Over the years, Australia’s Café Racer and Custom bike scene has grown and thrived. From home builds to bigger workshops, this growth has spawned a variety of different styles as these bikes brap, screech, and splutter down roads across the country. We paid a visit up to Newcastle to check out some of these bikes and the people that ride them.
My original intention was to ride up to catch the monthly Luskintyre Airfield open day, but I figured I’d make the most of my ride up from Sydney and check out some of the bikes and their builders around Newcastle. I picked the perfect time, with it being a sterling 24 degrees and sunny, a welcome change from the rain and gloom that seemed to be hanging around Sydney as of late.
My local guide would be ‘Champo’, who runs Newcastle Café Racers and is a familiar face amongst Sydney Café Racers as well. He also boasts an amazing collection of vehicles himself, with his yellow Deus Customs Harley-Davidson Sportster being his main weapon of choice.
“I never thought I’d own a post-war Harley, however, I like the character of how mine rides. It’s the anti-Harley Harley. Having a recognisable brand of build also keeps the cops confident it’s not going to collapse. You have to put a lot of physical input into it to get it to corner; therefore it’s in proportion to the speed limits.”
“I’m attracted to old school engineering and aesthetics. Modern automotive engineering is easy to operate, efficient and effective; however I find it too detached and disposable. I respect what engineers have done before me, but I also like to improve things. I love how Café Racers look and feel. And how their riders often take something unloved and recycle it into something loved.”
It was time to jump in the old 1950’s Ford F2 and we were off to check out some more machines.
We swung by a mate of Champo’s who has an old Norton (though with a Frankenstein mix of other bike parts) to take it for a spin. Russel was all too eager to show us the bike, which boasted a loud thump from its exhaust that just about slapped you in the face. Russel has a healthy collection of machines, from a Lotus to an incredibly lightweight Clubman. Currently he’s working on a board tracker, machining all the parts himself. We’ll be sure to showcase it once it’s complete!
It’s a great mix of environments in Newcastle, you don’t have to be on the road long to find yourself from being next to the beach to now being surrounded by livestock and rolling hills. “We are spoilt for choice around here. We live in a beach’n city but are not far from country corners.
We are pretty laid back up here. Some people spend more time in the shed; some people spend more time on the road. As for NCR, the core crew likes to keep things small, modest and underground. A lot like Newcastle itself.”
We were now off to Cardiff to visit a new blood on the bike building side of things, Liam Butler, who has started Butler’s Customs and Café Racers. Liam first got into bikes riding around the bush when was about 10 on mates’ dirtbikes.
“We use to ride at Danny Ham’s track all the time till it was closed down. I have ridden Freestyle mountain bikes my whole life and have been in the custom Car scene from the day I got my licence, I have had 42 custom cars and built all of them myself, my last car was a Custom built 1968 Kombi that I spent over $30k on.
After that car was sold I decided to stop spending money on cars and try something different. My mate Paul talked me into buying a motorcycle and getting my licence, since then my passion for motorbikes has turned into something that keeps me awake till 3 or 4am every morning. I’ve been an Automotive electrician for the past 15 years and been working on anything with wheels since I was 5 with my grandfather who has now passed. I remember helping him bleed brakes when I was so small I had to pump the pedal with two hands.
My uncle Robert, who has also passed, used to build custom motorcycles his whole life and I guess it’s just in my blood to build something. It turned out to be bikes.”
After being made redundant I decided to use my free time wisely and start working on bikes; and only bikes, I have built and sold around 8 custom bikes of my own in the past 8 months. My new business, Butlers Customs and Cafe Racers is based in Cardiff with a good friend Scott at his shop Kelb Customs. I also do a lot of my work from my workshop at home depending on the job.
My Current Build is a 1972 Honda CB250K3 . The bike has been stripped and every nut and bolt replaced for new, everything is powder coated, custom made or replaced. It will be one of a kind I’m hoping. I also have a 1976 Honda CB200 I have just about finished for a client, a 1970s Honda Z50A that is almost complete which had a ground up all original restoration.”
Champo and I visited some a few more spots (to be revealed in future posts) before meeting up with more members of NCR for dinner, and plenty of shit talking. There were some absolute gems that turned up, from an immaculate Moto Morini that still had all the original safety wiring, to a tiny Maico that could be picked up and relocated with ease.
I’ll be returning to Newcastle soon enough, there are still a ton of bikes to cover! But stayed tuned, as we still have plenty from this past trip to share with everyone.