It was certainly unexpected: a 50-year survey of café racers right in the heart of Sturgis Bike Week, cheek by jowl with 250,000 Harleys. What might seem an odd venue made perfect sense to Willie G. Davidson, who sent his personal 1977 XLCR, Serial No. 1, to be a star of “Ton Up!,” sat on a plinth beside a Velocette Thruxton, amid 34 other café racers.
Photographer Michael Lichter has curated a “Motorcycles as Art” exhibit in Sturgis for 13 years; they are usually Harley-centric, but this year he wanted to explore café racers as a parallel universe to the custom Harley world. He invited me (Paul d’Orléans, aka The Vintagent) to co-host the “Ton Up!” exhibit.
Together, Michael and I assembled 35 bikes from across the U.S. and the work of 12 artists/photographers for the walls. Seven bikes were built exclusively for “Ton Up!,” including an amazing update of Willie G’s XLCR by Ray Drea, the new chief stylist at H-D. Loaded Gun Customs built a 1967 Triumph with a radical aluminum-plate chassis, and Steve “Brewdude” Garn built his own super light chassis for a Yamaha RD. Machines ranged from an original-paint 1962 Manx (displayed as the bike most café racers emulated), to NorVin, Triton, Gold Star, Thruxton, seven Harley based specials, CB customs and more. “Ton Up!” opened Aug. 5, with 1,280 attendees that day; everyone was blown away that these machines had come so far, literally and metaphorically. The exhibit will live on in a “Ton Up!” book, surveying 50 years of café racer history, with an emphasis on the post-Ace Cafe years. MC
Paul d’Orléans started a café racer club, the Roadholders, in San Francisco in the 1980s and was featured along with his lovely 1933 Velocette KTT Mk 4 in the July/August 2008 issue of Motorcycle Classics.
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