I was just too young, or just not quite old enough, depending how you look at it to fully appreciate the era of café racer motorcycles, but the imagery sticks in my head, and I do remember hearing with awe the ?ton up? boasts of those reaching 100mph on a bike, the Sixties? equivalent of warp speed and at that time of rebel and rebellion a pretty amazing feat.
And Café racers were the bikes and riders, often leather-clad Rockers, who used to congregate and ride between transport cafes ? with the main aim to reach the ton as quickly as possible. The bikes were modified for speed rather than comfort, with slim tanks, low handlebars and footrests mounted further back than usual, giving a prone streamlined riding position.
There was even a game ? they?d play a record on a café?s jukebox and the challenge was to start when the record started, get to 100mph, turn round and get back before the record ended. Doesn?t sound that hard except it seems to have originated at the Ace Café, a popular transport café of the time on the old north circular road in London (it?s still there) and involved a 3 mile round trip to the Hangar Lane roundabout and back, and in those days you were lucky if a song lasted more than two minutes. But they?d do it.
And now, with Triumph?s regained prominence within the motorcycle industry, the café racer is back. Thankfully not with the oily, leaky, machines of the Sixties, but with a new twenty first century version; The Triumph Bonneville Thruxton.
Superficially almost identical to the café racers of old, the new Triumph Thruxton is everything that café racers were, and modern bikes now are.
In fact, it is easy to wonder at first glance if you are looking at a new bike or a restoration. The styling is perfect, the engine seemingly (but not) the same parallel twin of the originals, the seat, the tank, all just right. Even the fuel injection is concealed in fake carburettor housings. But like so many things you compare to a memory they are in fact not the same, just very similar, and in this case, much, much better.
The Thruxton is modern and sophisticated but it retains perfectly the character of the Sixties. With the low handlebars and swept back footrests the riding position is low and very comfortable. The beautifully balanced 885cc engine pulls extraordinarily well, is smooth and almost totally vibration free. The Triumph gearbox as usual is superb, as is the steering and suspension.
Riding the Thruxton brings back what motorbikes used to feel like. It feels effortless with a delightful connection with the road that feels composed and confident. Sweeping corners want to go on for ever. You feel like you should be wearing goggles and appearing in an old black & white photograph mounted on the mantle piece.
The Sixties were a time of huge change, after the hardships of the post war years, the casting off of the old conformist ways. And to some, with that bloom of change came the need, regardless of whether there was a cause, to be a rebel.