Last Updated on 08/04/2021
For twenty-five years, I’ve physically suffered with back problems after having a spectacular crash on my ZXR. (Actually, it wasn’t that spectacular, but did leave me suffering from a number of health problems since, including having my pelvis shored up with metalwork).
Summer is rolling round, and I keep on promising myself a new bike. I have a hankering for a café racer, but do wonder whether my aging old (read: knackered) body could cope with the riding position of one?
That got me thinking … I can’t be alone in having problems with my back, so how do other riders cope? Are café racers comfortable?
How Comfortable are Café Racers?
Of course, it’s easy for me to say “I’ve ridden one, it’s all good, super comfy”, but that doesn’t really answer the question, or more to the point, it bypasses two important bits of information: what’s comfy for me may not be comfortable for you, and is a quick twenty minute test ride sufficient to tell you anything?
I’m also of an age where after riding for 40+ years, I have ‘other’ problems, the type of problems that require specialist creams, inserted. You know what I’m talking about. Let’s just say that gel seats have a use.
I’m reminded of something else also – there have been times when the pain has been so bad, that I literally couldn’t walk, which meant getting around was a combination of sliding around on my stomach, or rolling over like a five-year-old child rolls down a hill. And yet, I found some relief in the strangest of places … my ZX9R.
The act of leaning forward, reaching for the bars and stretching my back was (on occasion) better than any medicinal drugs, it offered instant relief from MY back pain.
What Makes for a Comfortable Café Racer?
Nothing. Everything. Something.
The reality is that the question is too generic, there are too many differentiating parameters to give a definitive answer, and as already stated, just because an overweight, knackered fatman finds it comfortable, it doesn’t necessarily mean that a svelte youngster would find it equally as comfortable. And vice versa.
With that said, of course there are things that could indicate a level of comfort-ness, or whether a café racer may be bad for your back – thanks to my injuries, I can tell just by sitting on a bike whether the riding position works for me, if I could ride the bike for hours, or just five minutes, or even not at all.
I can’t ride a Suzuki Hayabusa for example, not even for a minute, but the similar Kawasaki ZZR1400 fits me well and I can (and have) spent hours in the saddle without an issue, albeit with a Kliktronic thumb-button gearchange. (Truth be told, I could have managed without, but it really did make life easier, and looked trick).
Get the Basics Right
If you’re wondering the same as me – is a café racer bad for your back, then it’s worth considering a few basic points first.
Sitting on a bike with your feet on the pegs and reaching for the bars will give you a good first impression. If the basics are wrong to start with, you could be throwing good money after bad by trying to change the ergonomics, although of course there are adjustable footpegs available, and bars usually have a degree of adjustment.
What sort of back pain do you have? Could it be strengthened with some physio? Do you know what triggers it?
There are things you can do to make a Cafe Racer more comfortable. It may sound obvious, or even simple, but could a change in suspension settings help? Of course you don’t want to feel like you’ve been strapped to a pig wearing roller skates, but an hour or two with a suspension specialist could make all the difference. Failing that, a few hours searching online could give you some well-thought-out answers to setting up a bike professionally.
You should also consider just what type of riding you’ll be doing – if all of your riding buddies have big touring bikes and think nothing of spending six hours in the saddle, then perhaps a café racer isn’t the right choice.
Finally … age.
Yes, it comes to us all, I suspect that even if I was riding a Goldwing for long enough, I’d still feel it at the end of a days riding.
How to Avoid a Bad Back When Riding a Café Racer
If I had the definitive answer to that, I’d be off spending my days touring around sunny hotspots while lighting Cuban cigars with a £20 note. (Not a fifty – I’m not a lunatic)
There are some things that can help though.
Well fitted clothing makes all the difference to general fatigue after a long ride – try and minimise loose, flapping clothing. Tight undergarments can help with keeping the blood where it needs to be and does help to minimise the wobbly bits wobbling.
Keeping well hydrated helps to minimise muscle fatigue and soreness, which for me, makes an incredible difference to my back pain.
I’d also spend a great deal of time in getting the smaller things just right – handlebar and footpeg adjustment, brake and clutch levers, and even think about luggage and its placement – I often ride with a small rucksack which is fine for a few hours, but anything more than that, and I’d take some soft luggage to carry everything.
The reality is that only you know your body well enough to understand whether or not your physically up to riding a café racer for any period of time, without suffering from back problems.
Typically, there won’t be much difference between a café racer and something a little more upright like a Bonnie – gravity is still acting in a downward force on your back, compressing it into the seat, and the vibrations coming through the frame & handlebars will be the same.
Equally, if you’ve spent a lifetime riding sports bikes, then its likely that your back has pretty well-developed muscles that are used to being in that position for any length of time, whereas if you’ve spent your youth laid back on a custom, your back is probably going to suffer, along with your wrists, knees, ankles … pretty much everything, including your derriere.
There is no magic ‘one size, fits all’ answer, and there isn’t much that you can do to prevent a problem with your back if you have a predisposition to back problems. Common sense can be a powerful tool, and when used well, will probably give you all the information you need. If you listen to it.
For me personally, I genuinely don’t think that a café racer is any worse for my back than something less sporty, but hopefully, over the course of this summer I’ll be finding out, and I’ll be sure to update the article if I find anything different.
Why not tell me what you think? Do you have any experience of back problems due to a particular bike? Or like me, you think that as you get older, everything is just going to hurt more? Let me know.