÉ RACER!” I wade in with “Hey brah, a Kawasaki LTD440 with no rear fender ain’t a Velocette Venom Thruxton”. Confusing words from the half drunk cynic at the other end of the bar, I am waved off.

The information revolution effectively killed the expert. The only problem is that key strokes and TIG arcs aren’t the same thing and building a real customized motorcycle in any genre takes real commitment, money and infrastructure. The internet only ever seems to scratch at the surface. Everything seems easy, just follow the recipe, and presto! Custom motorcycle! The Café guy just wants a motorcycle that looks a certain way and, if you squint hard enough, a CB350 looks close enough. He is not really interested in owning a piece of history, he just wants the fashion vehicle that will allow him to wear the clothing that is in tune with his tastes, pudding bowel helmet being top of the list.

A year later and there it is, a miserable pile of shit in boxes, disassembled, missing hardware, and JB weld smeared onto cracked cases. He takes it to a motorcycle mechanic to “just get it running,” and when the estimate for putting it back together costs more than the original purchase price of $500, all work stops and the project is abandoned until the subject comes up at a bar. Suddenly, miraculously the retro dodo has a café racer at home.

Why are American motorcyclists so hug up on the distant past? I mean really, if we are going to get all retro, does it have to be one of three choices: a bobber, a chopper, or a café racer? None of our thirty something brethren experienced those forms in their proper context. Like me, they weren’t born yet.

I think that there is a lot to be said for living in your own time. There seems to be such a thirst in America for the distant past that we have ceased looking into the future. Adrift in waxing nostalgia with eyes in the back of our heads, trying to connect with our ancestors astride broken, phony time machines. Nothing gives a glimpse into the psyche of a nation like its motorcycle culture.

The reality of a Triton never exceeds the fantasy of it, even a real one. Much less so for a goofy cheap imitation. While fun to think about, the application of ‘60s rocker specials in modern times leaves a lot to be desired. I don’t think that the same can be said of those wonderful motorcycles from Japan, beginning in 1984 with the GPZ900.

I maintain that the renaissance did not begin with the Honda CB750. I have never liked them. Yes they were more sophisticated that the British stuff and yes, they put the rest of the world out of the motorcycle business (asshole move that, destroying instead of teaching), but if you really think about it, the CB750 is nothing more than an improved Triumph. The core design DNA is fundamentally European. The application of Japanese culture as a valid basis for design expression took longer to germinate, so most of the Japanese motorcycles from the ‘60s and ‘70s used European design sensibilities and marketed product based on features, performance, and quality. In the early eighties there were signs of a new ethos. Risk taking by Japanese companies began in earnest with the trickle of strange turbo bikes like the Honda CX500 Turbo and the Yamaha Seca Turbo.

The Hans Muth-styled Katana was a landmark motorcycle. It was popular but, more importantly, it succeeded in proving that Japanese culture itself had international appeal and pecuniary value. It actually had Japanese writing on it! It was called a KATANA! It was the first production motorcycle to experiment with a completely new paradigm that would change the motorcycle world. The conservative Japanese approach was starting to spidercrack and green shoots began to emerge. The accounting departments of Japan inc. loosened up as engineering hegemony and world domination of motorcycle sport was unchallenged. Evidence of the gradual relaxation manifested itself in the motorcycle sub-genre I like to refer to as the “Logan’s Run Era”. Playful, wacky and, at times silly, but things were about to get very serious indeed. It was time for 13 year old JT to meet the Ninja for the first time.

Now that it is my turn to yearn for sexual potency, lust for lost lust as it were, the big Four-O is looming. My eBay Motors account has a worn path that goes straight to the same refined search: 1984-1989 sportbikes. These motorcycles are simply astounding. Lets forget how they look for a moment, and focus on the objective qualities of these bikes in a historical context. How about a generational divide as the matrix for the analysis, in 20 year increments, using our 1984 GPZ900 as the crux, thus:

A fast, large displacement, sporty street motorcycle circa 1964 — Let’s say a Triumph Bonneville 650.

A fast, large displacement, sporty street motorcycle circa 1984 — Our benchmark for this exercise, Kawasaki GPZ900.

A fast, large displacement, sporty street motorcycle circa 2004 — How about a Honda CBR1000RR.

Our results are astounding! I would propose that the GPZ would do 8/10ths of the things that the CBR will do in everyday riding and 9/10ths or more in long distance touring! Reliability scale for the CBR? 9/10 Reliability for the GPZ? 8.5.

Now, moving back in time, the Bonneville would struggle to deliver 5/10ths of the everyday street riding of the GPZ, and maybe 4/10ths or worse long distance touring. Reliability for the GPZ? 8.5. Reliability for the Bonnie? Well let’s just say that they ARE pretty light which makes ‘em real good for pushin’.

Keyboards around the world are now busily clickety-clacking away, but before you deliver your anecdotal evidence to refute my statement, I just want to say that I love vintage motorcycles and the delusional fantasy that I myself, from time to time imbue them with. What is irrefutable, however, is just how amazing the motorcycles from the mid to late ‘80s are. Man I love kickstarting a motorcycle, especially when there is an audience to witness me jumping up and down on it, fouling plugs, fouler language. It’s cool. I like it. But if I could only have one motorcycle….Well that brings us back to our hipster friend and his motorcycle (or “motorBIKE” if you are a total fucking poser). Dilemma.

Let’s talk about the money. Hipsters somehow never can put together the skrilla to get the café bike out of hock. Shit just always be too expensive. Well, Mr. iPhone, its worse than you originally thought. The budget for an actual Café bike with a real British engine, is going to be at least eight grand. I wouldn’t begin to think about starting a project like that with less than 8K, dedicated money, in the bank and I already own a welding machine! If you are not a motorcycle mechanic, AND you are broke, seek your natural level. The sublime reality is that you can buy two great, running ‘80s superbikes for the price of one halfway presentable Café Racer. So how come the dilettante, tight black jean crowd ain’t smellin’ this bleeding edge, 80s neon irony?

When smashed over the head with these facts, the answer is always the same, “Oh I don’t really want to go fast, I just want to ride something cool.” Well hey there Velvet Underground, riding fast, competent motorcycles IS cool. A pile of parts in your kitchen is not. How about a few less trips to the vinyl record store, save a couple of bucks and buy a motorcycle that can scare the shit out of you?

If you read between the lines, what our hipster friend is really trying to say is that he doesn’t like the way the graphics and styling cues reminds him of a time when he just couldn’t get enough Magum PI. How embarrassing!

Ginormous fairings, bulbous mirrors and can-style mufflers just don’t look “euro” enough. Which bring me to the point of this whole exercise — GoGo Jap-O is awesome! Embrace your inner Sonny Crockett, dig out that icecream colored suit, pop the Purple Rain soundtrack into the Alpine tape deck of your Ferrari Testarossa and take a drive down (recent) memory lane with me. It may take a minute to get your head around it, might feel a little strange at first, but all our hipster fiend really needs is a little cognitive dissonance as working class hip yields to the excesses of futurism.

“There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion.” — Francis Bacon.

I dig motorcycles that have jumping spider faces, square taillights, and mysterious blocky, forward slanting two tone words like “EXUP”, “SACS”, “GENESIS”, “NEAS”, “FULL FLOATER” and “PRO ARM.” And, oh yeah and it’s GOTTA have a slanty “R” on it somewhere.

I love that first generation of aluminum full cradle frames too. The extruded two-inch ally, fully boxed cross section, all angled and home made looking. Back in the day, you could either have round headlights or square, two round taillights or one square one. Simple, awkward, blinkers protruding from slab sided Galactica-inspired plastic. The fairings actually looked like what they were – covers, origami paper turned waterproof plastic, broken up by strange arbitrary red and blue swooshes. Visual solidity, with only perhaps the carburetors playing a little peekaboo. How about those wacky anti-dive gizmos festooning lower fork legs? They don’t work, but they sure are neat! The aluminum swingarm revolution was in full swing, and every maker had a cute unique solution for chain adjusting. Full floating rotors had just come on the scene and not only stopped like nothing ever before, they looked simply magnificent and remained virtually unchanged to this day. Whether it was the graceful, flowing, yet angular FJ or the blunt and brutal GSX-R, the ‘80s superbikes all have one design element in common – the excitement of futurism. The argument could be made that the unbridled optimism contained within the design DNA sometimes went too far, but nobody could argue that these bikes didn’t have the guts to back it up. That the promise of a mind bending experience manifested in the styling was supported by the actual performance, translates to an honesty of shape/form expression.

