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The popularity of cafe racers has increased over the years, particularly among younger riders. It’s no wonder they’ve become popular; their sleek and minimal look is enticing to anyone who looks at them, motorcycle enthusiast or not.
A lot of people enjoy taking older motorcycles and turning them into amazing masterpieces. Over the years, I’ve restored twelve motorcycles and made most of them cafe racers. In this article, I’ll show before and after pictures of my cafe racer builds as well as some of the progress in between.
1980 Honda CB750
This is the before and after photo of a cafe-racer I built. This 1980 Honda CB750 was my second motorcycle. I purchased this motorcycle in order to turn it around and buy an engagement ring.
I purchased the bike from an Ogden, Utah man who thought he was too elderly to continue riding it. It used to be bright purple with a gigantic windshield, luggage racks, grandpa handlebars, leather tassels on the grips, and anything else obnoxious you can think of. I bet I took off 50 – 75 pounds worth of accessories from this thing.
This bike was in relatively good working condition so I didn’t have to do much with fixing the mechanics of it. Because these bikes are older, I do a complete clean and rebuild the carbs before any motorcycle restorations.
I had taken the entire motorcycle apart, down to the frame and removed the engine. This was before I discovered that you can paint the frame without having the engine removed. (See my article here for how to paint the frame without the engine). My soon-to be fiancée even helped with the cleaning of the side engine covers.
I took about three weeks for the complete restoration of this bike. I sold this motorcycle within 12 hours of posting it for sale, the fastest I’ve ever done. Six offers were received in 12 hours. I told the first person to get cash that they could have the motorcycle.
I spent approximately $1,300 on the motorcycle and it was sold for $3,000. The motorcycle cost me $1,300 to purchase and I sold it for $3,000. It was a lot fun riding the bike around Logan while in college.
1983 BMW R80
BMW started building motorcycles in 1923. They have the apposed horizontal cylinders which is why BMW motorcycles have the most recognizable engine of any motorcycle.
This engine configuration was used by the R80 model for better air cooling during races. Having the cylinders facing directly outward maximized the air flow and heat transfer off the cylinder fins.
Above is a before-and-after cafe racer version for the BMW R80 that I restored for my brother in law. He was the one who got me started with motorcycles and eventually led me to restoration motorcycles. I went along with him to Denver, where he purchased this motorcycle for $2,500, which he still has today.
The tank had to be repainted twice after my nieces accidentally dipped in it while they were playing in the garage. It turned out really well, and I love the bronze color.
I also cut and resized my rear hoop for seat. Then, I decided to weld a new pan for an upholstery worker to use as the base. I painted the fenders to match that of the tank, and made a custom box for the battery to conceal it completely. You can read my article to find out more about hiding a motorcycle’s battery.
This BMW R80 wasn’t too bad to begin with, but as you can see with a few little touch ups you can make a cafe racer look a little more extraordinary. It was a great build that gave me valuable experience with BMW bikes.
1980 Yamaha XS850
This is a before-and-after picture of a 1980 Yamaha XS850 cafe racing machine. This is the second 1980 XS850 that I rebuilt. It shined very well and received a much-needed facelift.
This motorcycle was my first restoration project. I was working as a construction worker at the time. My boss was simply horrible. I had already restored three to four motorcycles by that point. I did the math and found that I could make more money restoring motorcycles full time during the summer than I would working in construction (and I wouldn’t have to deal with a horrible boss!). This was also the summer that I decided to continue my education and finish it when I graduated.
This motorcycle was purchased for $300. I got a good deal on it because it wasn’t running and I assumed it was because the carbs were dirty. It was the wrong engine and I had to have it rebuilt. Lucky for me, I found the exact engine I needed in a local classified and was able to purchase it for $200.
By this point, I was able to conceal the wiring. Hiding the wiring is one of the fundamentals of a cafe racer so it’s important to know how to do it if you’re wanting that look.
To get the motorcycle fully restored and ready for sale, it took three weeks of continuous work. This bike was sold quickly, in just a few days. After the purchase of the bike and the engine, I spent approximately $1,000 on repairs and it was sold for $4,000. I felt that making $3,000 in three weeks was better than working for a terrible boss. Learn more about how to turn a motorcycle into a profitable business here.
1981 Honda CB650
This is one my favorite before/after photos of a cafe-racer I restored. I tried something new with this model and gave it accents of gold. It turned out incredible.
A man from Pocatello, Idaho offered me the motorcycle at $400. He claimed there were some engine problems because it hadn’t started in years. After I took a look at it I quickly knew it wasn’t an engine problem, rather it was a carburetor problem which is a much easier fix.
It started immediately after I brought it home. I rebuilt the carburetor and put it back on the bike. There’s nothing quite like finding these diamonds in the rough and turning them into beautiful cafe racers.
To make it a one-seater, I again chopped the seat from the frame. I keep a few basic tools on hand for motorcycle restorations. Click here for my list of recommended tools to repair a motorcycle.
This motorcycle was another that was very easy to fix up while I was making it a cafe racer. This bike was restored by me during the summer. I was able restore it in three weeks, which is the normal time it takes me to do full-time. The total cost of fixing it up, including the purchase, was approximately $900. I then sold it for $4,000.
1969 Triumph TR25W
This is the best before-and-after cafe racer build that I have ever done. I loved this one so much, I kept it and decided to sell it. The 1969 Triumph TR25W Trophy is the twin brother to the BSA B25. There are very few differences. The main difference is the Triumph badge on the side, instead of the BSA badge.
Triumph models were slightly less expensive than BSA counterparts, and they were most often owned by first-time riders and teenagers. These bikes were often used and seldom repaired. It came as no surprise to me that the motorcycle had only 4,000 miles.
It was possible that the motorcycle had been unattended for 30+ years, according to the seller I purchased it from. It’s no wonder, this thing was pretty rough when I bought it. It was bought by him in the hope of restoring it, but he never got around to doing so.
This was not only my favorite restoration, but it was also the most difficult. It was difficult to find parts and tools, as well as to figure out the positive ground system (backwards wiring). This motorcycle also required tools that were smaller and less common.
I worked one bolt at a while to rebuild the engine from the top. The entire wiring was cleaned up and rewrapped. After that, the frame was cleaned up and a new coat of paint was applied. I had the seat professionally made in the same upholsterer that I used for my previous cafe-racer builds.
If you’re interested in seeing my entire process of restoring cafe racers, I have created a video series from start to finish in segmented videos. This series includes tips and tricks you won’t find anywhere else online as well as hard to tackle components such as body work, electrical, and carb rebuilds. Click here for more information if you’re interested in building your own cafe racer!