It’s a café racer, the acceptable face of Harley Sportster ownership, a two-wheeled AC Cobra and an exclusive limited edition. It’s also a celebration of 75 years of Britain’s most famous transport café and expensive. This café racer is a lot of things to a lot of people, but crucially, it’s fun.
The Ace 1200CR Street Special was built by Krazy Horse in collaboration with Ace Café London’s Stonebridge Motor Company. It is the first of what both Krazy Horse boss, Paul Beamish, and Ace Café managing director, Mark Wilsmore, hope will be a limited run of V-twins – their idea of the ideal, modernised take on the original street racer.
The Harley Sportster-based café racer isn’t the rare beast it once was, even in the UK. While they’re not on every corner, a handful of bike builders have had the idea of creating a bike with low, drop bars and rearsets around the American air-cooled twin.
The main difference between this bike and others of the ilk, is the chassis – the 1200CR uses a Norton featherbed-style twin loop chassis that has been created specifically for the Sportster motor.
Ditching the low-slung Sportster chassis immediately marks this bike out as a true café racer. It has the stance; it’s lost weight, lots of it; it’s sharpened up; it’s everything the English originators of the breed were trying to do.
The big, single, S&S Super E carb, needs a bit of choke, and one prod of the starter button (above the key), brings the bike thundering into life. It’s when my hands reach to the long, chrome-plated clip-ons that my mind begins to throw up error messages.
There are four, shiny brass-coloured switches set into the clip-on tubes and there are no clues to what the four Jelly Tot-size push buttons do.
Thundering into life
As I press them, not noticing anything happen, John, Krazy Horse’s long-serving mechanic, offers help. Each bar has an indicator switch, press once for on, once for off, BMW-style.
The indicators are bar end LEDs, enough to get through an SVA test without ruining the lines. I didn’t notice them flashing in the bright sunlight. The left bar also has a light switch and a horn button.
I’m ready for take-off. Heading out of Bury St Edmunds, the riding position is more extreme than any sports bike, but not uncomfortable.
The motor is eager. Krazy Horse has mildly tuned the 1996 unit, gas-flowing the head and fitting Wiseco forged pistons and a slightly lumpier Andrews cam, but the transformation is remarkable.
It undoubtedly helps that the bike weighs 40kg less than a stock Sportster – 175kg or about the same as a Honda CBR600. Moving the bike around, either at speed or walking pace backs up the claim.
Lean, mean and muscular
It’s slim too. Next to nothing sticks out either side further than the width of the forks.
The 1200CR mixes North American muscle with pared-back refinement of the featherbed chassis made from high quality T45 steel and bronze welded before being nickel-plated.
The 1200CR has a one-off, stainless steel, two-into-one-into-two exhaust with low megaphones which encourages me to pass car after car between the Suffolk villages, just to hear the note change.
I’m missing one thing: a mirror. But one would ruin the overall appearance. The only acceptable mirror style for a bike like this is one that fits to the bar end, but the indicators already hog that spot.
Heading onto a B-road I notice I’m only using 3000rpm, yet the bike still feels like it’s tramping along. The white-faced Motogadget digital and analog clock isn’t calibrated, so I don’t know what speed I’m doing.
On a straight, I pull the heavy throttle and point the tacho needle to 5. It’s about as much as all but the most brain-out owner would ever have to see on the rev counter, on back roads, anyway.
The Storz rearsets give the bike a solid feel. The shift pattern is reversed and the five-speed gearbox is firm, but fair. It needs the rider to be positive, but there are no hidden surprises. Clutchless shifts aren’t a problem. The final drive has been converted from belt to chain (café racers can’t have belt drive, can they?).
Where £20k goes
Hitting a dip on the apex of a B-road’s curve, at speed, makes the bars wiggle slightly. Nothing to worry about. The suspension has been uprated front and rear.
The forks have Progressive internals while the twin shocks are understated Ohlins. Stock hubs have been relaced with lighter alloy 17in rims. They wear Avon Roadrider tyres.
A few curves later, I touch down the exhaust. The next exhaust will be tucked in further, according to Krazy Horse.
The new Italian Kustom Tech front master cylinder and lever has replaced the repugnant stock item, but while the front brakes are powerful, they lack feel. The rear, that retains the stock master cylinder on Storz footrests, is fine. Lighter and larger petal discs replace the originals.
Ignition covers, Harrison Billet brakes, stem nut and brake master cylinder cover are all CNC-machined one-offs. The beautiful alloy tank is held down with a perforated vinyl strap and a quick-release fastener.
Krazy Horse hope to build 20 or so Street Specials a year to sell through dealers they already work with in major European cities. “The demand for the Ace to market a bike like this is increasing,” says Wilsmore.
Which brings us to the price. “£20,795 or £22,725 with the -performance upgrades (Wiseco forged -pistons, cams, tuned head),” says Beamish, without blinking.
In the somewhat rarefied circles Krazy Horse move in, this won’t raise many eyebrows, and you only have to travel to the huge EICMA show in Milan to see the global pulling power of the Ace brand.
Style and heritage
The 1200 CR will be fully homologated and EU-approved, for markets like Germany and Italy where modifying bikes for the road is at best a nightmare tied up in a straightjacket of red tape, and at worst, illegal.
“People want something with style and heritage, and while many are -being offered, not everyone is getting it right,” says Wilsmore.
“People are saying they’re building café racers, but they’re not. It’s like they’re saying, ‘Look at my perfect watch’, but it’s not a watch, it’s an egg-timer. They haven’t grasped what a café racer is.”