The person who first took a 1970s or 1980s BMW motorcycle and gave it the cafe racer makeover probably never realised what an effect this imaginative idea would have on the general perception of BMW motorcycles of this era. As a child growing up in the ’60s and ’70s in South Africa, I recall BMWs as being “traffic cop bikes”. They were bland but reliable machines always maintained in stock standard form. That was until the cafe racer builders discovered their hidden character and revealed a beauty which, if the manufacturer had revealed this potential initially, would have sold a lot more motorcycles. This current phenomenon of custom builders turning yesterday’s ugly ducklings into today’s swans has given many forgotten motorcycles new appeal.


In Britain in the early 1960s a subculture of motorcyclists known as the “Rockers” emerged. They listened to Rock-a-Billy music and modified their motorcycles in a certain style which copied the look of the Grand Prix machines of the time. Their motorcycles featured low clip-on or clubman handlebars, a humped single “bum-stop” seat and rearset footrests. Engines and exhausts were tuned to obtain maximum performance. Modified petrol tanks and fairings were also sometimes fitted. The Rockers would race from cafe to cafe on Britains new motorways, attempting to “do the ton” (100 mph/160km/h). These machines became known as “cafe racers.”


Cafe racer styling was applied to British and European motorcycles in the 60’s and certain Japanese models in the early 1970s. Purists would say that after this was when true cafe racers died out. Not true. The cafe racer style is now being applied to motorcycles which would never traditionally have been candidates with amazing and beautiful results.


V Custom Cycles of Pretoria produced the beautiful R series BMW featured here. With the fairing and panniers removed, they have unshackled the motorcycle. With their creative talent and ability they have changed the lines completely from the original model but have enhanced the BMWness of the machine.


We at Retro Write Up do not support the wholesale chopping of motorcycles. We do however support the preservation of motorcycles. Some motorcycles will always have value and a future in their standard form. Most models are destined to be forgotten unless they are given a little cosmetic surgery by customisers like the guys from V Custom Cycles. We wonder when BMW will eventually release their version of what you are looking at now.