Coffee Racer

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The world’s largest coffee exporter has finally produced a worthy cafe racer. We quiz one of Brazil’s growing band of customisers about his latest build.

Augusto Bittencourt is one of an ever-expanding bunch of Brazilian enthusiasts riding custom bikes. Most are in the classic 1950s and 60s vein, taking inspiration from Ace Cafe bikes. Augusto chose a rare TX500 twin-cylinder Yamaha for his first project and we love its stripped-to-the-bones simplicity – with clip-ons, rear-sets and pipes louder than a Sepultura riff it has a distinct urban street-racer vibe. We ask Augusto how it came about…

So Augusto, what’s the deal?

I’m 53 years old, a lawyer and my hobby is building bikes. To achieve my goals, I built a workshop in my house. I live in Casavel, in the south of Brazil.

What’s your biking history?

I was practically born on two wheels! My father had a Lambretta and I rode with him, then I bought my motorcycles and I still race off-road.

What other bikes do you own?

I have a Benelli Sei 750, Honda CBX1000, Kawasaki KZ1300, 1942 Harley-Davidson flathead, 1936 Express Werke, Aprilia 450 Supermoto, Yamaha YZ250 and Yamaha Royal Star 1300.

Tell us about your cafe racer…

It is a 1974 DOHC Yamaha TX500. It was in a very poor state when I got it. But I thought it had a beautiful engine, so when I saw it I immediately thought cafe racer.

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What have you done to it?

Everything I’ve done has been to create a nostalgic mood. I cut and adapted the chassis, and put the battery under the tail. The seat is made from steel and comes from England. It’s the original tank but I’ve modified the sides. I did all the paint in a 1950s style. The original Yamaha front brake has been replaced with a Norton Commando drum, but the rear is original. The engine is standard but I’ve re-jetted the carbs and added new filters. I fitted Tomaselli 1950s-style handlebars and throttle. The speedo is Smiths.

Is there a cafe racer culture in Brazil?

It is only at the beginning. Largely thanks to the internet and cable television channels, Brazilians have begun to understand the beauty and history of the cafe racer culture. I’ve been interested in this type of machine for many years though. I came to the Isle of Man with my son Lucas last year to watch the TT races. My son races supersport 600s.

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So does the inspiration come partly from modern racing and partly the Rockers’ bikes?

No my inspiration came from solely from the motorcycles of the 1950s, including the paintwork. It’s not just about style though. The bike has to perform and when I finished it I took her to the highway and was happy to see the ton so I consider her a worthy cafe racer, even though it’s a 1970s bike and not a 1960s British machine!

What is it about the 1950s cafe racers?

I like clean motorcycles, without many accessories, like the 1950s models that could run on roads and racetracks.

What’s the biking scene like in Brazil?

The problem is that we are still a poor country, but since our climate is tropical and allows us to ride motorcycles every month, we are seeing more and more bikes, which is really cool. There’s always smaller 125s, but now there are more customs and big trail bikes. In a big country like ours, there’s plenty of scope for some great road – and off-road – trips.

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C-Racer, Athens

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Just outside Athens is one of Europe's most innovative custom parts manufacturers. But getting it off the ground was no easy job.

Greek bike enthusiasts Christos and Antonis met while working for an aftermarket car parts company. It was there that acquired the skills and business acumen required to do what they really wanted – start making their own custom bike parts.

This was 2008, when the European custom scene was starting to blossom. Sensing something in the air, in 2010 the pair started to produce their first C-Racer parts.

Antonis: ‘We started tentatively, trying to develop into an unknown market – we didn’t know if it would work. We started with one seat and went from there. But the Greek market didn't want to know.’

Christos: ‘Then we went to European shows and talked to people, exploring demand and taste, and so we continued designing and making more parts’.

Today Christos is C-Racer's design and production director, Antonis the sales director, and together they manage a team of five working at their factory on the outskirts of Athens, from where they ship all over Europe.

Interestingly, all the solid parts of their products other than metal and aluminium are made from ABS plastic instead of fibreglass. Christos explains: ‘Fibreglass can be unreliable with paint, while ABS is flexible and much easier to work with. No one is making parts from ABS plastic – it’s expensive, but better in the
long run’.

All the raw materials come from Greece, with only one plastic brought in from Austria and Italy, a special product with UV protection that can also be used unpainted. Several types of fairings, mudguards, and luggage racks are produced but by far the most popular part in their range are their seats. There are 40 different styles available, for cafe racers, flat trackers, scramblers and bobbers. All are made in house, each with a choice of six upholstery materials, five stitching types and six thread colours. The possibilities for personalised designs are endless.

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C-Racer relies on distributors to sell their products, from Classic Bike Shop in the UK, to Café Race in Italy and Motorcycles United in the Netherlands. The company has proved to be a high quality and reliable player in the custom motorcycle business, providing innovation not only to professional garages, but also to the amateur mechanic who in two hours can transform his bike without having to chop anything.

Building a custom bike using their own parts was an obvious way to promote the C-Racer brand. First to undergo the makeover was a 1979 Suzuki GSX250 in cafe racer style – it's currently Antonis’ own bike. Then two years later in 2016 came a 1983 Yamaha XJR400, and finally in 2017 an SV650 scrambler. They were each revealed at Italy's premier bike show EICMA.

‘At EICMA you are going to talk to people from everywhere,’ says Antonis, demonstrating one of the strengths of these guys: public relations. They are fun, approachable and uncomplicated, and most importantly dedicated, and this all helps to make friends and tie deals in an industry that’s smaller than it seems.

For the custom duo ‘it’s all about the custom kits; that’s the future not only for us, but for everyone,' says Christos, adding: ‘The market is going towards smaller bikes – 650-700cc seem to be more in demand. With €10,000 you can now have two bikes, changing parts all the time. Street, scrambler, cafe… you can choose and make it happen fast.

‘The future is in the customisation of new modern bikes. They are easier and safer to ride, and they don’t leave you at the side of the road’. Christos then mentions the popularity of the XSR in Europe, partly due to it being such a good base for all sorts of custom approaches.

 

So what’s next for C-Racer? ‘We’re gonna keep creating new and better parts for the bikes people want to customise,' says Antonis. With such a simple and clear business plan, we reckon you'll see a lot more of C-Racer over the coming years.

The Cream of Yard Built

Yamaha became one of the prime movers in the custom bike movement with its Yard Built programme. The company asked leading artisans to ‘provide inspirational ideas on how to transform modern Yamaha models’ and as an incentive, it offered each builder an opportunity to produce unique aftermarket kits and sell them to Yamaha customers.