Updated: Dec 3, 2021
After a busy couple of years and another successful summer season, I created myself some space in the schedule to build the bike I have always wanted to build. As some of you know, I have been harping on about re-imagining a classic, mid engine CB for a long time now. I really don't know why but there is something about the frame and engine of these bikes that works for me. The classic tubular frames are simple and clean and lend themselves to customisation perfectly. The inline four cylinder engines sit beautifully within them and look like every motorcycle engine should. Well, look at that... it seems that I do know why these bikes work or me.
So, during late September, I finally began searching the web, with intent, for a 1970's CB550. Now it's worth pointing out that when I'm looking for a donor vehicle, I'm not looking for perfect examples or even good ones. I already know that a lot, if not most, of the bike is heading back to eBay or to the breakers for recycling. All I really needed in this case was a straight frame and a good engine with as fewer miles on it as possible. You see, my plan is to create a very high end Café Racer that can be ridden for pleasure or taken to the track. This means I'm looking at a full engine rebuild, custom exhaust system, a new front end and well... everything else. There are some great examples out there and this one by Jacek Mulak from Cardsharper Customs in Poland serves as perfect inspiration.
This is a fantastic example of getting the lines right. You see, it's not as simple as throwing money at a build like this. That's why there are more bad examples than great ones out there. You have to be thinking about the whole design right from the start. Mine has been built and rebuilt in my head for at least two years now. You have to consider how the frame sits on the wheels and its relationship to the road. I like parallels. I don't like it when a bike sits too much over the front or the rear wheels. For me, the tank and seat should also be inline and parallel to the road. These design constraints work for me and make the whole bike flow. They are also, in my opinion, key to a successful Café build. If I were designing a street fighter, I might want an aggressive lean towards the front wheel; if I were building a chopper, I'd want the opposite. Yet, in this case, Jacek Mulak got it spot on and I intend to do the same.
Back then, to my search for a donor vehicle to start this project. On the 25th September, I was scrolling through eBay and happened upon a bike about 5 minutes after it had been posted. What's more is that it was local. It was a 1977 CB550 Four-K that was listed as 'spares or repair' from a breakers in West Yorkshire.
The story goes that they were selling off a plot of land and needed to clear out an old barn. They said the bike had been sitting in there, in a corner, for years. It was a sorry looking thing with a seized engine and no paperwork but the frame and engine numbers were in tolerance and the price was good. So, I took a gamble, threw them a deposit and arranged for delivery. Now, to say these guys were old school was an understatement. Trying to organise payment over the phone via internet banking was neigh on impossible. I think some of you might remember me suggesting it was like buying a motorcycle from Steptoe and Son. That being said, by the 29th September the bike was on my drive. The guys were amazing and had me in stitches telling me how I could petition the government to get my utilities for free because it was written into the Magna Carter!? I paid them in cash in the end and have yet to look that information up.
Anyway, the bike was now mine. While checking the serial numbers and registration against the DVLA records, it came apparent that the bike had not been registered on the road since 1987 and in the period since then, it had been sat in that barn. I was only the third owner of the bike in 44 years and in all that time it has only done 17000 miles. So, this means that I have managed to acquire that genuine and elusive 'classic barn find'. She's old and rusty, dirty and dusty, but still beautiful in my eyes. I can't wait to see where we go from here.