By Bhuvan Chowdhary 

Skirting the western Pyrenees from Biarritz towards San Sebastian it becomes clear why this is such a great region for motorcycling and surfing. Driving into San Sebastian, the mountains give way to the sea, greeting you with a gorgeous blue sky and the beach at La Concha. It’s hard to leave this seductive scene, but just a bit down the road is a garage that sums up everything memorable in the world of motorcycles: Café Racer SSpirit (the double SS is for San Sebastian). Juan Carlos López, Hugo López and Juan Pablo Santinelli started Cafe Racer SSpirit in 2014 as a custom motorcycle shop. For the trio, building customs is about more than the metal: they believe that for a motorcycle to resonate for a customer, it’s important to learn about the history, heritage and culture behind the machine.

Cafe Racer SSpirit co-owner Pablo Santinelli wrenches on a Martin-framed custom Suzuki GSXR [Bhuvan Chowdhary]
This CRSS philosophy must also resonate, because in a short period of time, the trio has made quite the name for themselves not only in San Sebastian, but across Europe too. Last year Cafe Racer SSpirit was one of 7 shops selected (and the official entry from Spain) to build a custom motorcycle for the Yamaha Yard Built program: their machine, the Café Racer SSpirit XS700-R, debuted at Wheels and Waves in 2017. Their Yamaha custom cafe racer has a minimal, old-school charm, resembling a Bol D’or racer (minus its fairing), but their XSR 700-R isn’t easily categorized.

The XSR700-R the shop modified for the Yard Built program [Bhuvan Chowdhary]
While CRSS is primarily a custom motorcycles and apparel shop, they have a deep interest (and investment) in classic motorcycles. Sitting at the coffee table in the far corner of their workshop is a perfect location to ogle their line-up of vintage machine, mechanical marvels from the 1960s, ‘70, and ‘80s lined up in immaculate condition. This is candy land for the moto-initiated.

Rare as hen’s teeth: a Japauto Honda CB750 bored out to 1000ccs, number 25 of 73 built [Bhuvan Chowdhary]
Behind the coffee table is a gorgeous Honda VFR 750, RC30 (Frame no. 87), and on the left is a Triumph corner: classic Bonnevilles sit beside a single-cylinder Tiger Cub T20, next to a 350cc T90, a 650cc T100 & a 750cc T140. In the center of the room sits a mix of European and Japanese bikes, highlighted by a gorgeous and very rare Japauto VX1000 endurance racer, and a red Dunstall Honda CR750, frame #0025. The Japauto VX1000 is one of only 73 examples made, and was a special machine in its day, costing three times as much as a standard Honda CB750. Finding three Japautos parked in the CRSS garage is bold: this Spanish atelier is a truly special place to visit.

A Dunstall Honda ‘CR750’ conversion from the early 1970s [Bhuvan Chowdhary]
With only a few hours to visit, I curtailed my inner child to focus on the job in hand – document the bikes. I walked the shop floor with Pablo Santinelli, who was calmly tinkering on a special Suzuki GSX with Moto Martin frame he’s building for a customer. My ear-to-ear grin pulled him into a conversation about the motorcycles parked all around, and Pablo fired up one of my bucket list machines – a Honda CBX. Its six-into-one custom megaphone exhaust filled the room with a few quick rips on the throttle, close to the best motorcycle sound I’ve ever heard, like a proper old-school Formula One car. What a screamer!

A lineup of Japanese classics from the 1980s: Honda CBX, CX500Turbo, a rare Euro-spec Suzuki Katana variant, etc. [Bhuvan Chowdhary]
The shop floor at CRSS displays more than 100 motorcycles, with a backdrop of old fuel tanks. A long line of 500 and 750cc two-stroke Suzuki GTs recalled the utterly mad times when people flew on these machines, with little wheel braking and no engine braking! Beside the mental two-strokes was a line-up of some special Japanese bikes from the 80s, including a rare Honda CX500 Turbo, flanked on each side by a mint Honda CBX and a special edition Suzuki Katana that was only sold in the United Kingdom and Italy. San Sebastian is a perfect spot for basking in the European summer: Cafe Racer SSpirit with their custom and classic motorcycle collection makes the town that much more enjoyable.

Cafe Racer SSpirit has about 100 bikes on display, from 1960s to 1980s is their specialty. [Bhuvan Chowdhary]
Two rare Hondas: the Japauto 1000, and a replica of Dick Mann’s Daytona-winning Honda CR750 [Bhuvan Chowdhary]
A Dresda tank on a Triton, a classic combination [Bhuvan Chowdhary]
A rare (perhaps for good reason) Honda CX500 Turbo [Bhuvan Chowdhary]
A bit of product placement, but what a mantlepiece! Japautos are nonexistent in the USA [Bhuvan Chowdhary]
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