There are quite a few questions as to where exactly today’s sport-bikes, – one of the most popular type of motorcycle – originated from.
Even for a person who knows little motorcycle history, one thing is obvious from the start: it must’ve been one lunatic of a speed-maniac with little or no interest in personal safety, to invent such rocket-on-two wheels in the first place. If one starts going backward in time, starting from this idea they’ll find themselves not far off the truth at all. If, somehow during their research they came to the conclusion that a certain organization called “The Ton Up Club” had been involved with, it they’d be pretty close to cracking the case.
Believe it or not, the ancestor of the sport-bike was born under the effects of pretty much the same factors that gave birth to the American chopper or cruiser. After World War II bike enthusiast in both the United States and Europe lived a new golden era of motorcycling, an era once thought lost forever because of the brutality of the war – especially in Europe – but one all the more enjoyable when regained. This era was known for its revolutionary ideas and unlimited freedom that bikers took full advantage of. Just as the Americans did with their military-issue bikes, Europeans started chopping away at their motorcycles as well, removing everything not deemed absolutely necessary for the functioning of the vehicle. While Americans, as well as Europeans, strived to improve performance through these changes, it translated in quite different approaches to bike-design mainly under the influence of various local-specific factors.
First of all, Europe was struck by poverty in the wake of the War, as a great part of it was fought on its very soil. Possibilities for European and American bike-modifiers were nowhere near the same league. Europeans were mostly “bobbers” leaving their bikes’ frames intact while trying to improve performance through other – more subtle – changes. The type of performance bike enthusiasts of the two continents was after, was also different, because of the nature of the roads. Whilst Americans went for good straight-line speed and stability the Europeans chose good low-speed cornering, as well as straight line speed performance – thus the café racer was born. The café racer was a factory motorbike fitted with a different engine tuned for performance, with everything not-necessary removed. Swept back exhausts and rear-positioned footpegs were meant to give the bike a better clearance when “putting the knee down” during high-speed cornering. The best example of a café-racer is the “Triton”, a motorbike that bore a Norton Featherbed frame, and was powered by a Triumph Bonneville engine.
The café-racer supposedly got it’s name from a common practice of the British Rockers and “The Ton Up Club” members. (groups that were around in other European countries too). Word has it they used to race from a café to a certain predetermined point while a song was playing on the jukebox and make it back before the end of the song. Their goal was said to be the reaching of the 100 Mph mark, called “The Ton”.
These bikes, considered the ancestors of the modern-day sport-bike, were sometimes called Street-Fighters in a clear reference to the World War II veterans who used to ride them and whose workshops they originated from.