Thursday, November 5, 2009

"Cafe Society" documentary traces history of motorcycle racers

"Cafe Society" documentary traces history of motorcycle racers
Thursday, November 05, 2009
By Rocky Marks

I love motorcycles. I love getting on my bike and riding whenever and wherever I can as long as my schedule permits. I've known only one brand of motorcycle all of my life. It doesn't make me a bad person. It may simply mean that I'm a little sheltered or just brand loyal.

It seems that I'm not alone. Many motorcycle enthusiasts get comfortable with a brand of a motorcycle or a style of riding and they are content. With complacency comes ignorance. It may not even be intentional ignorance, but it happens.

That's what makes "Cafe Society," an hour-long documentary being screened at the Three Rivers Film Festival on Saturday, all the more eye-opening.

The history of the cafe racer in Europe parallels the history of choppers and motorcycle clubs in the United States after World War II.

United States vets coming back from the war turned to motorcycles as a way to blow off some steam by being weekend warriors with their pals. Not to mention, owning and servicing motorcycles in the '50s was rather inexpensive. In fact, many were do-it-yourselfers, which led to a phenomenon of taking stock Harley-Davidson motorcycles and turning them into bobbers and choppers.

Motorcycles in the United States in the '50s were more like a hobby for most. In England they were a necessity. A tough battle was fought, leaving infrastructure heavily damaged and fuel a precious commodity. For Europeans, a motorcycle was the perfect mode of transportation during this difficult time.

Eventually customization came on to the scene as youngsters formed their own groups and gathered at cafes to listen to rock 'n' roll and display their latest creations from stock Nortons, BSAs and Triumphs. Instead of going for the laid-back stance the Americans favored, they made their bikes lighter, pushed their riding position forward and focused on performance, rather than looks.

As London was being rebuilt, new highways were created, which made conditions perfect for the motorcyclists to test their new highly tuned machines. Eventually, this led to competitions -- races from a cafe to a predetermined destination and then back again. They did these races during one song on the jukebox, which at the time typically lasted approximately three minutes.

I spoke to the director of "Cafe Society," Mike Seate, on his way to the New York premiere last Thursday and he said the project took about two years to complete and he did it out of his own love for cafe racers. He vacations in Europe every year and is constantly going to events in the States. Mike has eight motorcycles that his wife knows about.

Americans have a passion for choppers because it's "what they know." Fortunately, thanks to the Three Rivers Film Festival, you'll be able to see this amazing documentary at the Harris Theater Downtown at 8 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are $8 and are available online at or at the box office.

You can also see clips and order this movie by going to

As far as me, while I have a brand that I am very loyal to, I think there is room in the garage for more than one bike, and it just may be a cafe racer.

Rocky Marks is the operations manager for Hot Metal Harley-Davidson in West Mifflin and host of the weekly radio show "On the Road With Rocky" on 1250 AM WEAE.

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