Cafe Racer motorcycle restored

Episode 260

April 14, 2019

A local Cafe Racer bike comes to life

Writer Spurgeon Dunbar in his December 2014 article in revzilla online publication says,”For me, the term cafe racer can be applied to any bike being reinvented by men and women who are genuinely trying to squeeze more ponies out of their aging machines or adding elements which will allow them to increase lean angles and improve handling.”

“In its simplest form, building a cafe racer started with removal of the stock handlebars, sitting in a clamp above the triple tree, in favor of clip-on bars mounted to the front fork tubes, which lowered the rider’s hands and forced a tucked, aerodynamic riding position. From there, rear-set footpegs were installed to allow for additional ground clearance, a fairing was sometimes added, and any unnecessary weight was lopped off.”

Prior to the early 1970’s the cafe racer bike scene was dominated by British bikes. When the Japanese bike invasion of the 1970’s took place, the scene changed with the addition of the Asian bikes which were typically 2 strokes with engines as large as larger 900 or 1100 cc.

Stealing Speed

Stealing Speed: The Biggest Spy Scandal in Motorsports History by Mat Oxley gives some intriguing information about the rise of the modern two-stroke motorcycle engine similar to the Yamaha engine in Tyler Raymond’s  Cafe racer.

After WWII Walter Kaaden, an engineer who had been working on the V1 and V2 Vengeance Weapons facility in Peenemunde, was recruited by rocketeer Wernher von Braun who went on to work with NASA on the space program. He turned down von Braun and instead went home to Zschopau, East Germany.

He began tuning and racing the 50 cc MZ two-stroke motorcycle with much success despite the ratty looking machines which were accompanied by a broken down looking support vehicle. Kaaden was so successful, the communist authorities asked him to run the low-budget MZ race program.

Ernst Dagner became the driver and mechanic with Kaaden in this effort. They gave the factory Honda team a run for their money and caught the eye of the other Japanese manufacturers Suzuki, Yamaha, and Kawasaki.

Degner had a secret meeting in 1961 with Suzuki officials to hatch a plan for him to defect and bring Kaaden’s secrets with him. The building of the Berlin Wall threw Degner’s escape plans for a temporary loop. Escaping was going to be much more difficult.

With the help of his West German friend, Paul Petry who bought a large Lincoln Mercury car which was outfitted with a secret compartment in the trunk, the plan was to smuggle Degner’s wife and two sons out of East Germany while Degner was racing outside of East Germany.

It was the time of the Swedish Gran Prix motorcycle race at the Kristianstad circuit when the plan was to come to fruition. Degner’s wife and sons were drugged so that they would maintain total silence while crossing the border in the Lincoln.

Meanwhile Ernst was to sneak away from his Stasi Secret Police escorts after winning the race and world championship. Unfortunately his MZ bike broke early robbing the Soviets of a chance to declare victory on the continent.

With the help of a Suzuki staffer, Degner was able to slip away from his teammates and the secret police escort while they were drowning their sorrows at a Swedish bar. Degner, along with a suitcase full of crucial MZ engine go fast parts and blueprints, was driven to Denmark and safety.

Later Degner was paid the equivalent of $260,000 to design a two-stroke engine for Suzuki in Japan which would boost the company’s anemic two-stroke engine program from its current state to world contender. Combining the three secrets of Kaaden’s success with two strokes; boost chamber technology, exhaust expansion chamber design, and rotary disc valves, he was able to exceed the target horsepower and reliability.

The two-stroke engines of that era so dominated the world championships that no four strokes would win from 1975 to 2001 when the MotoGp came along with its rule changes which made the two strokes non-players.

I say all this to set the stage for the Cafe Racer scene in the 1970’s and now the retro two-stroke scene that Tyler Raymond tapped into with his 1972 Yamaha R5 350 two-stroke bike.

Tyler Raymond’s Cafe Racer

The beginning of the Cafe Racer restoration project in 2016, a 1972 Yamaha R5 350 cc two-stroke. (Tyler Raymond photo)

In Raymond’s words, “Growing up around the vintage Yamaha 2 stokes allowed me to grow a love for them. It was when one of our family friends got a Honda CB750 cafe racer, that I learned what a cafe racer was and the history of it.”

“For example the name cafe racer originated from British bikers, also called ‘Ton-up boys’ in the 1960’s when they would put a song on the jukebox at a local cafe, and then hop on their bikes and race from one cafe to another and back.Who ever didn’t make it back to the original cafe before the song ended on the jukebox, lost.”

“Back in the 60’s the ‘ton-up boys’ was a group with the purpose of going 100 mph on a motorcycle. Most stock bikes back then wouldn’t come close to 100 mph, so they modified the bikes by stripping weight, making an exhaust change, and lowering the handlebars. Without the cafe racer craze who knows if the modern sport bike would have ever been invented.”

Where does all this “stuff” go? Despite what looks like a bundle of snakes, Tyler Raymond was able to rebuilt the wiring harness and controls to original or better condition. (Tyler Raymond photo)

” I would say I have at least $1500-2000 into it. Most of the work was done by me.  The only work that I had to outsource was the honing of the cylinders, done by Caron and Son engine machine shop, and the replacement of the case gasket done by Gary’s Yamaha both in Caribou.”