Good bye choppa guy, hello Motion Pro!

Ok, now for the best part, our Café Racer project checklist:
Clipons – Check
Rearsets – Check
Reliable electronic ignition – Check
Modern carburetors – Check
High performance exhaust – Check
Decent brakes – Check
Good suspension – Check
Modern tires – Check
Alloy swingarm – Check
Strong wheels – Check
Horsepower – Check
Braced, stiff chassis – Check

All of the important things that would be top priority for MY café racer project bike already exist on the superbike, that’s what makes ‘em super! The only thing that you really need to have in the garage is a set of mercury sticks, and hell, with the stock tool roll you can just about take the whole motorcycle apart.

Fortunately, here in the States, the Streetfighter craze was a late and weak arrival and the extended swingarm crowd sought to fuck up more modern machines. Many of the superbikes were out and out smashed into bits, but the ones that did survive are generally unmolested. There are quite a few tinted windscreens, bad green metalflake paintjobs, and “No Fear” stickers out there, but these cosmetic things can usually be undone. I think that the market for restoration of these fantastic bikes is close at hand, because as the values go up (and I assure you that they will), a return to stock will make financial sense, just as the muscle car phenomenon has proven. Hopefully, our newly indoctrinated hipster will prove to be a conscientious caretaker of his incredibly significant piece of two wheeled history. These motorcycles need love right now, because many are perilously close to the precipice of the boneyard and, once undone, gone forever. If the superbikes have any weakness, it is just that. Unlike Harleys, mix and match Mr. Potatohead-style customs just aren’t possible. They have to be all there, complete, every nut and bolt accounted for, but the rest is easy.

Like most used motorcycles, these bikes need to have the carbs synced,and a fresh set of plugs, fork oil replaced, brakes bled, new pads, oil and filter, air filter, chain serviced and fresh rubber. These jobs represent an honest day of work in the garage, but that’s it. No welding, no machining, no drilling, no hammering, no English wheeling, or cussin’. All it takes is simple honest motorsickle mekanakin’. Wanna get really fancy? A jet kit and braided brake lines are about the end of the performance upgrade story. They simply don’t need anything else if you plan on normal street riding.

Just say NO to rockabilly lifestyle tattoos, chain wallets and Betty Paige, No to phony rat rods, Von Dutch, and puddigbowl helmets. No to Featherbed frames, drum brakes and blue collar stagnation!

Say YES to the Space Shuttle, Perestroika, and Def Leppard. Yes to Nagel prints, Appolonia 6 and ‘80s lingerie. Yes to Freddy Spencer, slanty Rs and a future filled with the sound of howling superbikes!

Think about how much fun it’s going to be, blasting past the greybeards choppa shop, doing wheelies through the crowd of lumpkin Harley bobber homos with metal flake half helmets, and doing the Ton on the way to the coffee shop around the corner. Feats of daring-do competently done on the most anti-social retro time machine ever conceived. Honest to god, rice burning, crotch rocketing, zip and splats are back! Unlike some genres, they have EARNED their place at the zenith of the retro motorcycle pantheon.

My top picks:
1986 Suzuki GSXR750/1100
1987 Yamaha FJ 1200
1984 Kawasaki GPZ900R Ninja
1986 Honda VF1000R
1989 Yamaha FZR1000

What are yours?

Editor’s note: all these shots of busted old bikes were found by Googling “Cafe Racer project for sale.”

  • Mattro

    professionally trolled at hellforleathermagazine.com!

  • Glenngineer

    For a 13-year old, that was like finding a stash of Playboys under a pile of pistols, next to a crate of butterfly knives with a Haro sporting Skyway mags on top.


    I loved the Skyway's, but holy crap they were a terrible wheel.

    • John

      Did you ever put them in the freezer with the hope that they would magically straighten out?

      I can still this see the look my mother gave when she asked me why there was bike wheels in the freezer?

      “Because they’re bent..”

      • noone1569

        HAHA I’m glad I’m not the only one to do that.

    • Paul B

      ACS Z-Rims for life. Damn I’m old….

    • je

      That made me laugh.. like a lot.

  • Ryley

    Hahaha this is dead on. Later Virago!

  • http://www.urbanrider.co.uk UrbanRider

    The current resurgence in ‘retro bikes’ is simply because most motorcycles in the present are ugly.

    Hence I bought a Honda CL400 (1998 modern 4 stroke 400c single) which is reliable enough to use daily but I can modify it to my taste. Inspiration from the 50s, 60s and 70s. Doesn’t mean to say I wouldn’t want to own a Ninja too (if I had a garage).

    Bikes of the 60s, 70s were generally better looking than modern bikes, so the fact we can have modern reliability, brakes, suspension with the iconic shapes should be celebrated.

    Living in London there is no point in owning a sportsbike, horses for courses and all that.

  • http://rider49er.blogspot.com Mark D

    Ding ding ding ding. This is all exactly why I sold my old CB400 and bought a cheap, poorly maintained EX-500. Did some basic engine maintenance to it, (“It says here to ‘adjust the float bowl adjustment tongue’. Well, I don’t know what the fuck that is, so let’s take it apart!”), threw on some fresh rubber and new pads, now she runs like a champ.

    Ok ok ok, so, its not a GPZ900, but its fast enough. WAY faster than the CB400. And it stops. And I could buy parts for it. And tires.

    And, oh yeah, ITS FAST. Do I look cool on it? I don’t know, I don’t look in mirrors when I’m going 90 on a backroad…

    I’m currently lusting after a nice black twin-mirror FZR-600, though. Great looking bikes.

  • http://lightsoutknivesout.tumblr.com/ Scott Pargett

    He’s right. Still ahead of the curve, but it’s gonna happen. Buy now while you can, I’ve been thinking about it.

    Very cool, unique article. This is the kinda of motorcycle journalism that makes it fun to be a motorcyclist.

  • Steve

    +1 on this article.

    I’ve been maintaining for a while that early/mid 80s “Ninja” sportbikes are the next “big thing”.

    But I’d add 1987 Yamaha FZ600 and FZ750 to this list.

    Only trouble is try finding any one of these bikes that is unmolested and straight.

  • Kirill

    This article was spectacular. Made me wish I still had my FZR600.

  • Beale

    Now, we’re talkin’. In my world a proper motorcycle has two round headlights, and not in the factory streetfighter way (helloooo Triumph).

  • Thom

    Fuck the Ace Cafe ???

    Really ?

    Hate to tell you this mate , but you owe everything that Motorcycles have become to the Cafe Racer movement . The fact that its on the rebound just shows there’s still some modicum of TASTE left in the world , what with the proliferation of overly plasticized , hyper BS , God Knows what the Hells underneath all that crap M/C’s flowing like so much sewage from todays manufactures .

    Miami Vice . Yeah right ! A couple of pretentious asses in quasi Gay drag pretending to be tough . Thats a style you should be holding onto .

    Seriously , what part of REALITY has managed to pass you by in your quest for Adulthood ?

    -10 for this piece of journalistic tripe . If it of been on paper it’d be residing in my circular file right abut now .

    Miami Vice . Jeeze !!! Next you’ll be promoting Duran Duran .

    FYI : Friends Do Not let Friends wear pastels !

    Ahhh but why bother ? Just another example of Good Taste rapidly leaving the current Zeitgeists conciousness

    NO BROW still ruling the roost , even in online magazines !

    Hmmmn . A few more articles like this and maybe we should change the site from HFL to Pastels and Disco are Us .

    • http://rider49er.blogspot.com Mark D

      Say what you will about my plastic-clad sportbike, but leave Duran Duran outta this!!!

