Brutus: The CB550F Cafe/Gravel Runner Build

Discussion in 'Some Assembly Required' started by JB2, Nov 11, 2015.

  1. JB2

    JB2 Dirt Of The Earth

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    So for as long as I can remember it seems I've been helping other folks build their dream bikes doing metal/fiberglass fabrication and custom painting. If I wasn't working on someone else's bike I was flipping bikes to support my other habit, long distance touring. I've been flipping bikes since years before I had my driver's license. Buy a bike right, clean it up, catch up all the maintenance and repair any damaged paint then sell it for a modest profit. A few years back I vowed to build a bike for me. One that wouldn't get sold. I started with a XS650 Yamaha that I am building into a little rigid bar-hopper style bike. Then in the middle of that my wife decides it's time to build on an addition to the house and completely remodel it. That was three years ago. Now that the home is all but finished my interest has turned to the many long neglected projects in the garage. The Yamaha project is a little out of reach at this point. I have the donor bike and the custom frame but not much else. There's a lot of dollars and time to cover before I can call it done.

    So what's the solution? Buy another project of course.:lol3

    I'm connected through my job to a wrecker service locally. They get a number of cars and motorcycles over a year's time on mechanic's leans. That happens when the owner never pays for the tow/storage and they eventually forfeit the vehicle. The owner of the wrecker service knows I have an affliction for wounded and neglected motorcycles and that my wallet is an easy target. I recently purchased two from them. Both Honda fours. I've owned many a thumper, vertical twin, V-twin and V-4 motorcycles but never an inline four. One of them I bought is this 1976 CB550F Super Sport. After a little research I discovered the bike on this platform was only built three years('75-'77) and there's kind of a cult following for them. In the end I bought this for only the intro to a song and it was even currently tagged and running with a new clear title. I could be in trouble. :D

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    Looked pretty scary when I first brought it home but it's a 16K mile bike and I could see a very cool cafe style bike hiding underneath the rust and bad modifications. I mean just look at the seat. Damn shame I never got the name of the upholsterer.

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    It even has a very rusty MAC exhaust system. The Super Sports were originally born with a 4-into-1 exhaust systems. Prior to the Super Sports all inline fours by Honda were either 4-into-4 or 4-into-2 systems. I'm probably going to replace it with another MAC system. The crash bar is going along with the oversized seat, turn signals and tail lamp.

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    A few hours later I had successfully broke into the bike. Maybe I should explain... one thing I didn't get was the keys. I removed the side cover and carefully extracted the hinge pins from the left side of the seat. The striker on the seat is rubber-mounted and it flexed just enough get a long-handled 10mm wrench on the nuts that held the striker. Viola! Seat successfully removed with no damage to the seat pan or latching hardware. I even saved the beautiful upholstery!

    Then it was time to break into the gas tank. Similar process. I used a plastic wedge from one side and made just enough room to remove the hinge nuts with a slim 10mm wrench. After the hinge was free at the rear of the fuel door the spring-lock was easy to trip with a small hook. Another lock thwarted.

    At this point I've also removed the passenger pegs(permanently), chain guard, crash bar, rear grab rail and turn signals. Looking better already!

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    With a little disassembly done it's time to fix some obvious issues, namely a new set of lock and keys and handlebars. The stock bars suck for a cafe bike but I wasn't real fond of full cafe ergos. I had a brand new set of Biltwell moto-cross bars left over from a previous flip bike. They would be perfect for this project and it was cool that first item was already in stock and paid for. I ordered the lock and key set from Classic Cycle Parts and tackled the first modification required to change out the bars.

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    When you look at the bars upside down the differences seem subtle but they're actually not. First, Honda ran the wiring through the handlebars and I wasn't about the cut slots in a new pair of Biltwells. This is a cafe bike not a show bike. I want the wiring on the outside of the bars like modern bikes so you can change the bars without tearing half the bike apart.

    The second thing you notice is they're 3" lower in height and 1-1/2" narrower. It makes a huge difference in the way it feels and looks as you'll see.

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    The switch housings would have to be notched to accommodate the wiring outside of the bars. It's an easy modification but you only get one shot to get the fit right and there's only one place in the housing to let the wiring exit properly on the underside, This is the clutch side before...

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    ... and after. After cutting I softened the edges with a pin file so there were no sharp edges to cut the juice.

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    With both switch housings modified, the new ignition switch installed and the cables lubed everything was reassembled. Starting to get a little sexy, eh? Just getting the garbage off the bike, cleaning it up a little and installing a new set of bars has really changed the attitude of the bike.

