The Rebirth of the Cafe Racer
If someone were to approach you on the street and said “77 cb750K”, you might assume that this person is a computer programmer with little social skills outside of work, or, possibly an international spy passing along a code phrase. But an ever-growing number of motorcycle enthusiasts in Columbus will recognize that jumble of letters and numbers as one of the more highly sought after motorcycles in the world of rebuilt and customized vintage bikes.
This subculture of modified and home-built motorcyclist is nothing new. Growing in popularity over the last decade, a slew of reality shows featuring seemingly average guys effortlessly creating works of art on wheels, has lead to a national increase in the “DIY” bike scene. Columbus is no exception to this trend. The only difference is that you’re more likely to see a vintage chopper or cafe racer from the ‘70s on our streets than a West Coast Custom. This is thanks to a key group bikers sharing their knowledge and experience, all centered around a one of a kind bike shop which has its roots in the Short North.
To most people, the name Rice Paddy is a vague a name as a cb750. But for 20 years, this unique shop has been one of the cultural hubs of the vintage and Japanese bike scene. Briefly opening shop in the Short North before moving to their permanent location on Grant Ave in Weinland Park, the Rice Paddy can best be described as a bone yard for both vintage and modern Japanese motorcycles. Self-described as “gritty and raw” by shop employee Grant Driskell, Rice Paddy is a one stop shop for any and all parts and accessories for anyone hoping to repair or rebuild their motorcycle. On any given day, you can expect to see street bikes, old school choppers and the ever popular cafe racers parked out front.
When asked, Rice Paddy owner, Tom VanStavern, said that the recent rise in popularity among these home-built custom bikes is due to the same factors that created the custom bike scene back in the 70s. “Baby boomers reached an age where they not only needed to build their own bikes to be cost effective, but also needed to express their individuality by creating something of their own”. Tom went on to comment that the current generation is reaching the same age and is again looking for, “Affordability, accessibility and individuality”.
The vintage custom culture in Columbus consists of two main groups. There are the guys out there who simply want affordability. These are the builders who want a bike, but simply can’t afford a new ride. Then there are the guys who fit into more of the individuality side of things. These are the guys building one of a kind cafe racers and choppers true to the lineages heritage, but with their own flare.
A Chopper is a bike true to its name, chopped apart. These bikes are stripped down to the essentials. Originally built from parts and pieces, these were the first true bikes spawned through affordability. Their distinguishing trait, the long raked out front end and low riding style. On the other side of the equation are the cafe racers. These bikes were, again, spawned from affordability. Motorcycles, in an effort to go ever faster, bought affordable older bikes, stripped them down, tuned them up, and turned them into purpose-built race bikes. The same circumstances that brought these bikes to fruition in the ‘70s are the same reasons these bikes are being built today but with a little more style this go-around.
The modern Cafe Racers are typically built on older platforms. Remember the 1977 Honda cb750 mentioned earlier? These older bikes are the perfect place to start. From there, builders strip them down, tune them up, and add the cosmetics that pay homage to the racers of yesteryear. If a Chopper is distinguishable by their long front end, a Cafe Racer is just as easy to spot with their low, narrow handle bars and fairing on the back of a single seat.
Another contributing factor to the rise in popularity is due to social media. While the 70’s custom bike scene was spurred on by one friend copying another, the scene today grows when one builder spreads his creation to thousands utilizing social media. Motorcycle clubs and events gain mass popularity because of their accessibility. Clubs such as Ton-Up Columbus and Co-OH Vinmoto can be found with just a few key strokes.
Now, before you rush off and eBay a 70’s junker and anger your girlfriend by replacing your dining room table with a leaking bike, I encourage you to do your research. Affordability is short-lived when it comes to restoring and an old bike. Columbus has a unique wealth of resources at your disposal.
While the Rice Paddy has the parts you need, you might also find yourself needing some know-how. The Gents Wrench, located in the Rice Paddy complex and Venturi Moto out of Grandview are two local shops that specialize in vintage motorcycles. The scene in Columbus is growing quickly, and full of unbiased motorcycle enthusiasts who are always willing to share their knowledge.
Photos by Logan Miller for ColumbusUnderground.com.
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