Speed / April 2017

Ducati’s New Café Racer: From Rebellion to Respectability

The café racer motorbike underlines a powerful evolution from trendy subculture to cult classic.

Trends are fickle. They are by nature temporary and for the most part inauthentic. A real man, with his own sense of developed style, typically eschews them. That doesn't mean to say a trend can’t be attractive or appealing, it just means that without substance it won’t endure. Many times trends arise from something genuine and purposeful. Following the nature of trends, an item is hijacked, bled dry, and then discarded. Other times, however, what’s adopted as a trend actually becomes a movement and gains a certain amount of acceptance and even respectability. (Think blue jeans.)

The café racer has been somewhat of a byword for trend in the motorcycling world for the past few years.

Born in London in the early 1960s as something wholly purposeful, it resurfaced in the mid-2000s on the wave of retro-inspired cool. Being a customised urban ride, it was welcomed with open arms by 21st century fashionistas owing to its personalised signature and, more important, its inherited DNA of speed, rebellion and metropolitan cool.

“The café racer (rider) is a different breed,” said Hunter S. Thompson. “Pure speed in sixth gear on a 5,000-foot straightaway is one thing, but pure speed in third gear on a gravel strewn downhill S-turn is quite another. A thoroughbred café racer will ride all night through a fog storm in freeway traffic to put himself into what somebody told him was the ugliest and tightest decreasing-radius turn since Genghis Khan invented the corkscrew. Café racing is mainly a matter of taste. It is an atavistic mentality, a peculiar mix of low style, high speed… and overweening commitment to the café life and all its dangerous pleasures.”

As with any lifestyle cult, the café racer was a statement. Like the American-born chopper was to California and the open road, the British-born café racer was to England and city streets – each a subculture of motorcycling, a counter-culture of society, and a ticket into a club of cool.

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Jared Zaugg

Jared Zaugg is insatiably curious and a raconteur by trade. As a marketing and branding consultant focusing on the intersection of lifestyle, motoring and culture, he has a weakness for the classics that resulted in the book Gentlemen, Start Your Engines! (Gestalten 2015).