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    Note how clean and damage free the sheet metal is. The next step for this project is to "bob" the fenders. Stay tuned.
    #1
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  2. JB2

    JB2 Dirt Of The Earth

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    Before starting the fender project I filled the tank with new gas, drained the carbs, checked the oil, charged the battery and it fired right up. Runs smooth and strong. There's an exhaust leak but I'll worry about that later when the pipe is replaced. I want to keep this bike rideable through the whole process so the first thing to do is make it rideable. It's gonna need tires, tubes, plugs & tune-up, brakes front & rear and last but not least... chain & sprockets. That all takes money and I'll have to raise that by parting out the second bike in the package deal. In the meantime for very little money I can start the fabrication and paintwork.

    The direction I want to go with this bike really encompasses several forms of vintage customizing that are popular today with a slight twist. Flat/Street Trackers, Cafe, Bobbers and Brats all share some commonalities. A single or double looped cradle frame is one thing in common to start with. I really like elements of all four styles so this will be a blend of ideas. The twist is that I would like to get it done on the cheap and look like a factory built bike. A phantom model if you will. Honda was going in the right direction but stayed conservative in their approach. They bobbed the front-half of the front fender but left the rear-half almost dragging the ground. The rear fender is twice the length it could have been if they would have shrunk the size of the dump truck tail light. It's one thing to just cut them off. I really like the radius of the stock fender tips and the lip around the edges. To shorten them I'll section out the desired length and reattach the tip to make it look factory. The fenders will be same as the body color when finished.

    The first thing to do is establish the length of the finished fender on each end. The front minus 6".

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    The rear minus 5".

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    First, mark the cut then remove the tip of the front fender.

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    Remove the aforementioned 6" and test fit the tip back onto the fender. First cut fits like a glove. The section I cut out will become a sleeve for reattaching the tip.

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    Fits good through the whole contour and on both sides.

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    I am re-using the rear fender brace but the loop for the speedo cable is in the wrong spot when the brace is located 6" higher. The cable actually needs to be routed on the outside of the brace instead of inside the brace. Easy fix to remove the loop with no damage to the brace.

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    Now with everything mocked into place you get an idea of how the finished fender will look. The fender will be body color(undetermined) and the brace will be black. I'm also shedding a lot of chrome. A similar look to early BSA's... kinda.

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    With the sleeve cut the only fabricating left to do on the front is to weld it up. Onto the rear fender. First, mark the cut.

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    Cut off the tip.

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    Cut out 5" of the length and test fit the tip back onto the rear fender.

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    The tool you see in the fore ground is a set of Zebra Clamps by Wurth. They're basically a U-shaped spring clamp that firmly hold two pieces of metal together for welding. They work wonderfully and will even hold two pieces of sheet metal together at a butt-joint without a sleeve in place. Great for mocking-up and welding.

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    Wow. What a difference a little bit of a bob-job on the fenders can make. Now it's starting to look like the picture in my mind's eye.

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    Oh yeah! :thumb

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    Changing the bike up and keeping the factory look will be a lesson in being subtle. Something I am usually not. Next up is the seat pan and rear loop. I'm going to narrow the stock seat pan at the rear and round off the edges a little. Afterwards it will go to the upholsterer for a cafe shaped solo seat. I have rear frame loop coming that will eliminate the ugly struts. I want to fab and mock that up before making any decisions about the seat pan. The rear loop and Lucas style rear lamp should be in the mail any day. Until then I'll be parting out the donor-cycle. Stay tuned.
    #2
  3. Andyvh1959

    Andyvh1959 Cheesehead Klompen

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    Da frozen tundra eh? 1.5 mile west of Lambeau
    Looking good, exactly the rear fender bob I plan for my CB350F. To me the stock fender, even minus the ginormous tail light/bracket is waaaay too long and droopy to look right.
    #3
  4. JB2

    JB2 Dirt Of The Earth

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    Andyvh1959, agreed. The fender shortening really changed the overall look of the bike. Good luck on your project. Hope to see pictures of it! :D
    #4
  5. Tim_Tom

    Tim_Tom Long timer

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    This is a very slick build! I like the subtle 'quasi-factory' approach, it will be stunning and your attention to detail is great. Can't wait to see the finished bike.
    #5
  6. Scubawerx

    Scubawerx Scubawerx

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    Watching, watching...
    #6
  7. oregonsurveyor

    oregonsurveyor Been here awhile

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    Watching as well.
    #7
  8. JB2

    JB2 Dirt Of The Earth

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    Tim-Tom, thanks. I've always liked sleepers. Bikes that you had to look at twice to see that they were a whole lot more than factory but still looked factory. A radical wolf in factory sheep skins. :D

    Scubawerx, thanks also!

    oregonsurveyor, looks like we been lookin' at each others' threads. :lol3
    #8
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  9. flipr

    flipr Scofflaw

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    Subscribed... this is going to be a good one!
    #9
  10. radianrider

    radianrider Adventurer wanna'be

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    Avon, IN Not so much Motorcycle Heaven
    I am in on this thread!

