I appreciate it is a strong title to a story. You might ask, am I both predicting and inventing the future of motorcycle AND food culture? Probably not, although I have view on it. In addition, I won’t apologise for this being a bit UK-centric, because the term ‘cafe racer’ has gone global and it did originate on that small island in the North Sea in the first place. So, here’s my view, story and prediction…..
First the context. The cafe racers of the 1950s and 1960s in the UK were the equivalent of the street drag-strip racers that where doing a similar thing at the same time in the USA. Both were youth cultures, driven by energy, ingenuity (due to lack of spare income), music and cafe-type places that had car parks and which became ideal meeting places. Oh yes, and music drove the culture even faster and provided more colour and rhythm. I’m sure there were, and are, equivalent places in other countries stretching geographically from Spain to Australia as well.
For some reason, the 1950s & 1960s UK cafes, whilst probably not having won the highest food & drink hygiene standards, became a place to go to, ride to and meet. The racing developed when riders needed a reason and a route to race between. The cafes were spread out with enough distance and route variation to become point A and point B. The rest is history.
Meanwhile, around the corner from the cafe there would likely be a fish and chip shop, or to be referred to from here on in this story, ‘the chippy’. The chippy was usually a shop fronted type of place with no car park, so its main attraction was good carbohydrate and fat-based ‘energy’. It was also affordable. It was also a ‘take-away’ food source, a bit like McDonalds did in the USA, but not with quite the same single-company-scale and branding. Apparently, the first chip shop was opened in London in 1860, so this makes chippys at the very least, traditional and historical, and a lot older than McDonalds.
The 1970s started to see a decline in the cafe and the cafe racer. Fashion and music changed and the local chippy became a more used and dominant feature in the daily, take-away food and meeting chain. This is where a youth culture change took place. In the U.K. in 1975, if you were 16 years old, you could have (if you or someone could afford it) one of the new ‘sports mopeds’. Nowadays, these mopeds like the Yamaha FS1E, affectionately called the ‘fizzy’, the Honda SS50, the Puch Grand Prix, the Garelli Tiger Cross, the Fantic Caballero, the Gitane Champion Veloce, the Guilietta Super Sport are icons. More importantly, how could a 16 year old not be attracted to something with the names that these bikes had. Only Suzuki let the ‘great name’ side down with its ‘AP50’. Good moped. Boring name. Riding one of these bikes any distance was a challenge for several reasons. Firstly, they were noisy because everyone ‘modified’ their exhausts to ‘make them go faster’. Secondly, fuel range wasn’t great, particularly as their engines were revved to, and beyond breaking point every time they were started. Having mechanical sympathy at this stage of your motorcycling career wasn’t on the agenda. This meant that a place to meet, compare moped-type things, impress the boys or girls, and have something to eat was required. And so, the chip shop racer came of age. Mopeds didn’t need much car park space, so parking outside the chippy on the street was just fine.
The chippy was seen as a bit ‘working class’ in the good old 1970s-UK-status world, but soon became a leveller across the youth culture. At 16, you didn’t/don’t give a shit about what you said, sang, did or thought. The chippy provided the perfect platform for all of this, and partly due to their opening hours, lunchtimes and evenings. If you were, or are a chip shop owner and worker, here’s some respect from me. This was ‘another’ perfect time for youth culture. As each town had several or more chippys, the urban 50cc race could take place. This was either point A to point B, as in the cafe racer days, or just plain point A and back to point A again after a short ‘urban criterium loop’. As chippys were in urban areas, and sometimes with shops or houses on either side, the patience of the residents was tested by these little screaming two strokes. Most residents accepted it, ignored it, and just turned the volume on the TV up a bit more.
Sadly, as with all motorcycling youth culture, not all of the kids made it through this part of their life journey due to accidents. The odds were actually even worse if you did make it through this motorcycling phase to a bigger bike. The demise of the chippy-racer-meeting-point came when food and diet developed a bit in the UK (honestly, it really did), and these chip shops changed hands and became Chinese take-aways or Kebab houses or Indian take-aways, smoothie bars etc, which are all great, but didn’t have that ‘chippy thing’ about them. To support and accelerate this demise, the UK government also changed motorcycle legislation to prevent any more 16 year old tragedy’s and limited the speed of these great little 50cc racers to what felt like ‘walking/cycling pace’. One other point to note, the chippy wasn’t just another aspect of northern soul either, they were everywhere in the UK.
Moving on a few decades and the cafe racer motorcycle and culture has become super fashionable (and profitable…), which has influenced the new trendy cafes, where motorcyclists can meet and have a cappuccino and a cake. Cafe racer culture has since developed and gone global. So what now. Here’s MY prediction. In a world of food, a good chippy provides something that cannot be replicated anywhere. I accept that time and hygiene standards have moved on at pace, so chips are not served in newspaper anymore, and that napkins are provided to prevent you wiping your greasy hands on your own jeans, or alternatively the bottom (arse) area of your girlfriend’s/boyfriend’s jeans. A lot of chippys nowadays have moved up a gear from the shop-front building to the types that the original cafes used to be located in, and now also have car parks. See how it’s gone full circle?
As we’ve already seen, a car park can be a meeting place, and can welcome bigger (and a bit more gender diverse now as more women than ever take to two wheels) ‘chippy racer’ groups. This car park space is good, because only one modern, big motorcycle can fit into the same parking space as a car, unlike the 50cc racers back in the day.
I believe the future is very rosy for a) the chippy b) the motorcycle meeting place c) for social and cultural change drivers like music, art, fashion, motorcycle design etc etc.
It is now time to arrive back at my title, because I firmly believe that the cafe racer is dead, and long live the chip shop racer. Oh, and one other thing, safety first, so no racing on the streets anymore because its both illegal and bloody-well dangerous. Just enjoy the chips and the meeting.
Now then, where’s my 50cc Guilietta Super Sport because I want chips!……….
All Guilietta Super Sport photos by the author.
All Chippy photos by the authors wife.