      • http://www.muthalovin.com the_doctor

        Yeah, man, whats up with dissing Duran Duran?! Too far!

        • HammSammich

          Maybe he meant Durand Durand…nobody likes that @sshole. ;)

    • Zach

      Well, while I can’t comment on the significance of the original Cafe movement, the article discusses the re-appropriation of that aesthetic by young Americans half a century later. Can you really consider it to be the same “movement” when the advancement of technology has made making the ton a routine feat on all but the smallest bikes?

    • Kirill

      The fact that its on the rebound shows that too many people don’t have an original thought of their own and just copy what’s been done before.

    • rohorn

      It’ll be Disco are Us when they glamorize KZ900LTDs with chrome racks on the back (with milk crate) and sissybar with backwards “S” insert. That, and 6″ over fork tubes.

    • Mr.Paynter

      I say Fuck the Ace Cafe wannabes, yeah!
      None of us were there or living the lifestyle then, why emulate it now?

      I like the look of cafe’s and I have respect for the fact that they’ve influenced motorcycling ever since but rehashing the exact same thing for ever and ever after is a waste of time!

      I think this article has seriously made me think! These are the bikes I lusted over, they were part of my life and my youth and so I wonder how I’bve absolutely lost touch with them?

      Thought provoking!

    • pplassm


  • noone1569

    I, too, crave a FJ. Almost more so than any modern bike.

    Everytime I see an 80′s superbike parked on the Circle here in Indy, I have to stop and drool. I want one. I want to ride it in a purple tank top and stone washed jeans!

    • Mr.Paynter

      My uncle has an old FJ1300, I need to start working the angles!

    • Sean Smith

      I’ve got a neighbor with an FJ1200R. If I didn’t want an 86 GSXR750 so bad, I might buy it from him.

  • rohorn

    Best. Bike. Culture. Article. Evar.

    Needs more Local Motion, Body Glove, and Ultra Hott stickers. A hand painted “Rebel Yell” on the quarter fairing wouldn’t hurt.

    Like totally remember getting those articles in “Cycle” when they were new. The double exposure shot of the new Ninja 1000 with/without the bodywork is still stuck in my head. As is Phil Schilling’s editorial “Hour of Granite” (ripped off a few decades later in a “Cycle World” editorial by, uh, nevermind).

    ZX600B (try to find one…)
    ZX750 H and J models (still have the brochures)
    FZ600 and 750 (’86-’87)
    GSX-R 750/1100 G and H (owned an H model a long time ago…)

    From the euro list (doesn’t belong here, but I still love the look from that time):
    Ducati 600 TT2/Pantah, etc…
    Ducati 750 F1 Montjuich, etc…

  • Scott-jay

    Yep, yep.

  • pplassm

    Good points, here. Only problem is sportbikes of that era are really hard to find in good shape. At least at bottom feeder prices, anyway. I’ve gone through a few of them……

    • Sean Smith

      70′s UJMs are no better. I’ve still got a buddies 70-something Suzuki GS750 rotting in a box in my attic. He thought that $750 would definitely be enough cash to build a cool bike.

  • Roman

    I’ve had a thing for late 80s early 90s Japanese grey market 400s for a while now. Small, light, quick, great handlers. Give me a FZR400, CB1 or (preferably) a VFR400, and I’m set.

    My current ride, Honda Hawk GT kind of splits the difference between cafe racer and an 80s sportbike (and looks pretty bitchin if I may say so myself). So I’m glad to see some pushback on the ubiquitous cafe racer scene. I think they’re neat bikes, but more and more it feels like a fashion accessory, than a bike for people who actually ride motorcycles on a regular basis.

    • Mr.Paynter


      VFR400 grey imports are so popular here but they’re hard to find in really good condition because they’re often picked up by 18-20 year olds who want something quicker for cheap! I want one so bad but most of them are trashed for this very reason!

      • Roman

        Buy one and fix it up! They’re pretty much unobtainable here, unless you’re willing to spend some serious cash. Only 400 that was actually imported in decent numbers is the FZR and even those fetch a premium these days.

      • http://www.lgdm.fr stempere

        Saw a white VFR400 a few weeks back in paris and was absolutly awestruck, that thing sounded and looked beautifull and left my v11 in the dust…
        Pretty hard to find around here too but it doesn’t mean i’ll stop looking.

  • aristurtle

    Well, shit, I guess my Ninja 250 is suddenly cool, then: they were pumping these out looking like a mid-80′s sportbike clear into 2007. Mine’s the one with the fairing that’s really obviously held together with glue.

    Anyway, there’s the other tragedy of the cafe racer craze. I want to get an old CB750 and actually keep it as a CB750. I actually like the UJM look, you know, how the bike actually came from the factory, and while the bike would be older than me, it makes me think back to the Honda that my father owned and kept in the garage and couldn’t ride because my mother wouldn’t let him (but he snuck in rides anyway) so he eventually sold it for nine hundred bucks and bought an old MG.

    Anyway, I digress. I want a CB750. But all of the ones I see for sale are either molested into some ridiculous half-baked cafe racer project of the sort discussed here or are otherwise screwed with or just neglected and later parted out. It’s a damn shame.

    • Steven

      This is how I feel about what all these assholes are doing to those poor Hondas and Yamahas.

      My nostalgia for a time before my birth isn’t rooted in bank holiday riots, pools of leaked oil, and showers of sparks. (Does Noah Indianfeathers McTriangles even know where Brighton is?) I like the UJM because of its disruptive technological impact and because it was from the 1970s, the decade which was the greatest time ever to be a white American dude in his twenties. It was after The Pill, before AIDS, jobs were handed out like candy on Halloween, motorcycles were everywhere, and being hairy was in. Fuck yeah.

      PS: Disk brakes, fuel injection, and Kawasaki blue and green stripes 4ever.

  • Zach

    I am once again pleasantly surprised to see how much I enjoy JT’s articles when he is not spewing vitriol at something.

  • http://twitter.com/BuddyJesus Peter

    Can you get leathers in HyperColor?

  • http://twitter.com/JamesLeeFoley# jamesleefoley

    I can’t tell you how pumped I was reading this. The guy who taught me to ride bought a GPZ900 new in 84 and he still has it today. I rode it last weekend. 60k miles later its still terrifying to ride. This was the bike that made me want to ride a motorcycle and its probably still my favorite.

  • Denzel

    This article might be the tipping point (sorry)pushing these bikes into coolville. I hope so. IMHO ‘preserved’is better than deconstructed. I daydream a little when I see these on Craigslist, but then remind myself of my personal vow to the heavens to stay away from carbureted engines. (My personal pain threshold earned after years of car, boat and bike carb issues… especially boats…yeesh).

    Anyway, very entertaining. Props to JT, Duran Duan, and whoever put the sheeps head on Tubbs.

    • Jeff

      I have the same conflicts with carbs and totally understand.

    • jp182

      I’ll second. I love how they look but I made that vow too…..

      I have a feeling I’m going to say screw it soon though and just buy and have the carbs rebuilt whenever necessary.

  • JonB

    I can’t help but read JT articles and imagine him in a room behind a piece of one-way glass, snickering as he watches a HFL reader finish the article and immediately jump on the bandwagon with a “I knew it all along” or a “Me too, me too” comment.

    • JT Nesbitt

      Wha?? Hey dickface, I am trying to get people to rescue some fantastic motorcycles by elevating them to the cult status that they rightly deserve. It’s a call to action, superbikes from the 80s need love, and if enough insider motorcycle people voice that opinion, perhaps a few more will be saved from destruction. Your weirdo conspiracy theories about my ego are highly suspect, what did you say your name was?— JT

      • JonB

        Cool, now I share the company of Robert P. in that we have both been called dickface by you. At least I think you called him a dickface. All of which I think is rad as when I was lusting for a Wraith, never did I think this could happen.

        Sure it was a call to action, a good solid read that I enjoyed. And ok, so it was an earnest message but just way heavy with the holier than thou finger pointing. Which is what sometimes leads me to believe it isn’t totally earnest.

