There is simply no doubt about it, Sean Skinner is the king of clean in the custom world and once again he’s proven there is no chance he’ll be stepping down from his reign anytime soon. He’s the one-man band behind Hamilton, Virginia’s MotoRelic and for years now we’ve been featuring his incredible custom builds. The quality of his bikes is remarkable and whether he’s wrenching on a classic or re-imagining an oddball bike, the end result is always flawless. Having secured multiple top ten finishes in the Pipeburn Bike of the Year Awards, his services are highly sought after, but even the man himself was excited when he got the call to breathe new life into a 1975 Honda CB400F, as it came with an extra twist.
Being a solo operator means that Sean does everything at the shop and answering a call had him chatting with a potential client who’d owned a Honda 400 since the ’80s. What really piqued Sean’s interest however was when Roger told him that all those years ago, he’d had a big bore kit fitted to the engine and some other work to up the performance, and was now ready to have the rest of the motorcycle turned into his dream machine. After a long conversation, Sean was confident he knew exactly what Roger was after, so, a tow truck was called and the little Honda with the big heart made the journey across the Potomac River where surgery awaited.
“The first order of business was to get on the phone and order up some custom 18in wheels from Cognito Moto, find a GSXR front end and a CB550 swingarm. Roger requested a mono shock design that would stiffen the swingarm and Cognito happened to make a 550 rear disc brake conversion hub! All I had to do was make everything fit. The swingarm didn’t just fit. It required some minor modifications to the pivot and bushings. I used 1″ DOM tubing to shape the design of the monoshock set-up,” Sean explains. Having created the supporting infrastructure, the shock itself is an Ikon ‘dial-a ride’ that allows the bike to be perfectly tuned, and a new offset sprocket was required to clear the added 140-section tyre.
Having set the geometry up how he wanted it and happy that the front and rear suspension were working together seamlessly, Sean shifted his attention to the subframe. With his trusty grinder in hand, he cut back the factory metal, while still leaving enough to use sleeves to ensure his new design wouldn’t lack strength. The new look is as clean as can be, beautifully replicating the factory lines, just shorter and with an up kick to provide plenty of clearance to the big tyre below. “The rear tailpiece was made from the back half of a Honda NS50 tank. It had a very similar shape to the GS450 tank I chose to use for the build so it flows nicely.”
Such modifications are relatively simple for a craftsman of Sean’s ability, but a new challenge was now to be found in fitting up the front Thruxton fairing from Airtech Streamlining. “I was hoping it was wide enough to clear the massive GSXR forks and flow with the tank. I was not disappointed. It was going to work perfectly. Working by yourself has its drawbacks when something needs to be held while something else is designed or measured. I had to get creative balancing the fairing and making the mount. Tape, blocks of wood and some sticky foam were my shop helpers to temporarily hold the fairing while I pieced the mount together. The mount was quite the challenge to design and build but in the end, it turned out better than I hoped.”
Now that he had the bones of the bike spot on, a call was made to Roger about more minor details and the decision was made to unleash the Motogadget catalogue on the bike. It’s all beautiful kit in fit and finish and the m.unit makes creating a neat loom much easier. The large, white-faced gauge is the perfect look for the bike, and is matched up to 3-button switches, grips and bar end turn signals for an ultra-clean look.
The mirrors come from MessnerMoto, who also happened to supply the stunning front fender, which gives classic looks to modern USD forks. Inside the tail section is a big 12-cell AntiGravity battery and start solenoid, and you get super clean classic looks matched to 21st-century electronics.
Next, Sean needed to pull the engine down and see just how that big bore kit had held up over the years. “Once apart I saw that everything looked new.” So to match the 466cc enlarged capacity, with its trick cam and flowed heads, Sean built a new exhaust to match Roger’s desires perfectly. It’s a stunning custom 4 into 4 system, crafted with bends from Cone Engineering who also supplied the gorgeous 13in big mouth mufflers.
The induction side features those big CR26 carbs and a new clutch kit has gone in to hold the power. “I vapour honed the cylinder, the head and the valve cover, gave the cylinder a black coat of paint and reassembled it with new gaskets and seals. The block got a few coats of ‘cast iron’ from VHT.”
The engine now not only makes an incredible noise and boasts impressive performance, but also looks the business too. “So it was time to tear the whole bike down to make it pretty. I handed all the powder coating off to Right-A-Way Powder and they laid down a sexy gloss black. The paint colour Roger picked was the Monarch Orange metallic from Nissan.” The finishing touch to the stunning look is the seat, with Sean making the pan so that it hugged tightly to the tank and tail, with a foam finish to match.
Then it was sent over to Counterbalance Cycles who took care of upholstering the smooth as silk black leather finish. Once again the king of clean has delivered, with incredible style and performance in a timeless classic package; so good in fact, “I wish I could keep it,” he smiles.