By Scott Rook

Being a child of the 1980s, I never knew a time when fast bikes on the showroom floor didn’t mimic the factory’s race bikes. Kawasaki had the Ninja and Honda had the Hurricane. [Shameless plug: read our history of the cafe racer, ‘Ton Up!’] The bikes appeared on magazine covers in the school library that all my friends drooled over in study hall.  When I got interested in vintage bikes in the 1990s, the idea of an old street bike that was kitted out in race trim took hold: a cafe racer.  The Honda CR750 was the bike that did it for me. Cycle World ran a story about Dick Mann and his Daytona-winning Honda CR750 from 1970: someone built a replica and was racing it at Daytona in the AHRMA series.  The factory CR750 racer looked nothing like the old CB750 that I’d owned. The Honda had been replaced by a 1979 Triumph Bonneville, but when I saw the CR750 in the magazine I thought, I could build that and ride it on the street.  After all it was just a CB750 underneath that root beer colored fairing, and CB750s could be found cheap in the early 1990s. This was my cafe racer dream. I started making spreadsheets of parts and searching the internet with my dial-up Internet connection. I perused the newspaper looking for any old cheap CB750. I found one; a non-running K1 for $250. My girlfriend (who would later become my wife) went with me to check it out. We stopped at U-Haul on the way and picked up a motorcycle trailer just in case. The bike was rough. The cases were cracked but most of it was there, and it had a title. The 1971 CB750 came home with me that day and has been with me ever since.

Dick Mann on the Honda CR750 on his way to winning the Daytona 200 in 1970. [Cycle World]
I guess there were a bunch of people who saw that CR750 in Cycle World and had the same idea, as CR750 replicas were being built all over the country. I had stripped my bike down and sold off or thrown out all the stock bits; there was no room for chromed steel fenders on my cafe racer.  But I had a lot going on in the late 1990s: I went back to college, got married, quit my current job, bought a house and became a teacher. The old CB750 sat for years in my mother’s basement. It ‘graduated’ from her garage when she complained about all the junk and parts everywhere. I was doing other things, but I never lost the desire to build that CR750 Dick Mann replica and ride it on the street. The problem was that by the early 2000s, building a Dick Mann replica CR750 was easy. There were 2 or 3 places that sold everything required, and there was even a guy selling completed bikes on consignment. That wasn’t my cafe racer dream. I wanted to build something that was difficult to source parts for, something that could only be completed by going on a quest. I didn’t want to just max out a credit card and order a CR750. Along the way, I came across all kinds of quirky cafe racer specials that used the CB750 as a base motorcycle. There were Rickman CRs, Seeleys, Dresdas and Moto Martins that replaced the frame with better handling, stiffer, nickel-plated chromoly versions. There were also Japautos, Read Titans, and Dunstalls that used the original CB750 frame, but added rearsets, fiberglass fairings and exhaust systems – it was these quirky specials that I gravitated towards, the Paul Dunstall in particular. I knew of Dunstall’s success with Norton but never knew they produced parts for the Honda CB750. The Dunstall ‘CR750’ was a complete package with rearsets, exhaust, fiberglass tank, seat and full fairing. The Dunstall Honda was angular and had boxy lines, and I loved the look of it. I was going to build a Dunstall with my CB750. This was no credit card ordering frenzy: this was a cafe racer quest!
The $250 1971 CB750 K1 as found in the early 1990s. [Scott Rook]
It took over 9 years to source the complete Dunstall kit and build the bike.  For some parts it was better off getting new replicas made, like the gas tank. The original tanks couldn’t be used with modern fuel or they would melt. Some parts were just not available anywhere. I had to have the fairing lowers made as well. Original Dunstall Decibel silencers show up pretty regularly but most of them are used and abused, so I opted for British-made copies. Everything else was either NOS or used Dunstall parts. I found an original seat, exhaust, rearsets and 3⁄4 fairing. Once I had all the parts the bike went together rather quickly, but I added to my quest by looking for original Lester cast-aluminum mag wheels. Gathering all of this old stuff was part of my build process, as I couldn’t afford to just build the bike all at once, but finding old parts along the way and supplementing them with new bearings, springs, shocks, brake pads and other consumable parts made the quest worthwhile. I knew some day the bike would be built and I would ride my cafe racer on the street, and by the summer of 2010 the bike was assembled and rideable. It would take another year for the paint and finishing touches, but the cafe racer dream had been realized. The bike wasn’t as radical as the CR750 that Dick Mann rode; my Dunstall Honda had lights and an electric start. While dreaming of the bike, I had visions of it being more of a sport tourer rather than a full-on race bike, but my first ride dispelled any touring myths. After about 20 minutes my forearms were on fire and my neck hurt. After an hour I had to stop and get off the thing for fear that I would permanently cramp up and just fall over once I came to a stop. Once off the bike I couldn’t help but stare at it because it looked so striking in its yellow paint and black wheels. But I was dreading having to get back on and ride it home. The cafe racer dream was much different than the cafe racer reality.
The Cover of the 1974 Dunstall Catalog featuring the CR750 Cafe Racer Kit. [The Vintagent Archive]