        Whatever, statement redacted, you don’t enjoy getting over on people. I get it.

        Here is one of my favorite shitty photos I took from the GP this past weekend.

  • http://www.muthalovin.com the_doctor

    All these pictures used in this article are radical. Minus the “Cafe Racer project for sale.”

    Also really enjoyed the level of wit that JT writes with. But I will still call them motorbikes.

    • Denzel

      Yep.. great photos… alternating ‘crappy basket case’ then ‘shiny superbike’ very pursuasive…

    • rohorn

      Picture #2 (Honda 305?) has an empty Pabst case in front of it – cause/effect?

  • http://www.cdavisdesigns.com Chris Davis

    Fantastic editorial. I wouldn’t do it. But I get it. Pining for a past that wasn’t yours is disingenuous at best. Riding a motorcycle because you love it is the best reason to ride. Not long ago I rode a slew of different bikes over the course of a catalog shoot and while they were all impressive, if I had to choose, I would pick the CBR600RR because I disliked it the least. That’s no reason to pick a motorcycle. I’d still rather ride my somewhat modified SV650S. No one is going to go gaga over it and most people call it a beginner bike. Fine. I don’t care. I like it. A lot.

    • smoke4ndmears

      The SV650 in many ways is the motorcycle equivalent of the miata, but without the girly-car stigma. As in if Grass Roots Motorsports was into bikes the SV650 would be their poster bike: The answer is always SV650! Most riders get that too I think, so ride it with pride!

  • BenP

    I am always calling them “pudding bowel” helmets from now on.

    Great rant, loved it.

  • BMW11GS

    I was born in 1989 and lived in Africa (which one can argue is always about 10 years behind in terms of fashion… and other things as well) but the first bikes I came in contact with as a kid were the bright and fast late 80′s early 90′s bikes. Something neat about the cutting edge of design and technology available to the general public. My dad had ridden 70′s Japanese bikes in the early 80′s and so for him these late 80′s early 90′s bikes were such an improvement he couldn’t understand why people would ever want to go back. For me these bikes are what define my mental pictures of cool and or motorcycles. Now to find a VFR750R!

  • tonup

    What a rant. Just because you dig eighties, fluorized, out of shaped bikes, doesn´t qualify for pissing on the most beautiful bikes of the century = the cafe racers of the sixties.

    I sometimes see these ratbikes around, some geeezers with a Wayne Rainey polyester jacket, jeans and Caterpillars whizzing at 15.000 rpms trying to look cool.

    • Zach

      Except he isn’t pissing on the cafe racers of the sixties, he is pissing on the lame attempts at cafe racers made by the hipsters of today.

      • tonup

        What´s a hipster then?

        • Zach

          You will have to ask JT.

          • tonup

            Don’t think i’ll get a proper answer. Maybe he is short of cash at the moment and can’t afford a real cafe racer so he has to look at some old gpz’s instead..

            • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Grant Ray

              JT? Short of cash? HAHAHAHA! That couldn’t possibly be further from the truth. I also remember the 60s Norton he restored and then sold back in 2003. She was a real peach.

            • rohorn

              Comparing Tritons and all that to GPzs isn’t very bright – try comparing the handbuilt cafe racers (from a “scene” that died and decomposed far faster than anyone is willing to discuss) to the handbuilt sportbikes of the 80s like the Bimota Laser, Harris Magnums, or, my favorite, Moto Martin CBX.

        • Kevin





          Summery of hipsters: “white kids want the funky otherness of hip-hop… without all the scary black people.”

          • tonup

            I know the definition of a hipster, just wanted to know why it is less hipsterish to dress up like Sonny Crocket and go revving around on a “modified” FZR from the eighties

            • Kirill

              Because Sonny Crocket’s pants weren’t nearly tight enough

  • markbvt

    Great article… and I’ll go along with some of the late-’80s bikes being pretty damn cool.

    But mainstream ’80s culture? I had to live through that shit once, please don’t make me repeat it! If I got caught in a time warp and sent back to the ’80s, you’d find me hanging out with all the Hüsker Dü-loving, Miami Vice-hating punks; what does that say about the motorcycle I’d ride? A blacked-out CX500 or something? Maybe a Yamaha SRX6? Maybe I’d have the presence of mind to be ahead of my time and pick up a Transalp or Hawk GT. I know — a Honda GB500!

    I’d rather just skip to the ’90s and pick up an early Hinckley Triumph triple. Give me a Trident or first-gen single-headlight Speed Triple or Daytona Super III or Thunderbird Sport.

  • Will

    I don’t know. This article reads to me exactly what’s wrong with the motorcycle culture. How many times did he use “poser” and “hipster” in this article? I’m a thirty something living in New Orleans and I ride a Bonneville. I guess that would be ok if Tubbs and Crockett used to ride em too or if there was some other officially sanctioned inspiration. I’m just sick of all the finger pointing and poser-calling bullshit. It’s just boring and it seems like it’s everywhere. Why not write an article that makes a case for the bikes you like without trashing someone else and making up broad and demeaning generalizations about them? Oh right, those are the jokes.

    • http://rider49er.blogspot.com Mark D

      No, its cool, you actually RIDE. I think JTs mostly venting about people who get all excited about the motorcycle-as-fashion-accessory, only to have a half-finished abandoned CB rusting away in their basement that they put 20 miles on before giving up.

      • Will

        I hear you. But I think that even asshole hipster douchebags that are into cafe racers have a motorcycle rider in them somewhere. I don’t know anyone that doesn’t ride that knows what a cafe bike is. These are hipsters inside the motorcycle community, and not the normal range of hipsters out in the wide world. It would be nice if they were encouraged to ride more, and not laughed out of the club.

        The more I think about it, the more hipster this article becomes to me. It’s definitely got the “I thought this was cool before you did” vibe, it has references aplenty to now unappreciated pop culture past, and it’s a little angry at everyone who doesn’t appreciate it. If that’s on purpose JT, then I’m wrong and this is a great article.

  • RpM

    Damn. I’m going to have to think about this.

  • Paul B

    My first real street bike was a brand spanking new GPZ 750 turbo at the ripe old age of 19. Damn thing about killed me, or I guess I about killed myself on it. I find myself searching ebay about once every month for a another one.

    This is a great article JT. Thanks for bringing back some good (and painful) memories.

    • smoke4ndmears

      I imagine any 80′s turbo bike holds it’s ‘lethality’ quite well.

  • http://www.facebook.com/beastincarnate Ben Incarnate

    Can’t count how many of these classic sportbikes I saw in central WI last week. I swooned, especially at one of the FZRs for sale. Kind of a long ride back to Texas, though, especially with none of my gear along.

    Then again, I like the cafe-style bikes, too. Can’t help it. Stripped-down bikes appeal to me. Maybe I’ll someday be able to justify a small collection.

    • http://www.facebook.com/beastincarnate Ben Incarnate

      Another Wisconsin thought. Two friends bought bikes at the same time, both of which lean towards the cafe spectrum. They’re representative of what’s being condemned here. However, what I’ve seen going on is a different kind of problem when it comes to not riding that wouldn’t be resolved by any other kind of bike.

      For each of these guys, it’s their first bike. One guy doesn’t ride because he’s fixing up the bike – but he IS actually fixing it up himself and making progress. The other guy had someone fix his bike but, now that it’s working, he doesn’t ride. He has a gorgeous commute to work that he wastes in a car. Why? Because he isn’t comfortable riding on the highway, and he isn’t working up to that comfort because he’s not comfortable riding on his own.

      It might not be a great reason, but I understand it. The original goal was to have a riding buddy and, unless the first guy gets his bike up to snuff, the second guy’s bike will just languish.

      Another reason I wish that I’d brought my gear along. I would’ve taken that sucker out.

      • Roman

        Bottom line, neither guy is riding right now. Kind of proves JT’s point, no?

