In 2013, motorcycle culturalist and historian Paul d’Orleans teamed up with renowned motorcycle photographer Michael Lichter to help curate the “Ton Up!” exhibit at the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in Sturgis, South Dakota. The theme was café racers, and Lichter and d’Orleans gathered 35 bikes from across the country to exhibit. Lichter set up an on-site studio during the Sturgis show and photographed all the bikes on exhibit, resulting in Café Racers: Speed, Style and Ton-up Culture.
As a photographer Lichter has few equals. His work has appeared in every major motorcycle publication in the world including Motorcycle Classics, and he’s particularly known for photographing custom bikes and Harley-Davidsons. That makes this effort something of a break in tradition for him but not much of a stretch, because as a dedicated motorcyclist Lichter understands what inspires and motivates riders, regardless of what they ride.
The bikes profiled range from a spectacular 1962 BSA DBD34 Gold Star Clubman, perhaps the ultimate factory café racer ever made, to Roland Sands’ BMW Concept 90, built by Sands in collaboration with BMW to celebrate the original R90S’ 40th anniversary. Lichter’s photography is uniformly excellent, rendering a depth of detail that lets the reader examine each bike to the finest degree, whether it’s Shinya Kimura’s intentionally roughly hewn Ducati 750 Sport or Ray Drea’s fabulously perfect XR Café.
Drawing on his deep knowledge and appreciation of motorcycle history and culture, Paul d’Orleans gives us the back story on the café racer scene, explaining in each of the book’s chapter forwards the why of a cultural movement that still motivates riders and readers decades after its founding. The vintage-style collodian or “wet plate” photographs d’Orleans uses to support his narrative in the third chapter, titled “Tarnishing the Golden Age,” are an interesting contrast to Lichter’s crisp photography. D’Orleans is a practitioner of the almost lost art of wet plate photography, and he shares photographs he’s crafted of current-day riders, racers and vintage enthusiasts.
Beautifully illustrated, intriguingly narrated and presented in a large 10-inch by 12.25-inch format, this is a book custom café fans will want to include in their library. Motorbooks: 224 pages, $50. Buy this from the Motorcycle Classics store: Café Racers: Speed, Style and Ton-Up Culture. MC