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Cafe Racer, Bobber, Scrambler & Tracker Motorcycles: What's The Difference?

Chaparral Motorsports
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June 2, 2019
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Last Updated: August 7, 2020

If you're looking for your first (or next) motorcycle, you might be thinking about the different styles. As with cars, there are a variety of types of motorcycles designed for different uses. A touring motorcycle is made with comfort in mind since you'll be riding it for long distances. Sportbikes give you speed and agility. Here, we'll take you through the differences between the café racer, bobber, scrambler, and tracker.

What is a Cafe Racer?

Royal Enfield Continental GT
Royal Enfield Continental GT

The café racer is a bike built for speed and handling. The term originated in Britain in the 1950s when the bikes were used to get between popular cafes, especially the Ace Café in London. The most notable story about café racers is that riders would gather at the Ace Café, select a song on the juke box, hop on their motorcycle, ride to a popular roundabout down the road, and try to make it back to the café before the song ended. This is also were the term "Doing the ton" became popularized. Basically it was referring to hitting 100 MPH on your motorcycle which was no small feat on the popular Nortons and Vincents of the day. These motorcyclists were basically urban road racers that zipped around town. The café racer today is a popular ride, lightweight and easy to handle. Café racers aren't heavily styled but are made to be powerful and fast on the road.

2015 Yamaha Bolt C-Spec
2015 Yamaha Bolt C-Spec

The original café racer motorcycles of the 1950s were often British bikes tuned to help achieve higher speeds and modified to cut down on wind. These bikes were distinct in their stripped down looks with a flat and narrow bench like cockpit. Low slung bars and slightly set back foot controls put the rider into a more streamlined attack position. The early bikes often sported only the bare essentials. Aerodynamic bodywork in the form of small fairings covering the headlight and handlebars became popular in time. The tail of the café racer can either be simplistic with only a small raised hump incorporated into the back of the seat with a taillight to illuminate the rear. Or the rear of the bike can be more intricate with a one piece cover that spans from the end of the gas tank and runs under the seating area to form a small half rounded stinger over the rear tire.

What is a Bobber Motorcycle?

The bobber became a popular style in the 1930s amongst American racers who most often competed in AMA offroad races and hill climbs. They would ride their bikes to the races, compete, and the ride them home or wherever else they wanted to go.

Based on American made motorcycles, Indians and Harley-Davidsons (mostly Harleys) this bike were made as light as possible by removing unnecessary components. These parts included ditching the front fender and any ornamental bits. The seat post which held the seat a few inches above the frame was cut down so that the rider had a lower center of gravity and was more streamlined with the bike. Additionally, the rear fender which is where the name "bobber" was derived was bobbed, or shortened to cut weight. Between the missing front fender and bobbed rear fender you really got a good look at the chunky motorcycle tires which helped give the bikes a tough look.

Modern-day custom bobbers showcase many of the same features as their originators, short rear fenders, no front fenders, and a compact overall stance. A couple trends you see on many custom bobbers these days are chunky whitewall tires such as those offered by Dunlop or Shinko. Many bikes will have straight pipes that scream when the throttled is ripped. You'll also see extremely small gas tanks, often peanut style or mustang style that typically only hold about 2 gallons of fuel.

As for the handlebars, you'll mostly see compact drag bars or Ape hangers. Many customizers will set their seat up off the frame a bit by using a sprung seat. This is typically a seat that has a hinge mounted at the front to allow for up and down movement and two springs on the rear that keep the seat from hitting the frame. This look is most common on aftermarket rigid frames. While modern Harleys don't come with rigid frames or utilize center seat posts anymore, some customizers will install a sprung seat on a bobber style bike that has modern rear suspension, which in my opinion is redundant and looks silly.

What is a Scrambler Motorcycle?

The scrambler motorcycle is designed for off-road and street use. According to legend, the term came into use when a commentator described a race as a "scramble" across multiple terrains. Original scramblers were street oriented motorcycles often based on British bikes but there were plenty of Japanese bikes that were given the Scrambler treatment back in the day as well.

The scrambler is similar to a tracker and the terms can often get intermingled-more on trackers in a minute.

As mentioned above, scramblers are street bikes that have been modified to make them more offroad racing worthy. Modifications and features include taller suspension for more ground clearance to avoid offroad hazards, knobby tires that are DOT legal and capable to handle road duty. A great example of the best scrambler motorcycle is the Continental TKC80. Much of the superfluous bodywork is removed or shortened.

The seating area on a scrambler usually gets modified to offer a longer and flatter seat so that the rider can move forward and back as needed when navigating tough terrain. The handlebars are often moto-style-similar to those found on dirt bikes, and most times dirt bike style number plates have replaced the rear side panels. Another key element of a scrambler style motorcycle is a high mounted exhaust, which again is to provide plenty of clearance when riding Offroad.  A few years ago the Chaparral Motorsports team turned a Yamaha Bolt into a pretty cool Scrambler (image above). You can read about the full build here.

What is a Tracker Motorcycle?

The tracker style motorcycle gets its name from flat track racing. Similar to the Scrambler in the fact that it's a street motorcycle that has been modified to race in dirt, the main difference is that the scrambler is more for rugged offroad racing in a variety of terrain. The Tracker is more for going extremely fast on a flat circular dirt surface. However, these bikes still carry the same stripped down no nonsense styling as a Scrambler.

A tracker has knobby DOT rated tires but they're not as aggressive as the TKC80, think more like the Dunlop K180. There's a bit more bodywork on a tracker than on the Scrambler. The Tracker often has a one-piece seat/tail section that helps give the bike a race-inspired and more streamlined look. Again this bike has raised suspension which allows the rider to get more lean on the bike for hard cornering. You'll also see moto style handlebars and number plates on the front and sides.

There have been plenty of modern tracker motorcycles built by the big manufacturers, however, these would be considered more of a street tracker style which is even more street oriented than the original tracker style bikes. You can learn more about street trackers here.

Deciding What Fits Your Style

Choosing a motorcycle is personal. It depends on your own style of riding and where you enjoy taking your bike. The café racer would be ideal for the city, while the scrambler can be more appropriate for rural riding and some offroad antics. The tracker has good looks sporty styling and is capable of tackling some dusty roads and zipping around city streets. The bobber has a vintage look that might not appeal to everyone. It's better for urban use, and is more for style as opposed to long distance riding. The café racer, scrambler, tracker, and bobber are not designed for comfort. They're sportier bikes that will get you around town, but you wouldn't want to take a long trip on one.

In the Market for a Motorcycle? Get more information about different bike styles at Chaparral Motorsports. Browse through our inventory to find your next ride. We have every type of bike you could want for reasonable prices. Our sales personnel can help you find the motorcycle you've been dreaming for to take out on the road. We'll give you a fair deal, whether you're buying new or used.

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