        • http://www.facebook.com/beastincarnate Ben Incarnate

          @Roman – not really. The “not wanting to ride a first bike alone” would be true of any bike that guy had. His pick wasn’t based on a cafe ideal, just happened to be cheap. Mr. Fixit could similarly face the problems he’s having with any of the bikes mentioned in this article. Unlike those mentioned who never get the bike running, he’s using it as a learning opportunity and will be better for it.

          Neither would be better served with one of the 80′s bikes mentioned here. Then again, they aren’t necessarily the guys he’s calling out. It’s easy to lump them in, though.

          • Roman

            I don’t know, maybe my views on this are a bit simplistic, but either you want to ride or you don’t. The whole “not wanting to ride alone” or not being comfortable on a highway just seems like a cop-out. I wanted to ride, so I bought a bike and learned how to ride. The riding buddies, bike culture, track days, etc… came later, bottom line is the same as it was in the beginning, I love riding motorcycles.

  • andy727

    Great article, brought back good memories, fueled last night by watching Purple Rain! Are the 80′s coming back???

  • Bryce

    I don’t know…sounds like he’s comparing actually building/ quasi restoring a vintage bike to cleaning the carbs on an 80′s bike. hardly apples to apples. 80′s bikes are rad, and ratty bikes blow, but come on

  • brutus

    I just dont get all the hate. When I was sixteen, I just wanted a bike more than anything. Bought a CBR600 F4 as my first bike. Loved it for a while, then came home, rode my brothers sportster 1200, and my cousins chopper with a kz1000, and loved both of those too. I want to ride every bike out there! You know as soon as these 80′s sportbikes are cool, JT will be hating on them too. He’s just an early adopting hipster, who gets to hate on the hipsters who havent adopted his new idea of cool yet.

    • tonup

      Spot on

    • stefano

      yea you kind of nailed it. im such a slut for motorbikes….er cycles that i pretty much get stoked by whatever people are into. if im with sport bike people i can’t help but want one. when im with my buddy who rides really minimal chopper/cruiser things i can’t help but think those are the coolest

  • brutus

    addendum: every bike built or ridden with skill is beautiful, and everybody plays dressup to some extent. Pirates and Powerrangers both.

  • John

    Good stuff.

  • je

    JT, you growing that mullet back out?

    Everyone and their little dog knows that the 80/90s racer look is that next bandwagon.. Glad you could catch up.

    I will stick with my cb550, it cost me very little when I fuck it up. I bet my tommaselli clip-ons that its more reliable then your 80s visual wreck.

  • Gene

    Grrr. Now you’ve made me remember the college roommate that had both an RC-30 and the GSXR Limited Edition with the dry clutch… while I was trying to afford keeping my CB450SC running on a college student budget. I did learn “DO NOT CHEAP OUT ON TIRES” at least.

    I do not miss the ’80s under any circumstances. With a few shining exceptions, all those bikes were shit.

    The CB750 didn’t destroy the British bike industry… the British did that themselves. The CB750 just let people know “THIS is what a modern bike should do… turn, stop, go fast, and not leak fluids or strand you by the side of the road.” – it was a basic bike built above the usual British mechanical standard of a melted chocolate bar.

  • Triman023

    Get into the 90s
    96 Buell S2. Square headlight, swoopy fiberglass and a
    big chugging Sportster engine but with the vibes under control.

    Also cheap and easy to fix.

  • http://www.amarokconsultants.com michael uhlarik


  • dux

    Currently riding a 1987 CBR600. Keeps up with the pussies who insist on the latest and greatest, yet it gets good gas mileage and sounds way better than modern sports bikes. I’m considering painting the frame and swing arm gold.

  • oldblue


    I grew up on light, fast 2-stroke dirt bikes. Hated road bikes because they were by comparison so heavy that they handled like a wheelbarrow full of walruses, and compared to the blue touchpaper power of a KX250, they were nowhere.

    My first road bike ride was on an ‘F’ model GSXR750, and suddenly road bikes made sense. That set the template from then on – road bikes had to be light and fast. Anything prior to that first GSXR just doesn’t really qualify.

    Just one thing though … motorbike. Sorry, but here in the land of Oz, no-one ever says motorcycle. It’s motorbike.

    That’s my culturally misguided 2 cents for the day.


  • Jefferson

    All wrong. Buy contemporary, go for rides, and never sell. 30-40 years from now you’ll have stories of bikes to match the times and a garage to help reminisce in the most genuine of ways.

    • aristurtle

      Unfortunately, not all of us have garage space, and the landlord gets pissed when the parking pad looks like a used motorcycle shop.

      • Jefferson

        In that case skip the never sell part and just reminisce.

  • http://www.firstgenerationmotors.blogspot.com Emmet

    I’d love a ’92 Katana 1100. air/oil cooled, slingshot carbs, 145hp… hidden in sport-tourer packaging.

  • ike6116

    I like my iPhone and my Xbox 360, I started out on a (free) 92 Yamaha Seca II. After some, let’s call them adventurous maintenance romps I decided I liked riding motorcycles but not amateur wrenching and the stripped screws, trips to the store to buy tools I don’t have or trying to pry knowledge from discussion forums with Aspergers “experts” who answer direct questions with more questions and false assumptions. So I bought a used 2004 FZ6. I really like standard riding position bikes that can go fast but are tuned for everyday use. You can get bikes like that cheap. Squids roll into dealerships, dealer talks them into a sensible bike, squid-friends then ridicule them “SHOULDA GOT AN R1 BRAH” you rake in the deal via craigslist.

    So, JT can I join your club? Im 26 and while I think cafe racer projects look cool, I don’t covet fashion enough to start one.

  • Tommy

    As the owner of two fzr’s and an interceptor, I practice what you preach. Although my first bike was an rd350, but I atleast bought that running and rode it till I could no longer afford to keep it running, and then sold it, so it could probably sit in some garage in echo park forever.

  • Beale

    What, no love for Magnas and Sabres? [ducks]

    • dux


  • Toby

    So wait, Hasselhoff is the cool one now? Make up your damn mind, hipster.

  • adrenalnjunky

    Makes me happy to know my ’92 CBR600 F2 is almost on the verge of being cool again, especially with the faux-Duhamel paint job & graphics.

  • jason

    My bike history:
    1987 Yamaha FZX700 Fazer (mini Vmax)
    1978 Honda CB750SS
    1986 FZX Fazer-upgraded with FZR1000 suspension at each end.
    2000 Kawi ZRX1100.
    1992 Kawi ZR750 Zephyr
    2006 Victory Kingpin.
    1997 Zook GS500 (bought it for my sister)
    Currently own:
    1994 Honda CB1000 with 17″ rims.
    1989 Honda hawk GT w Penske shock and CBR600 forks.
    1989 Honda Transalp.
    2 1993 Kawasaki ZR1100 Zephyr’s one has full ZRX suspension and the other is in the process of getting it.

    My point is I love the bikes you’re talking about. Fuck cafe bikes, get a late 80′s=early 90′s bike and slap newer suspension and wheels on it and it will do everything you want, plus it is your own, done like you want it. I see no reason to buy anything newer for now.

  • jp182

    I’m in. Something about that boxy end 90′s sport bikes does it for me.

  • Sabathius

    I didn’t like the plastics in the 80′s, and they haven’t ever grown on me.

    Fast forward to the late 90′s, early 00′s and they finally had something. My 2001 R6 and a buddy’s RC51 where dead sexy.

    I have to say that nothing beats the last couple of years I’ve spent picking up damaged first gen SV650′s from Craigslist for < $1,000 and putting them back together. Wanna hit the track. Can do. Wanna commute on the cheap? Can do.

    But Shhhh, don't tell anyone. They're "Beginner Bikes" after all.

    Not mine, but damn close.

    • Denzel

      Nice job with your SV Sabathius

      • Devin

        All the one’s I see for sale around me are the version with the crappy plastic fairing. The naked version is so hard to find.

  • Mr.Paynter

    1989 Yamaha FZR1000

    I stole my mothers’ boyfriends’ one of these when he upgraded to a 98 GSXR 750, ran it 40km or so to town and back on the highway as fast as I could, second time riding, scaring the absolute shit out of myself the whole way!