Cafe Racer frame in primer during the restoration process which took almost three years. (Tyler Raymond photo)

“I disassembled the bike down to the frame and rebuilt everything. The last thing that needs to be done is to paint the headlight, tank, and seat.”

“My plan with the bike is to bring it to car/ motorcycle shows, and hopefully spread the love for vintage bikes and cafe racers.”

1972 Yamaha R5 350cc Cafe Racer in running condition awaiting dry roads and slightly warmer Aroostook County weather. (Tyler Raymond photo)

I would say you have a pretty good start Tyler.

Back in the race mode again

Let me begin with a disclaimer, I do get some sponsorship help from Maine Indoor Karting (MIK) in Scarborough. With that being said…I had my first opportunity of the 2019 season to get in a kart and put in some laps at speed.

Nowhere else in Maine do I know of a facility quite like MIK. I like to use it as a tune up for the upcoming Northern Maine Karting Association (NMKA) racing season at Spud Speedway. The time at MIK makes me realize that I must get in shape in order to perform at speed in my own racing kart.

My goal was to run in the 22 second range, however, my best lap was a 23.043 seconds. I will be returning to MIK in early May to try to get into the 22 second area. That means weight loss and exercises since I was sore for a couple of days, a good type of sore!

I had the opportunity to meet and race against from left to right Jake Robertson, Taylor MacLean, and TJ Wight all from Gray, Friday evening at MIK. They have been racing at MIK a number of times and did well in each of their races on course #3 which is tough to pass equally skilled karts. (Melinda Semmelrock photo)

Maine Motorsports Hall of Fame Class of 2019 Inducted


Two “County Boys” Hall of Fame members Tom Peters on left and Bob Alexander on right at the 2019 Maine Motorsports Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony at the Augusta Civic Center. The Class of 2019 included Dale Chadbourne, Billy Clark, Ricky Craven, Dick Fowler, Lomer Pelletier, and Bob Bailey. (Tom Peters family photo)

NMKA Race Schedule Released

The Northern Maine Karting Association released their 2019 schedule which includes eight race dates, two doubleheader dates, Thursdays on Sweden Street date, and a June 1 Test, Tune and Tryout date. On June 1st a noon, those who would like to try out a race kart need to be at the NMKA race track, Spud Speedway at noon to actually race and experience what it is like to go fast in a real race kart.

NMKA Kids Kart on left, Junior Cage Kart on right and Senior Cage kart in back. (HTF Motorsports photo)

The three race divisions are Blacked Out Window Tint Kids Karts for ages 5-7, Aroostook trusses Junior Cage Karts ages 8-12. and Aroostook Savings and Loan Senior Cage Karts 13 and up. The Victory Lane ceremonies will be presented by Coastal Auto Parts NAPA.

June 1st: Test, Tune, and Trials at Spud Speedway. Test and Tune from 9:30-11:30 am.
Try out the kart from 12 noon to 1:30 pm. Testing $10 per crew member and
driver. Trials free admission with wristband.
June 6th: Thursday on Sweden Street from 5-8:30 pm. All teams invited.
June 15th: Season Opener – presented by Pat’s Automotive
June 29th: Race Two – presented by Burger Boy
July 13th: Race Three – presented by Machias Savings Bank
July 27th: NMKA Double-header – presented by County Qwik Print
August 4th: PASS Firecracker 150 with karts on display at entrance gate.
August 10th: Race six – presented by Lavender Puff
August 24th: Race seven – presented by United Insurance Kieffer Agency
Sept. 7th: Race eight – presented by Machias Savings Bank
Sept. 14th: Season Finale – NMKA Doubleheader – presented by Team JRT

Long time sponsor of NMKA, Pat’s Automotive in Caribou with NMKA President Tom Hale on left and owner Wayne Belanger on right. Pat’s Automotive has been a full service automotive shop in Caribou for the last 60 years. They are the presenting sponsor of the season opener June 15. (Mary Lee photo)

USAC Champion back in school

USAC Silver Crown Champion Kody Swanson visited the Sidener Academy for High Ability Students in Indianapolis, Indiana Friday. He read Curious George to the second and third grade students and answered a barrage of auto racing questions. Swanson was scheduled to compete in the Sumar Classic at the 1/2 mile dirt Terre Haute Action Track, Indiana on Sunday. The race was postponed to a later date due to a forecast of cold and rainy weather. Swanson will be back in action April 27 on the pavement at Toledo Speedway in Ohio. (Kody Swanson Racing photo)

Easter Celebration Next Sunday

Next Sunday all around the world Christians celebrate the events which changed the world, the death on a cross of Jesus Christ for our sins and His resurrection on Sunday. My hope is that you and your family will be able to celebrate this event at the church of your choice. I certainly will be rejoicing. Because of the Easter Celebration UpNorth Motorsports will not be publishing next Sunday evening but will return April 28th with a new episode.

Happy Easter and God bless,

Tom Hale

Soli Deo Gloria (Matthew 5:14)


Tom Hale

About Tom Hale

Tom wrote 14 years as freelancer for the Bangor Daily Sports covering motorsports in Maine. Now blogging and concentrating on human interest stories about people and places in racing. He races Champ Karts and owns HTF Motorsports in remote Westmanland, Maine