Everybody digs classic café racers, but to really enjoy the performance of a 40-year-old streetbike, you'd better be an ace mechanic or an AAA member. As Triumph has shown with its popular Thruxton model, would-be cafe racers prefer motorcycles with the classic bum-up, head-down riding posture and modern reliability.
The newly formed Stonebridge Motor Company has taken that approach to the next level by building a stomping roadster powered by a thumping, American-made V-twin. The bike we rode was the sole prototype, created in the bustling North London workshop of award-winning British custom guru Nick Gale. His partnership with Ace Café proprietors George Tsuchnikas and Mark Wilsmore spawned the special, which cost some $90,000 to build. Lucky for us Colonials, Gale recently announced a line of lesser-spec models. For around $40,000, buyers get a slightly scaled-back version of the thundering, alloy-covered missile I tested, though powered by the same 100-cubic-inch (1638cc), air-cooled, pushrod twin. Manufactured by Wisconsin's S&S, the Harley-Davidson Sportster-replica engine is "square" with a 101.6mm bore and stroke, and throws down an impressive 138 horsepower and 115 lb.-ft. of torque at the rear wheel.
Off idle, where big-inch engines like this shine, the Ace Café Racer is a thrill ride extraordinaire. The engine pops, roars and makes all the right noises, and the hand-welded, MotoGP-style titanium headers from Urbane Racing sound, as Gale put it, "like anything but a Harley." Instead, what you get is the same seemingly endless torque and low-end thrust you feel when wicking the go-grip of a Ducati, only with a raspier exhaust note. The engine rests in a Norton Wideline Featherbed-replica frame from England's P&D Customs. The S&S motor demanded certain concessions, however, being wide enough to require a 3-inch broadening between the rails. As a result, the Ace Café Racer has a wider stance than Senator Larry Craig and, I'd imagine, may cause trouble for the short of inseam. The handsome alloy seat and "Lyta" 3-gallon endurance racing fuel tank were built to order by Scotsman John Williams, replicating the Tritons and Dresdas of a half-century ago. The polished aluminum also plays off the numerous one-off bits that Gale fabricated, including the sprocket cover and tubular headlight bracket. "My only brief was that it had to look evil and I'm a big MotoGP fan, so I wanted to incorporate elements like the exhausts as well," he said proudly.
On the move, this is a fully modern motorcycle, equipped with a massive, 48mm Ohlins upside-down fork originally designed for a Yamaha R1 mounted in custom Harris triple clamps. Out back are twin Ohlins piggyback shocks. The sequoia-sized fork soaks up bumps with ease and dual Harrison radial-mount, billet four-piston calipers offer plenty of stopping power and excellent feel at the radial master cylinder. The few tight, traffic-heavy corners I managed to strafe proved this machine's true playground as the moderate, 29-degree rake and stable chassis made for predictable direction changes. There's so much power on tap that even with a large rear sprocket and using only four of the Baker six-speed transmission's gears, I got the impression that this motorcycle will easily pull past its estimated 135-mph top speed. With the addition of a Manx Norton-style bikini fairing, I'd be willing to try!
The stretched-out riding position will feel familiar to anyone who's ridden a Ducati Sport Classic. You feel like an extra from The Leatherboys as you absorb admiring stares from strangers. Raising the very low, Harris-billet clip-ons would be a must for rides much longer than 50 or so miles, and the extremely high-mounted rearsets left my thigh muscles screaming for a pit stop. There's not much room to re-adjust one's seating position on a café racer with such traditional ergos, which can be an uncompromising affair. However, that gorgeous fuel tank holds just over 3 gallons, so frequent fuel stops should offer some relief. Production models, which should reach the U.S. by late 2009, will be built to suit individual needs, Gale promises, which is great news. Now, if somebody will only loan me $40,000...