    The bug bit!
    I wish these things weren’t absolute hens’ teeth out here!

  • http://www.cdavisdesigns.com Chris Davis

    I’d love to see one of these bikes at a track day. You’ll see SVs doing quicker laps than some fools on liter bikes. I’d love to see the look on their faces getting passed by an ’86 GSX-R 750.
    Most custom suit makers in my area are still making suits that look like they came from the ’80s. They’re queued up perfectly for this revival.

  • http://www.ninja250blog.com R.Sallee

    (Just please don’t write an article railing against motards.)

    I think cafe bikes look cool as shit. I’m 28. But I know better than to buy one.

    I see a lot of old Nortons and Bee Ems at Alice’s and love to gawk at ‘em even though they’re from an era even my dad barely remembers. Mostly because they’re preserved so well, it’s a history I don’t understand, only know in terms of snippets of thoughts. Like the cafe bikes, I admire them. They’re beautiful.

    But I don’t want one.

    I didn’t grow up with bikes. But my earliest motorcycle memory was walking through a dealership near Sacramento, with my dad and before I was a teenager. I remember the bikes much more in terms of colors and plastic than brands and model names. The only specific model I can remember is the early ’90s Honda Cub, which at my size and age was the first “friendly” looking two-wheeled motor thing I’d ever seen. I never wanted to ride a motorcycle before then, but I remember walking out of the dealership daydreaming of dicing around the neighborhood on a white plastic, neon-stickered bike.

    I never got a Cub, and well I’m an adult now and I don’t want one anymore. But those white plastic, neon-stickered bikes still have a hold on me. Objectively, they’re hideous, like lime-green shoelaces, Hammer pants and slap bracelets. I never knew what an RC30 was before two years ago, but I’ve wanted one since I was ten.

    I’m too practical to ever get one. If I’m gonna drop thousands on a bike, I’ll get something modern, something I can trust when I’m 1,000 miles from home.

    Nostalgia did win out a bit. A little under two years ago I picked up a 1992 DR350S. White plastics, blue-painted frame and the gaudiest pink-and-purple graphics this side of the ’80s. I know that objectively, in 2011, it is an ugly fucking motorcycle. But I love it, the way it looks, and love calling it “my pink motorcycle.”


    • stefano

      ha. no homo and all bro but i love your pink motorcycle!

      • BMW11GS

        yeah totally dig that bike. ahh shoot

  • Myles

    Good article.

    I hate it when people ride shitty bikes just to make a fashion statement. And yes, nearly every bike built prior to the mid 1980′s was a shitpile.

    I guess the only thing worse is wearing a shitty helmet to make a fashion statement.

    I’m glad JT touched on both.

    As for the superbikes of the 80s/90s? Not really a fan, mostly because I hate fairings and windscreens. I’m of the opinion that one will always have more fun on the street with an unfaired bike due to the greater sensation of speed (without ridiculous kill yourself speed).

  • http://pics.zenerves.net/index.php?gallery=vehicules tropical ice cube

    “most anti-social retro time machine ever conceived”?

    Yam RD500LC – Accept no substitutes.

  • AJ

    digging all the FZR love- thought my bike was already in the dustbin of motorcycling

  • http://www.bikeexif.com Chris Hunter

    Urban Rider hits the nail on the head — modern bikes are butt ugly. And in most environments, the performance is unusable.

    An entertaining read for an op-ed though, would have been better at around a third the length.

    • Steven

      literacy: how does that work?

  • Liquidogged

    JT, it’s like you reached into my brain and pulled out my thoughts on bikes.

    Currently the proud owner of a 1988 Kawi EX500 and a 1990 Kawi ZX11. I do have a round headlight and bar-ends on the EX, but that’s what happens when someone ruins your perfect vintage bodywork by tipping your baby over and leaving her there.

    I have a real soft spot for the ZX11 and I think it’s emblematic of what JT is talking about. Essentially an evolution of the GPZ900 and ZX10, it was the one bike to rule them all when it came out in 89 – and it is still a terrifyingly fast bike to ride. Numbers don’t really describe it. The thing is just a monster, and it is ugly as hell. I’m really on the fence about a mild ‘fighter conversion, given that most of my bodywork is already rashed/fucked.

    I never did get why guys on budgets would buy 70′s bikes with the intent of going fast. The great thing about the 80′s rockets is exactly what JT has described: they’re already great bikes. The late eighties in particular is when bikes really started to eclipse the abilities of the average rider to push the machine to the edge of performance. Now all these bikes are sitting around, totally unloved. On craigslist in chicago recently, a 1986 FJ600 with something like 12k, absolutely perfect bodywork and good mechanicals, went for $1600. Amazing.

  • Brendan

    All I desire is an FZR with a purple paint job. (To match my awesome AGV jacket of course.)

  • Nik

    Where’s the like button?

  • smoke4ndmears

    I completely get this. Drag the sentiment into the early 90′s to finish the palette of exciting colors though as I so fiercely desire a baskin robins FZR. Also I have my eye on an Interceptor 500 my old man has -naturally in hondas best red/white/blue, and one of my earliest bikes was an ’86 Ninja 600 similarly painted. Great, fast bike, were it not for the toffee valve seats. What good times!

  • Ray

    I started riding in 1984 and just bought a Hans Muth-designed 82 R65 LS. So it’s Power Rangers all the way. Retro also began in the 80s in earnest, the Stray Cats and all that. And among my crew Mad Max was the style icon governing the moto scene. So I’d say first generation Interceptors or anything displacing 700 cc’s due to Reagan-era protectionism. Fully-faired with dual round headlights.

  • Ratlanta

    If you enjoy your motorcycle, does the reason really matter?

    • stefano


  • http://bloodfalcons.blogspot.com motoguru

    I spent the mid to late 90′s and early 00′s buying up the plethora of low mile 80′s and 90′s sportsbikes in my neck of the woods. I’d ride ‘em for a month or so, then sell them for way more than I paid for them. Once I figured out what ebay was, I’d strip the bikes naked, sell the bodywork, toss on a set of bars and a headlight and I’d have me a bitchin’ “streetfighter”.

  • JasonP

    I was born in 74. Is it ok if I ride a cl350 or sl350 offroad? Is that a new hipster thing to do? I’m old so I don’t know if I need permission to have fun.

    • Steven

      cry harder

      • JasonP

        Working on it.

  • DoctorNine

    It’s nice to see another rider who was moved by emotion to save the cycles of his youth. But I wasn’t a kid back then. I was rocking a Yamaha SRX-6 as my street ride at the time. And if more people would have seen what an amazing machine it was, and bought one, like I did, then Yamaha might still be making bikes like that. The only things about sport bikes of that era which I like, are the double round headlights on the fairings, and the turbos.

    If we are talking ’80s machines, then I’d rather have my old ’86 SRX-6 back, thank you.


    my wife just reminded me I had a white linen sport jacket like Don Johnson’s.

  • Erik

    The best time to buy classic bikes is before the trendoids realize they are classic bikes.

  • Ceolwulf

    This is what twelve-year-old me imprinted on … closest thing to a spaceship I’d ever seen to that point.

    edit: can’t put images in comments anymore??

    Anyway I can still clearly see in my mind that CBR1000F Hurricane. I remember it as white and blue but all the pictures I can find are white and red with a bit of a blue stripe, so maybe that was it. And never mind looking foreign to our sleepy little town, it looked foreign to the earth itself.

  • slowestGSXRever

    Dear HFL, thank you, you more than earned your $2 this month

    Dear JT Nesbitt, I now forgive you for the whole victory-motorcycle-manly-man-call-out stupidity.

    Dear 1980′s GSX-Rs and VFRs, please come to my garage, I have a nice spot for you.

