As one of man’s favourite modes of transport for more than a century, a ludicrous number of motorcycles have been produced over the years, in nations on every continent. But among them all, it is hard to imagine a more important series of motorcycles than the Honda CB range. These bikes have been powering the Honda Motor Company for more than seven decades and the successful range has allowed the Japanese manufacturer to remain a dominant player in the market for generations. But if I had to pick one bike from the range to own, it would be the CB550 of the ’70s and our new friend Luis has left no stone unturned in transforming his Cee Bee into one sweet custom cafe racer.

Most would probably name the original CB750 as their ultimate bike from the range, and as the original superbike, they make a great claim. But when you actually throw a leg over one, the CB550 is simply more nimble, the stiffer chassis offers better rider feedback and although lacking the top-end speed, the smooth and rev-friendly engine is more than capable of offering a smile a mile. Thankfully when it comes to buying a donor bike to build, the smaller CB is also much cheaper, with the big daddy now a serious collector item. So, with Luis, a mechanical engineer by trade having found the right bike, it was time to get building.

“Where possible I used modern parts that came from Honda and NOS parts with the goal of a custom factory appearance,” he tells us. And literally, “every nut, bolt, gasket and component was touched.” But what he’s done exceedingly well is pick just the right balance of old parts and new, and has even introduced pieces from a range of other CB models from over the years to get the bike just right. It all starts with the factory steel tube frame, which has been beautifully smoothed out and brought back to new condition, before the subframe was shortened and braced to allow for the new tail section.

Underneath the subframe is an all-new electrics box and Luis has ensured reliability won’t be an issue with a brand-new loom built from scratch. A lightweight Shorai lithium battery provides the cranking power, with it and the main components hidden in the tray, while each wire is only as long as it needs to be, to keep things super clean. Taking care of controlling the electrics, the stock switchgear has been refurbished, with an undersized CB200 tachometer mounted to the top triple clamp with a custom 3D printed housing that integrates the ignition switch, all of Luis’s making.

To give the bike 21st-century handling, the front end has been swapped for modern forks from the CB range, taken from a CBR600RR. These make for a great selection, with a similar weight shared between the two bikes and to ensure an old-school spoked wheel could be retained, a Cognito Moto hub has been used. The blacked out rim with stainless spokes looks bang on and the steering is done with modified CBR clip-ons. To make the rear hub match, it’s all been powder coated before getting its own new rim, and a set of remote res shocks to finish.

Now rolling, it was time to get the powerplant just right and the engine and gearbox have been completely torn down and rebuilt from scratch. There are new bearings, gaskets and seals throughout and the cam chain and main drive chain have both been replaced with new items. The bottom end is rebuilt with new pistons and rings, spinning on fresh bearings and the top end gets a rebuild too, with NOS valves lapped for a perfect fit. On the exhaust side, the Delkevic exhaust has always been one of the best fits for the Honda fours and it makes a mighty sound.

To fuel the fire, the full bank of carbs has been rebuilt and given a new set of jets, to make the most of the pod filters and freer flowing exhaust. All of that new gas comes from a tank change, and it’s the Big Brother CB750 unit which has been fitted. To get the look right, Luis modified the tunnel and frame to get it sitting as low as possible and it gives the smaller CB550 some seriously tough lines. Sitting behind it, there is a custom Tuffside seat, “which has been complemented by a 3D printed carbon filled nylon taillight housing, which I designed and printed,” Luis explains. A slick custom front fender on new struts and the tins were complete.

Other than the upholstery, the paint was the only other element of the build that Luis didn’t complete himself, and the traditional Honda red with black and gold accents nails the brief. The classic headlight helps to complete the look, but even here, Luis made sure to infuse the bike with more of his engineering genius, and the mount’s connection to the triple trees are completely hidden. A custom set of rearsets have been carefully positioned to ensure that the riding position is spot on, and bar end mirrors and a custom number plate holder keep things legal. On the surface, it is a simple build, but when you dive into the details you see just how good this custom celebration of the CB550 really is.

[ CB550 Custom ]