A 1978 Honda CB550 has no business being quite this clean and beautiful, but apparently when one in extreme disrepair (he says he was able to sink a screwdriver clean through the swingarm) fell into Steve Marshall’s hands, his mission became to turn it into this piece cafe racer art you see here.
The shocks were rusted out, one of the forks was completely blown, the spokes were rusted away, the engine was ugly inside and out. Predictably, it did not run. And the clincher: Marshall didn’t even have a motorcycle license, so he could not ride the bike. The two-plus year restoration was purely a therapeutic endeavor for him.
He had the original rims sandblasted and powdercoated and laced with new stainless spokes. He added a second brake disc and caliper to the front wheel and ran braided stainless brake lines to them. He retrofitted a Goldwing front master cylinder to his CB, to better handle the extra braking pressure. He sanded and polished the fork externals, and rebuilt the internals. The front turn signals are particularly interesting, as he managed to integrate them quite cleanly into the lower triple tree by welding and machining housings for them. He has ground the top triple into a beautiful shape, losing some weight and gaining style in the process.
The astute observer will note in the opening photo montage that the motorcycle’s tank has quite a lot of filler on it under the paint – not only does this cure and fill in the cancerous rust that existed on the original tank, but it lends the look of a hand-welded tank instead of a stamped one.
Though he does not elucidate, the outside of the engine looks media-blasted and repainted or powdercoated – again, look closely at the photos in the beginning of the video.
The original points-and-condenser ignition is now electronic. He rebuilt the clutch, of course. During the video he laments the pod air filters and their notorious pickiness when it comes to carburetor adjustments. It took him six tries; that is, pulling, adjusting and reinstalling the carburetors six times, to get it all right. He calls it a “proper pain in the ass” and with that you not only get a small taste of his frustration, but it removes any doubt that he did the work himself.
His pipes are custom built stainless steel café pipes which he had shipped from California to the UK. Pay close attention to the sound of the bike at the end of the video; it is glorious.
The swingarm was the only major component of the motorcycle he completely replaced – it was too far gone to salvage. Upgraded rear shocks finish off the refreshed functionality of this classic.
He custom-fabricated the tail piece of the bike and taught himself to work with fiberglass in the process. The leather custom seat, likewise, taught him quite a lot about leatherwork.
Marshall managed to tuck the taillight and rear turn signals into the rear subframe – while I’m not sure that would pass inspection in the US, it is an inspired design and keeps with the minimalistic feel of the whole build. He fitted an electric start but kept the kickstart, because a bike of this vintage absolutely must have a kickstart. The electronic ignition activated with a key fob is over-the-top cool, but there are no external gizmos to detract from the look and feel of the classic café racer.
TL;DR: watch the video. It’s awesome.
Also? After he was finished with the build Marshall got his motorcycle license, and rides now.