Why Do Cafe Racers Have An X On The Headlight?

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Cafe racers have been an interesting trend to observe. They have especially become popular again in the last few years and many are finding themselves wanting to customize them to their taste.

There are a lot of things about a cafe racer that makes it as such, but those who aren’t familiar with them may wonder about some of it’s characteristics. The “x” that can sometimes be found on the headlight is frequently questioned by many, even fellow motorcyclists.

Why do cafe racers have an x on the headlight? The original idea of having an x on the headlight of a cafe racer or motorcycle in general is a protection mechanism to prevent broken glass from harming anyone in the case the headlight breaks during a race. Nowadays it’s seen as more of a trend among these types of motorcycles and is a tribute to the racers who influenced the look.

I have owned several cafe racers myself, among other types of bikes, and have put a great deal of research into the history of cafe racers and bobbers and why they look the way they do. This article can explain in further detail what the “x” on the headlight means and how it’s influenced society today.

The Reason For The “X”

It certainly is a curious thing to see an “x” on the headlight of a motorcycle. These are most commonly found on cafe racers and bobbers, which makes the idea even more interesting. A lot of motorcycle enthusiasts themselves don’t know why these types of bikes especially are found with a style like this.

The birth of the cafe racer happened originally back in Britain during post World War II. Motorcycles were becoming more and more popular and were also becoming more affordable. Because of their affordability, the younger generation was commonly found to own a motorcycle but could usually only afford the basic models. These basic models were then transformed into the style we know now today as cafe racers.

It started to become a trend for groups of young people to gather at cafes with their motorcycles and drink coffee. This generation was found to be following the “Grease” look and often looked for cafes that played American rock and roll music which often meant truck stop cafes.

Often, while drinking their coffee and listening to rock and roll, another group of motorcycle riders would quickly ride past the cafe as a way to challenge the group that was inside. The young group would then get on their bikes and race to the next cafe that was close by. It is said that the truckers found at these cafes would tell these young riders that they’re not actual racers, rather they’re just “cafe racers.” This generation liked that name and idea.

Because of their fast speeds, they often taped an “x” on their headlights to prevent broken glass shards from spewing over them and their fellow riders in case it broke. And it was likely the headlight would break at some point since these groups were racing and riding at high speeds.

The idea of taping the headlights during this era was influenced by car track racing. Many drivers during these official races would tape both their headlights for the very same reason, so the original cafe racer generation adopted the idea.

Many people will say that the idea was influenced by the early days of motorcycle track racing. In actuality, the motorcycles used in track racing usually didn’t have headlights as a way to eliminate as many unnecessary accessories as possible. Most races were held during the day so the motorcycles didn’t need them anyway.

Any young motorcycle rider in the 50’s found riding a motorcycle with an x taped on the headlight meant they were more of an amateur racer. The idea quickly became popular and influenced trends in other countries including the United States.

Cafe racers and bobbers have had their ups and downs with their popularity. But in the last few years they’ve really made a comeback especially with the young adults, and you’ll still see that “x” taped on the headlight. This is sometimes for the protection of the rider if they are racing a lot, but a lot of times people do it mostly for the look nowadays as a tribute to those who influenced the look in the first place. Essentially, a lot of people think it looks “cool.”

Is It Legal?

Many may wonder about the legality of taping an “x” on the headlight of a motorcycle. And it’s no wonder, placing anything on a headlight should be looked into before diminishing the reason you have it in the first place.

The answer to whether or not taping an “x” on a motorcycle headlight is legal all depends on the type of headlight and the amount of tape placed on it as well as what you’re using your motorcycle for. If you are using your cafe racer to race (officially), then taping the headlight shouldn’t be much of a problem at all.

If you plan to tape the headlight on a regular street bike, the rules are a little different. In the United States, there really is no law specifically stating that motorcycles are prohibited from doing this.

However, there are laws concerning how bright your lights must be and how far the light must project. These specific conditions depend on the state that you live in, so make sure you check with your state before putting any tape on the headlight.

If you do plan on doing this and find that you’re still in line with state regulations, it’s best to keep it simple with two strands of tape making an “x.” A lot of people will put the tape on thick or make other shapes such as a star which will greatly reduce the light your motorcycle gives off. A functioning headlight is required in order for a motorcycle to be street legal.

Also take note that doing so may cause some problems with your headlight itself. Putting tape on a motorcycle headlight means the tape is directly exposed to the head emitted from the light. This could melt the adhesive and cause a sticky mess for you later on. A lot of this depends on the type of tape you use and it’s quality. Many people like to use electrical tape because it has a high tolerance for heat.

Taping Functionality And It’s “Cool” Factor

So, does taping the headlight actually work with preventing glass shards from going everywhere if it breaks during a ride? Actually, it does. That’s why it’s a method that’s been used for decades, especially among official track races. And no matter what type of vehicle you use this method on, it works the same.

Having shattered glass on the road is dangerous for the other riders/drivers around you. Amateur riders taped an “x” on their cafe racer headlights because cafe racers are minimalist bikes, meaning they don’t have a windshield to protect them from objects hitting them. It’s a good defense mechanism against that if you plan on riding fast on your bike.

I often hear the argument about whether or not it’s even “cool” to put tape on a cafe racer or bobber headlight. Those with taped headlights are usually the younger generation who may not actually be racing at all. Some of the older generation occasionally make fun of those who tape the “x” on their cafe racers because they know most of those who do it aren’t actually racing and that they’re “just doing it for the looks.”

But with cafe racers becoming more and more popular, the look is becoming more accepted whether or not the rider is actually racing their bike. And the truth is, no matter how you style your motorcycle, there will always be someone out there who doesn’t like it. Motorcyclists should style their bike however they feel is fit to them and their personality.

Related Question

How much does it cost to build a cafe racer? If you plan on doing the restoration or build yourself, the cost to build a cafe racer will be around $700-$1,000 in addition to the purchase of the motorcycle. See my article here for more information.

Kyle Cannon

Kyle currently works as a mechanical engineer and graduated with a minor in automotive engineering. He loves restoring motorcycles, has a vast knowledge of how they work, and has sold his restoration projects to customers from all over the United States.

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