  • HammSammich

    So maybe this is obvious and I’m just slow, but at first reading, I was put off by what I thought was unnecessary bashing of café racer style bikes and those who like them, but I think maybe that wasn’t the intent. Upon reflection, if I understand the argument correctly, (and feel free to correct me JT) it’s calling on café-crazed motorcycle riders to give up their futile notions of buying beat up old bikes from the 70’s in the hopes of turning them into café racers because they’re likely to run out of time and money and instead will end up with a rusty cylinder head mounted in a rotting frame and two 5 gallon buckets of various greasy parts. Instead of destroying a perfectly serviceable standard from the 1970’s, this seems to be calling for those riders to go out and satiate their Café-racer lust with these cool superbikes from the 80’s, which will outperform the café racers in every conceivable manner, and are cool in their own right.

    I don’t think this is suggesting that there is something inherently wrong with customizing an old Japanese standard to look like a café racer. Personally, I do think that the “Rocker lifestyle” aspect of café bikes, ie. dressing up like a ton-up boy and riding around on a tattered CB350, is a bit silly. But well done café restorations can be beautiful, fun-to-ride bikes (see Steve Carpenter’s CB750Cafe.com). Moreover, unlike choppers/bobbers, the café racer aesthetic applied to a standard motorcycle should only improve performance and handling (so no harm, no foul, right?). Sure, by today’s standards a 70’s CB, RD, or XS is about as performance oriented as a Yukon Gold Potato and no matter what you do to them, they’ll never be as good as that Ninja that Tom Cruise rode on the runway with F-14 afterburner mood-lighting, but they can still be fun competent bikes. Ultimately, I think that it’s hard to disagree…if the concern is inexpensive performance that looks good/unique, these 1980’s superbikes should fit the bill far better than a poorly executed café racer project…

    • Ceolwulf

      Hmm, what I got out of it was a bit simpler but also more philosophical; namely something like “nostalgia for some else’s youth is a bit sad …”

  • Tim

    +1 Hammsammitch

  • Trent

    It’s already happening. I spent Saturday night camped at Laguna Seca trying to mediate a negotiation between a gentleman with a beautiful 1994 YZF 750, with appropriate period modifications, who was desperately trying to purchase an authentic kit swingarm from a neighbor camper who happened to have one. The YZF was just one of the many beautiful 1990s sports bikes at Laguna in stock or near-stock condition that were proudly on display. It seems obvious there already is a growing movement of people that adore these bikes from our collective childhood and don’t really care for worshiping those of the UK circa 1960.

  • muckluck

    I they aren’t 80′s bikes but I am a big fan of the 1991 GSXr-1100 and the 750 I would love to get my hands on a unmolested version. the simplicity of oil cooling with the modern inverted forks is a great combination!

  • Steven

    I am shouting myself hoarse at my friends who can’t help but buy old UJM junk with tiny motors and missing or broken parts because it looks cool. There are only two kinds of motorcycle: the kind you can ride and the kind you can’t. I bought a TR modern classic model out of vanity, but also because it’s brand new (and the flat seat facilitates dating tall babes).

    It’s really frustrating to ride alone because your friends squander their money a bit at a time on shit instead of making solid investments in fun-capital.

  • M

    stark contrast to the mcqueen/hasselhoff dichotomy (dilemma?) posited not so long ago.

  • Sean Smith

    All the 80′s superbikes are cool except for the first generation GSX-R 750/1100s. Those are super gay. Worse even than a barely running cafe bike built from a mid-80′s japanese cruiser. Anyone that would go out and buy a 1986 GSX-R 750 is forever uncool and will never get laid again ever.

    Seriously though, send your 375lb, 116hp, wet-noodle aluminum framed beasts my way. Maybe people would understand the paint on my 09 600 if I had an original parked next to it. Besides, what’s cooler than a vintage bike that I can take to the track and embarrass squids on?

  • Kerry

    Ok I feel like I have to clarify some things here.

    1) the cafe racer did not start and end in the 1960s. While the new generation of bandwagon jumping douches would like you to believe that “cafe style” is rocker style, it isn’t that simple. Cafe racers, esp in america, didn’t die out until 1991 when the fist crop of factory race replica sport bikes became 5 year old used bikes and thus affordable by a larger number of go fast guys with little money. People always forget the DOHC cb750f/900f/1100fs, the kz1000s, the gs750/1000s and the countless guys who modified those bikes to be the next wes Cooley, Freddie Spenser, Eddie Lawson, or Wayne Rainey on the street. In as much as the bikes of the 1960s and 70s aped gran prix motor cycle racers, the cafe racers of the late 70s and early 80s aped the superbike racers. The sad part is that the modern “cafe racer bandwagon jumpers” only think of the rocker movement and instead of embracing the natural speed and beauty lying in wait in these tweener bikes, they just try to make them look older than they are and as rockabilly as possible.

    This is the era I grew up in. Guys who had older brothers who rode had DOHC 900Fs with Honda sport kits, marzocci shocks, dual piston caliper upgrades, pm chicane wheels, and every contingency sticker known to man over factory fast Freddie silver with blue stripes. Why? Because that is what was around, cheap, easy to modify, and gave the best go fast bang for the buck. Fzr thou? Yeah that was the pipe dream when you stopped delivering pizzas and got a real job. Gsxr1100? Yeah you were fast and rich. Gs1000s? That was a man’s street racer where talent mattered.

    The 90s brought the advent of the high priced Brit bike, and when I got my license I rode SOHC 750 hondas. Why? Cheapest way to go fast. I wasnt trying to be steve McQueen, or the rockabilly king, I was looking at my father’s 1986 zx1000r a1 (a bike he bought new and still owns, maybe he will chime in here) thinking I want that but I can’t afford that. Rearsets? Low bars? Shocks? Carbs? Ignitions? Comp K tires (barely street legal)? All in the name of wanting to ride a “fast” bike but not being able to own a really fast bike.

    I have owned nortons, GS zooks, currently 8 cb750s, kawi triples, fzr600s and 1000s (and one 1989 400), an ironhead hd, a kz900, an 81 cbx pro link, cb900fs, 1100fs, and all manner of other things. The one thing I can tell you that these new crop of bandwagon jumping scenester cafe racers don’t get: every bike is useless until ridden. Every bike has a bit of honest speed that is waiting to be expressed with the proper setup. That setup is not paint, low bars with stock pegs, or headlight shields. It is proper speed parts, setup correctly that make or break the coolness of a bike.

    Not to step on JT’s rose tinted glasses, but the early race rep sport bikes suffered under the 16″ wheel movement as well, and are not as well handling as you think. Most of the FZR guys I know change to gsxr or TZ wheels to get back to 17″. The vf1000r (or as I like to call it “the best way to spend $5k on an 80′s Honda) was notoriously top heavy – fat girl on roller skates heavy – and downright scary when cornering because of those 16″ hoops. Also, all the good rubber now a days only seems to come in 17″ sizes. So while it is great to talk about the early sp

    • Kerry

      ….fucking iPhone…….

      Point is, early sport bikes are great, but not as stock bikes because you can’t get tires and most of the forks are junk. Fortunately, there is always a racer who knows how to put new suspension on thee old dogs.

  • Will

    You eschew nostalgia and want people to instead pursue a healthier nostalgia? Just want to be clear.

    I really don’t care about the cafe bandwagon, it bugs me either way when men don’t finish their projects.

  • Rachael

    I wanted a second bike. I was told that the only way to go was a cafe racer vintage “project.” Instead, I just bought a 1995 CBR900RR – the bike whose magazine photo I had taped up on the wall and the reason I ride sportbikes. I couldn’t be happier.

    And my friends with the cafe racers? Still in pieces in the garage, yet to depart the driveway.

  • doublet

    See, I’m a little younger. I crave a 90′s early/mid 90′s sportbike. ZX7R at the top of the list! I know they made them to 2000+, but I want one with the pink and purple on green and white. A homologation uber-rare version would be really neat, but ‘yea, right!’

    I’ve also been waiting for 80′s bikes to become the next thing (as they will.. this has less to do with motorcycle or style than it does with the fact that everything in the universe is cyclical) but I digress. That KZ550 I got for $200 ten years ago can hopefully soon be sold as handsomely modified middleweight superbike screamer that it always had the potential to be. Just as it was, in the right hands, in it’s hey-day. I have to admit, it was a cafe for awhile. I eventually realized I’d totally handicapped the bike with clip-ons, and the superbike bars that these things sported when they were raced proved to be an obvious solution. They even look perfect, with the bike in context. The real thing, though, is how forehead-smackingly improved the handling is over the clip-ons! Frankly, I still consider it a “cafe racer” though… If the bike were owned when it was new, and sported up for the track, it would have the things done to it that I have done.

