Honda CB650 Cafe Racer
Posted on January 08 2018 •
“It has been my experience that folks who have no vices have very few virtues.” - Abraham Lincoln
I must admit that I have a serious problem when it comes to Craigslist’s motorcycle section. I spend way too much time scrolling through endless pages for absolutely no reason and spending money I do not have. Sometimes, if I’m lucky, I will catch a brief moment of clarity that assures me I already have too many bikes and absolutely do not need anymore. Hell, I can’t even park my car in the garage. Those moments fade quickly, and then I’m back at it.
You know the drill. Send an email, make a phone call, then all of the sudden you’re awkwardly standing in front of a bike with a ton of problems trying to convince yourself that you could easily fix everything. You blurt out a low offer, and they shockingly accept. Fuck. Now you have another bike and an empty wallet.
Fortunately, this bad habit was how my first cafe racer build began. After purchasing numerous motorcycles in the dead of winter—they’re cheaper then—I eventually found a flawless 1981 Honda CB650C and sold everything else. The CB650 was the successor to the CB550 and the last of Honda’s air-cooled SOHC fours that started with the popular CB750.
I naively believed I would be able to knock out this simple garage build quickly. That rarely happens, and I should have known better. What began as rudimentary modifications continued on over the course of a year or two. The essential cafe changes were taken care of first—starting with the handlebars, controls, and removal of all unnecessary pieces. I stuck with the factory Comstar wheels but swapped the exhaust for a four-into-one system. It took three fuel tanks before modifying one from a CB500 to give it the look I was going for. Why purple? It was different. You don’t see the color very often on a motorcycle.
An embarrassingly high number of seats were fitted before deciding to just reshape a universal seat to fit around the funky subframe Honda started using in the early 1980s. After discarding the bulky air filter system, the subframe tabs were cut off, and the electronics were hidden under the seat. Most of the work was done in my small one car garage with no bike lift. I am very lucky (and grateful) to have a father with a fabrication shop to help with the more complicated elements.
It felt great to ride Violet throughout the past year. After finally getting the carburetors dialed in correctly, the bike now has the power to keep up with the speedy traffic on Interstate 376. The rider position is fairly comfortable for long rides while being aggressive enough to tear through back roads. My obsession with motorcycles has led to a high turnover rate of bikes coming in and out of my garage, but I can confidently say that this Honda will not end up for sale on Craigslist anytime soon.
Special thanks to Fred Marino for helping with the paint and my father, Paul, for making the build come together.