    Surprised you didn't recognize Reginald Ducworth "Duc" Tapenberry's legendary upholstery skills. His work is pretty identifiable. Usually worked on motorcycle seats and VW convertible tops, though I have seen some Chrysler LeBaron convertible tops that showed off his work as well. :rofl

    I like the bars you went with--should still be an more aggressive look and feel without the pain associated with typical cafe bars. We ain't getting any younger.

    Never would have occurred to me to bob the fenders--mostly because I have no metal fab skills--but they look great. Love the concept-factory, but better.
    #10
  11. JimVonBaden

    JimVonBaden "Cool" Aid!

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    Looks like a great bike to start with! The fender bobs are almost identical to what I did on mine. Looks easy, not quite as easy when your welding skills match mine! :shog
    #11
  12. JB2

    JB2 Dirt Of The Earth

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    flipr, thanks, I hope not to disappoint.

    Radian, I sent Duc's handywork back to him today via the Blackford County Sanitation Department. :D The Biltwell bars are the ticket on this bike. They put the ergos right where they need to be. I've always liked the Honda fours in cafe form and Japanese manufacturers basically styled their bikes after the British bikes when they entered the marketplace here in the USA. Since the Brits really developed the cafe racer the styling on this build will be heavily influenced by their work. Lightning up the bike and removing excess bodywork is the first place to start. I have always liked bobbed fenders but was never a fan of just whacking off the ends. After years of building bikes for other riders I've had a picture painted in my mind's eye of how to pull off a bike like this and make it look factory. Fingers crossed.

    JimVonBaden, since I am not re-chroming the fender I won't be going for a full metal-finished seam but I think I can get close and spare them from excess filler. One key to welding up Honda fenders is getting the chrome removed from the weld area and welding in stages to prevent warping. Any pics of your build? Although I'm pretty close to having the bike built in my mind I am always looking at other folks' work for ideas. Some of things people come up with in their garage with a little imagination never ceases to amaze me. There are some really creative and talented people out there.
    #12
  13. JimVonBaden

    JimVonBaden "Cool" Aid!

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    #13
  14. JB2

    JB2 Dirt Of The Earth

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    Jim, don't be so quick to assume mine will look better. :lol3 I just checked your thread out and like what you are doing with the Yammie twin. Yes it is fun to fab and build plus it keeps those creative fires stoked. Otherwise, I might be in jail. :D I'm waiting for the rear hoop to arrive so I can reshape the tail of the bike. I've been thinking about how to tackle the problem of blending a tube seat rail into the sandwiched pieces of sheet metal at the rear shock mount. I like your approach but I'm not sure it will work on the Honda. I notice that you are using Lowbrow Customs too. Great folks. I've been buying from them and following Tyler Malinky for a few years now. I worked on a land speed racing effort called Team Elves so it was great to see him tackle the salt and follow his effort. Real down to earth people who you don't mind spending money with. They don't just sell parts; they build, they ride, they race and they show.
    #14
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  15. JimVonBaden

    JimVonBaden "Cool" Aid!

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    Thanks! I agree, LBC has some good parts at very reasonable prices. No doubt I will have far more into my bike than it will be worth, but that has never been the point. Like you, it keeps me out of trouble, except online! :shog
    #15
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  16. armourbl

    armourbl Adventure Life

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    Nice project. On the hunt myself for the ideal bike. Will be watching your progress.

    ben
    #16
  17. Egoland

    Egoland Adventurer

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    Just for inspiration:
    [​IMG]
    #17
  18. joexr

    joexr Banned

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    Nice bike , except for the cheesy tires .
    #18
  19. radianrider

    radianrider Adventurer wanna'be

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    JB2,
    Great weekend for working in the garage. Any progress made?
    #19
  20. JB2

    JB2 Dirt Of The Earth

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    Egoland, nice photo drop. I really like the color of the bike. It has similar engine treatments to what I am planning.

    Radian, it was a very busy and filled weekend. We took off around 5:30 Saturday morning for St Louis, MO to deliver bikes and tour the Mungenast Museum. What a day. I'll post pics on my day tripping thread tonight. Same for Sunday in the garage. The rear loop had arrived on Saturday while I was on the road. I was up early Sunday and started to disassemble the bike. Once I got that far I built a jig to save all the control points for reattaching the new rear loop. Last night right before I turned the lights out in the shop I cut the rear frame section off. I didn't sleep much. I worked well into the early morning hours, while sleeping, trying to imagine how to solve all the fitment issues and still maintain a factory look. I'm taking tonight off to post photos and progress. Stay tuned.
    #20