  • clickeye

    I’ll be Mc Queen and let JT be Hasselhoff. Eighties bikes = Ugly chicks with tight pussies!

  • clickeye

    I was just racking my brain about an 80s Bike that I could stand owning. Hailwood Replica! I know, it’s cheating.

  • http://krtong.com KR Tong

    So as an iphone using, rayban wearing, SOHC & DOHC riding San Franciscan, I think I can speak for mid-20′s motorcycle hipsters and say I really enjoyed this article. FIrst bike I owned was even a GS750ES from 1984. That thing screamed at 135.

    Also, it’s not that we want a cafe racer. We think they’re awesome but maybe not for the same reasons you think. Its not about ACE. It’s that motorcycling, like all sports, has a good amount of elitism sneering at you when you first walk through the door. You immediately are deterred from buying anything new because you’re not ready to be compared to other sportbike riders, harley owners, dirtbikers etc. You dont want to be a poser, so you go with what you know. You get something older with an aesthetic you can identify with: for the SF hipster that’s the bicycle. Thats why you want the clubmans or the daytona handlebars, the visible triangles in the frame, the skinny tires, simple lines etc… That’s why the bikes you see on every block in town are old CB’s, KZ’s and bonnevilles. (also mopeds.) Thats the kind of bike we’re used to going fast on, sans-motor. Most of them are half-bult cafe’s too, but at least they’re on the street. Most owners seem to be saying fuck it and going with the bobber look anyway since all that needs are some tracker bars, “simplified” light setup, and a cut-down/reupholstered seat.

    I think my point is that “sportbikes,” miami vice or not, are unattractive to hipsters because they dont identify with motorcycle sporting culture. Or at least very few do. The only ones I know who, like me, also go for sportbikes or dirtbikes, race bicycles too.

    • ben

      seriously, the most thought out response on the subject I’ve ever heard. I know this thread is crazy old, but you sir, deserve serious praise and I think you hit the nail on the head and I’m in total agreement about the article as well.

      my cb350 is what got me into motorcycles, and as someone that believes that all things british and mechanical are inferior to just about everything else… I can confirm, that it does not in fact have anything to do with ACE. I think part of the draw, at least for myself, is that my 40+ year old Japanese bike is temperamental. There’s a relationship to it, that I will never have with my car, and definitely not to a newer bike. Some days she runs great and other days she runs like she’s choking on a small, furry, rodent… for seemingly, no reason at all… The fact that she’s also pretty and incredibly easy to modify and upgrade and fix because of the fact that there are more of her in existence than any other bike ever built is simply a plus. I like to think that hipsters that buy the older bikes are interested just as much in how it works as they are in the joy that it will bring from riding it… and you have to be.

      but I think you’re right in saying that it’s because of bicycles… I’m used to learning about them, and geeking out about the upgrades so it only seems right that I’d want to do the same with a motorcycle. I do think that hipsters who buy already cafe’d bikes are a scourge…there’s no authenticity to it, a cafe bike should be personal.

      Hipsters are also city dwelling folk and I can’t think of a better city bike than a low cc vintage bike (unless you move into the no style section of street going dirt bikes)… and I think the lightness and handling of these cafe bikes is a draw as well… It’s funny that all of the major motorcycle manufacturers don’t make a low cc bike that appeals to the younger generations, or market to beginners in any way.

      Honda finally made a new CB bike and for some reason made a liter bike of it… their naked cb500 is just a CBR without the ferrings on it, and the lowest cc bike (suitable for street riding) you can buy (from a major manufacturer) is either a CBR 250 with those terrible orange Repsol ferrings on them… or those awful looking 250cc cruisers… what motorcycling tells us is that you’re either a sportbike guy or a cruiser guy… and I think that there’s a whole generation of motorcyclists that are neither… where’s the bike for them? Sportbikes are too aggressive looking for lots of people and cruisers are too… douc— well they have a reputation… Right now, your best bet is an old CB or KZ/RD… hipsters don’t want no triumphs… and I don’t think they want a modernized cafe bike either… I think they just want a simple and beautiful machine that’s great for city riding and doesn’t look like it’s going to eat your children (I’m looking at you, Panigale). What that is exactly, I don’t know… but I do know that it’s nowhere in the marketplace currently.

  • http://krtong.com KR Tong

    Also the whole old vs new thing in terms of reliablity, no way dude. Old bikes have old rubber parts, old gaskets, and old electrical systems that really weren’t built to run all the lights and things at once. All that crap has to be replaced before you really start to ride it hard. Maybe a brand new GPZ900 would do alright against a brand new CBR1000RR… in a theoretical street situation where brakes and suspension doesnt matter, but enh, who cares?

    I’d really like to know how the RC51 holds up to 2011 literbikes. I would guess its still up there.

  • Raubert Van Harris

    Could not agree more with this article! I’d love to have an original VFR500 or FZR1000 as a second bike.

  • FZR 1000 Alex

    One month later, I went with the FZR 1000.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler


  • Stephen Salton

    VFR400 NC30.
    These are still popular track bikes to this day.

  • http://pics.zenerves.net/index.php?gallery=vehicules tropical ice cube

    I DID IT – Just bought myself a VF500F2! Yehaa, all hail to the grandmother of nerd bikes! 4 camshafts! 4 valves! V4! How much fours do you need? She’s from 1984! She’s 40.000Km’s old. Redline at 12.000, and a noise that compares to no other.
    Me, enjoying myself.
    Thanks JT.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      Awesome man, congratulations.

  • furrymoto

    this is fucking good.

  • antelopeDAZ

    maybe its just me but i think this post is rediculous. who cares what you ride? everybody rides differently, ive got a modern zx6r and a 1989 suzuki, and i enjoy both of them, youve obviosly never enjoyed spending time in a garage with a few beers and mates renovating a motorcycle. its not all about riding, its enveloping yourself in the lifestyle, and as im not rolling my bike onto a racetrack, but a public road, i dont think flashy gimmicks and new technology are essential, if it starts, rides, and feels good, who cares what style or age it is? just saying

  • Adam N.

    This is simply the best article ever on HFL.

    I have a Honda CB-1. Awesome gear drive cam excellence. I added period custom built for me Fox Twin Clicker and some Emulators and it’s back road heaven. I have a total of about $3K in a showroom looking bike that I can wind out and still not be in go to jail land. It little enough to seem like a cafe, and has a deceiving “toy” quality. Make no mistake, this is a real Honda with the Heart of a CBR400R and you can pick up minty ones for around $2K.

    The great thing about these bikes is you can buy and sell the as runners without losing hardly any money, and even making some if your careful. Last year I bought and sold a VF500 Interceptor rode it for two months and sold it, covering my tax and registration. Try that with any sort of classic.

  • bkemerley

    1986 Fazer. That’s my ride. That is all. Great article.

  • http://www.facebook.com/craigo987 Craig Ovadia

    Ahh, the Yamaha FJ1200. The most competent do all motorcycle ever built. But to look at it, you would wonder what the hey was that built to do? Sport Tourer?? Rates high on my list as an all day in the saddle bike. Superbike? Well she’s plenty fast and handles well, but not as well as the FZR. Commuter??? Excels at that.

    Face it, you want a bike with good looks, easy to work on, all day comfort, sport bike ability and easy on the wallet, buy a good used FJ. There are plenty out there and are very easily modified to bring them into the 21st century. Plus, one of the best forums on the internet to support it.

  • Davidabl2

    “These jobs represent an honest day of work in the garage.” For the first time learner actually a week or so spent away from the keyboard (excluding youtube bike tutorials) Time very well spent by the way. Entering a realm of real-world experience that many moderns never get to know.

    The above is meant as a condescencion-free, irony- free and snark-free posting.