The cafe racer revolution has really taken hold in the last few years in the motorcycle community, with a huge number of custom bike shops popping up to build any number of cool creations. In the back of every rider’s mind is the desire to get as close as possible to the essence of a motorcycle — 2 wheels, a powerful motor, a basic seat, gas tank, and controls to accelerate, turn and brake. That’s the heart of a cafe racer. What if you could build a cafe racer yourself from available parts, and create your own personalized minimalist machine? Where would you start?
STEP 1: Choose the Right Honda CB 4 Cylinder Motor
The first thing you should think about when building your cafe racer is the motor. If you can’t pay tens of thousands for a classic Norton, Triumph or BSA, the Honda CB series 4 stroke motors are a great place to start. These reliable and super tunable air cooled motors are perfect for powering a cafe racer. Replacement parts are plentiful and reasonably priced. They look nice when polished or painted, and the location of exhaust and intake ports allow for creative exhaust pipes and intakes.
The Honda CB motor series includes the CB750, CB650, CB550, CB500, CB400 and CB350. These are in-line transverse 4 cylinder, single overhead cam, air cooled motors. They are easily upgraded by porting the head, increasing compression, boring the cylinders, adding performance exhausts and upgrading the carburetors and ignition system. The Honda CB motors are not the lightest 4-cylinders, but they are sturdy and can handle significant power increases.
Honda CB750 Motor
The original Honda CB750 was released in 1969 and made 68 hp at 8,500 rpm. It had an in-line transverse layout, single overhead cam, dry sump oiling system and 4 carburetors. The original SOHC motor was built from 1969-78, which was upgraded to DOHC and hydraulic valves from 1979-2003. The CB750 came in several models including the Four (1969), K12 (1978), F or Super Sport (1979-81), C (1980-82) and Nighthawk (1982-2003) (See Wikipedia). A CB750 motor is good for bigger or more experienced riders looking for extra horsepower.
Honda CB650 Motor
The CB650 succeeded the CB550 in 1979 and was built until 1985. It made 63 hp at 9,000 rpm. The CB650 had several iterations, including the original 1979 model, the 1980-81 model with smaller side covers and 4-into-2 exhaust, the 1982 SOHC Nighthawk, and the 1983-85 DOHC model with hydraulic valve adjusters. A CB650 motor is good for bigger or more experienced riders looking for extra horsepower.
Honda CB550 Motor
The CB550 succeeded the CB500 in 1974, making 50 hp at 8,500 rpm. The CB550 came in “K” and “F” versions. The “K” had 4 exhaust pipes and 4 silencers. The “F” had a lighter 4-into-1 exhaust and was called the Super Sport.
Honda CB500 Motor
The Honda CB750 was followed by the smaller CB500 in 1972, which made 48 hp at 9,000 rpm. It was smaller and lighter than the CB750, allowing for a lighter and more nimble frame and handling. The CB500 had a wet sump oiling system and 4 separate exhaust pipes and silencers.
Honda CB400 and CB350 Motors
Honda manufactured the 4 cylinder CB350 from 1972-74 and CB400F from 1975-77. The CB400F Super Sport became a cafe racer favorite when bored out to 490cc with its very cool 4-into-1 exhaust. The CB400F should not be confused with the CB-1 (released in 1989) or CB400 Super Four (released in 1992). Honda also made the earlier 2-cylinder CL350, another favorite of cafe racers. These motors are best suited for smaller riders.
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