The $400 special

Two years ago I got my motorcycle license and set out to find my first bike. Coming from a family of welders and mechanics, I had no intentions of buying anything in running condition. I was always fascinated watching my father work on his bike and he was extremely supportive of me building my own machine. Anyone can go to a dealership and buy a bike but it takes vision, patience and hard work to turn something that looks old and beat up into something unique.

This is what I started with. A 1978 Honda CB550K with over 35,000 miles on it that I paid $400 for. It had a massive dent in the gas tank(not pictured), a seat held on by zip-ties, a low-rpm idling issue, and four carburetors in desperate need of a rebuild. I knew what I wanted to make and I began making it a reality. A lot of internet searching led me to learning about a builder named Brady young and his “Black and Tan” CB550. I was in love with it.

I tore the bike down in the free time I had and I hit somewhat of a wall when my family moved to NH. I moved the boxes of parts, the frame, motor, and tank to my father’s shop in Kingston and began doing all the metalwork. You can see that in the original photo of my bike, the battery and most of the electrical components are in the “triangle” under the seat and that this isn’t the case on Brady’s bike (or really any good cafe or brat style bike). I cut all of the brackets out of that triangle and relocated the components into a pan I made under the seat, pretty much hiding them completely. The next issue was the battery and this led me to make my own seat pan in more of a cafe style than the brat seat on the Black and Tan build so that I could hide the battery under the back part of the seat. I decided to make the exhaust pipes go from 4 into 2 and that lead to what was probably the craftiest metalwork I’ve ever attempted.


A search through my father’s parts bin turned up a set of Harley Sportster pipes and he said I could have them. After a little modification to the pipes, some paint mockups, and a little creativity on the foot pegs, things were looking good.


It took a while to get everything painted, exhaust wrapped, and the carbs rebuilt. In the process I learned that NH inspections don’t require you to have a front fender so that thing went straight in the dumpster.

After a whole lot of time and electrical work, the seat was ready to be picked up from the upholstery shop. Though the guy ignored some of my instructions, it turned out looking better than I first intended. I began putting everything together for the last time and I was ecstatic at how it turned out.


This being my first bike, I decided to throw in a couple of touches to make it really my own. I replaced the original foot pegs with Wellgo bike pedals, the same ones that were on all of the bmx bikes I had growing up. They still spin too. On the back wheel, I painted the middle surface of the rim but not the outsides. On a bmx bike, the rim brakes always rub the paint off both sides of the rim, leaving it looking like polished chrome so I thought this would be a clever symbol of that. All in all, I couldn’t be more proud of this thing and I hope to get it up to Plymouth soon.


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