I had loved the process of building my Dunstall Honda: it was full of the anticipation of riding a bike that belonged in a different era. The Dunstall Honda was something different, like a lost treasure that the world had forgotten.  And I brought my cafe racer dream to life in my garage. The realization was exhilarating, but the ride was terrible. I remembered my old CB750 and how it did literally everything: I rode it on grass while learning to ride a motorcycle, I rode it to school and took it on camping trips with my friend on the back. That old CB750 took me and my high school girlfriend everywhere. The Dunstall Honda did nothing well other than go fast and look great. I couldn’t take it anywhere without experiencing pain. Maybe that is how beautiful strange things from a different era are supposed to be. They have to extract a toll from their owners for their existence. Not just a financial cost, but actual pain when used as intended. I wanted to like riding the bike, and gave it my best, but never really enjoyed it.  So I changed clip-ons and played with different hand grips, and tried to make it even more cafe racer by adding a boxed swingarm and rear Hurst Airheart disk brake conversion. I changed the wheels to the even more rare Henry Abe mags, all in an effort to love the bike I had built. None of it worked. I rode the bike once or twice a summer for many years. I polished the aluminum covers and waxed it. I kept it in tip top running condition hoping that someday I would love riding it.  But that never happened. The cafe racer dream had become a painful nightmare.

The first iteration of Scott’s Dunstall CR750 with Lester mag wheels, in 2011. [Scott Rook]
I decided to make changes: the first part to go was the fairing, as I thought using Superbike bars the right might become bearable. It worked, kind of. The pain in my neck went away. I thought that if I replaced the Dunstall tank and seat with the stock items the riding position would be about perfect. It was, kind of. My wrists and forearms felt normal again. The rearsets were still a little behind where I wanted my feet, so I changed back to the stock footpegs. Much better but I wondered how the bike would feel with the higher stock bars. The answer was just about perfect. In stock trim my formerly unrideable Dunstall Honda became like my old CB750. It did everything and did it comfortably. Those Honda engineers must have known something Paul Dunstall never did. I found myself riding the CB750 everywhere. I rode it to work. I did errands on it. I rode it out to my campsite in Chautauqua, New York. I rode it on Sunday mornings for fun. My cafe racer dream died that summer in the form of my now-stock CB750 K1 that I couldn’t stop riding.
The last iteration of the Dunstall CR750 with Hurst Airheart rear brake and Henry Abe Wheels. [Scott Rook]
Cafe Racers as an idea are great. They look great with their slippery fairings, long tanks and short seats. They have a purposefulness that standard road bikes just don’t have. They are exciting, whether you want to feel like Dick Mann at Daytona or one the Toecutters gang in the wasteland. Paul Dunstall knew all of these things. He built stunning machines that looked like they belonged on a racetrack or a Mad Max film. The truth, which I’m sure he knew all too well, was that cafe racers as motorcycles are terrible beasts to live with. They are uncomfortable to ride more than an hour, they have limited maneuverability at anything other than high speed, and they have no practical ability to cope with heavy traffic or stop and go riding. All the performance upgrades and fiberglass tanks in the world can’t make cafe racers anything other than toys. Paul Dunstall sold his cafe racer business in the late 1970s and moved into property development. The Rickman brothers and Colin Seeley stopped producing their special framed CB750s and KZ1000s around the same time. It seems the cafe racer dream died in the late 1970s. Its revival in the late 1990s and into the 2000s suffered the same fate as many new riders were seduced by the looks of vintage cafe racers only to find out how unfriendly they actually were in the real world.
Back to stock! The same 1971 CB750 K1 Scott bought in the early 1990s for $250, now a permanent garage fixture, and comfortable to ride. [Scott Rook]

I still have a cafe racer dream, but it doesn’t involve Dick Mann or clip-ons. I want to build a bike that has the cafe racer look but keeps the standard riding position. Paul Dunstall built Sprint versions of his Norton Atlases and Commandos. These were bikes with performance upgrades and the cafe tank and seat but with regular bars and pegs. A bright red Dunstall Domiracer Sprint sounds about perfect for me. I guess I have a new cafe racer dream.  Stay tuned.


Scott Rook started riding motor cycles at the age of 15 in 1989. He traded some baseball and football cards for a beat up 1976 CB750 and has been hooked ever since. He’s a history teacher and father to 3 teenagers in his non-motorcycle life.
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