As social media exploded over the last decade, it helped to recognize, inspire, and bring together a fervent community of motorcycle builders and customizers. Shops such as Deus Ex Machina, Madhouse Motors, and Workhouse Speed Shop started showcasing their work online and their visions were reposted on platforms like Instagram.
Cafe Racers of Instagram, better known to its 1.1 million followers as CROIG, was at the forefront, encouraging grease monkeys and beguiling motorcycle enthusiasts the world over. We caught up with CROIG's founder, David Chang, to find out how he got started, to what he credits his phenomenal success, and his latest plans.
A New Chapter For CROIG
Just as Instagram was taking off in 2013, David Chang, a native son of St. Paul, Minnesota, met an old college friend for drinks. Disillusioned with his 9-to-5 job, Chang was lamenting his circumstances when his friend related his recent and unexpected success on the emerging social platform. His page, Dogs of Instagram, had quickly garnered a considerable following, and leading pet brands were offering their support. His advice: start sharing your experiences, something you’re passionate about, and doesn’t require a second thought.
“So, I think, well alright, it's café racers,” Chang laughed as he recalled the moment. “I didn’t really think about it and basically used the longest name possible, Cafe Racers of Instagram. It was available, and I signed up for it right there over happy hour.”
The Road To Café Racers
Chang’s love for all things fast started early when he rode in a BMW M3 E46. It belonged to the heavy-footed father of a school friend and elicited his first intoxicating brush with speed.
“His dad stomped on it,” Chang told me, “and I remember just smiling in the back of that red coupe. I had never experienced that feeling before, my mom and dad never drove like that with me in the car.”
And while some of us were lucky enough to have a bike-loving dad or an enthusiastic uncle to get us into the sport when we were young, some, like David Chang, had to leave home before owning a motorcycle was even an option.
“I was into cars before bikes,” he said, “and part of that was because I wasn’t even allowed to consider a motorcycle. It was bad enough that The Fast and the Furious had come out while I was in high school. I went out and bought a Mitsubishi Eclipse, just like Paul Walker in the first movie.”
Chang still loves cars, and recently purchased this stunning 280Z, which looks to be in much better shape than many of the other Datsuns we cover either on auction sites or barn finds.
When Chang left home to study Media Communications at college, some of his friends were getting into motorcycles, and before long, he found himself learning to ride on a borrowed Honda CBR in a deserted parking lot.
“Learning on that CBR,” he said, “immediately, I was hooked, but I couldn’t afford a decent bike, so I borrowed a scooter and rode around with my friends, who all had sport bikes.”
He would eventually buy a Yamaha FZR he found on Craigslist for $800, and by the time he was finishing his final year of college, had upgraded to a new Suzuki GSXR 600. He also bought a dog and named him Gixxer. Before long, the young Chang recognized he was riding too fast and taking too many risks, and sold the GSXR, turning his attention to the customization scene; following new blogs such as Return of the Café Racers and Chop Cult. By the time he had the serendipitous happy hour with his buddy, Chang had a growing collection of old bikes like the Honda CB550 he bought for $200.
“That’s when I started getting the urge to ride faster again, and I loved the sporty, tucked-in riding position of the café racer.”
The Evolution Of CROIG
In December 2013, Chang started CROIG by curating the best custom bikes he found online.
“I just started sharing my favorite motorcycles that I was seeing on all these blogs, like Bike EXIF and Pipeburn. It wasn’t even a slow roll. It was just the right time, the right place, and consistency, and then boom.”
Cafe Racers of Instagram would quickly garner over 100,000 followers, and although his media agency experience proved to be a far cry from the creative role he craved, Chang credits a part of CROIG’s success to the knowledge he gained there.
Coincidentally, as CROIG was taking off, the same friend who had steered Chang towards Instagram would introduce him to Andrew Blaschko, a local bike builder and skilled mechanic. At the time, Andrew had been planning a tour through the Southwest, and Chang asked if he could tag along.
They bought an old van, loaded it with a pair of Honda CB550s (both nearly four decades old), and drove them down to Texas where they started their adventure.
“It was a pivotal moment in my life; it changed my entire perspective,” Chang said. “Up until that point I had believed my life path was to go to college, get a job, meet someone, have kids, and the rest would take care of itself, but here we were, loading up our Honda CB550s into a $300 van.”
A map of their planned route was posted for CROIG’s followers to track their progress. Both Chang and Blasckho were blown away by the response.
“That was the trip that changed it all,” said Chang. “We were sharing where we would be, and this is when CROIG really started taking off, even more than it already had. So many Instagram pages are just reposting pictures, but here we were actually engaging with people, stopping in different cities. They brought us into their homes, their clubhouses, and would be waiting for us on the outskirts of cities, to escort us into town.”
When they returned, energized by the experience, Chang partnered with Blaschko, and the pair devoted themselves to developing CROIG full time, which was now adding thousands of new followers each day. Wherever possible, they continued to interact with their audience and the motorcycle community, something that he credits with CROIG’s enduring popularity.
“We are active within the community. We go to shows and events and try to support people who are just starting out, and good causes,” Chang added. “The idea is to inspire people to build and get out there, ride motorcycles.”
The 'Built For Good' Campaign
I asked Chang about the “Built for Good” campaign he orchestrated in 2001, using a custom bike-build to raise money for charity. Waves For Water aims to provide clean drinking water to the homes of the 771 million people on earth without easy access to it.
“Being an influencer, I really started thinking about that. What do I want to influence?” Chang said he wanted to “figure out how to build motorcycles and build community, and water is such a basic need.”
They persuaded Harley-Davidson to donate a 2021 Forty Eight, enlisted four talented motorcycle builders, who designed and built a new custom monocoque and upgraded many other components, all in one week. CROIG then ran a sweepstakes to give the bike away. You can watch the Built for Good series they filmed of the sportster build on their YouTube Channel.
CROIG's Future: A Yamaha Dream Build And More
“We’ve started focusing on creating content outside of Instagram,” said Chang. “Built for Good was also when we teamed up with Ben Holmes, our new producer. Yamaha saw the series, and what they really liked about it was the good cause, but also us documenting the process, interviewing the builders, and kinda getting inside their heads. So, this year we will be doing a new Built for Good with Yamaha's Yard Built program.”
The Yamaha Yard Built program aims to support owners who want to realize their dream builds by enlisting talented customizers to provide inspirational ideas. Chang also added that Yamaha allow complete creative freedom, and he’s looking forward to debuting the project in the second half of 2022 when the team will also reveal the details of an entirely new, more modern approach to the build. Chang also hinted at some future content focused on dual-sport riding.
“If, what started out as an Instagram Page over happy hour,” Chang surmised, “that gave me all these life moments, can now sustain me as a person, and also bring together talented people, excited about a project, engage with the motorcycle community, and bring water to other communities - what can go wrong? It's all win.” And you can’t argue with that.